400 per cent allotment price hike being considered for St Albans

Deborah Catchpole's allotment

Deborah Catchpole's allotment - Credit: Archant

Allotment holders may face an “outrageous” 400 per cent price hike over the next five years.

St Albans district council’s City Neighbourhoods Committee (CNC) is currently considering four different five-year allotment price plans in eight wards - new prices will come into force next year and gradually increase year-on-year for five years.

It is currently £47.20 a year for a full sized plot, which is about 252sqm to 190sqm, but by 2022 it will cost either £62.80 under option one, £80 under option two, £160 under option three, or £240 in option four.

People can also buy half or quarter plots, for a equivalent reduction of price.

Disgruntled Folly Lane allotment holder Robert Edlin said he will be forced to relinquish the space if option four is chosen: “Option one is reasonable, but an increase to £240 is ridiculous.

“I have spent the last year digging to make it usable, I have put so much hard work into it and I do enjoy it, but it’s ridiculous to charge that much.”

Folly Lane Allotment Group (FLAG) are in the process of consulting with their members and will present their findings to the CNC on June 28, when the new prices will be decided.

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FLAG chairman Bob Grover described option four as so “outrageous” it must be a ploy: “In my personal view it has no chance of getting through - I cannot seriously think that outrageous figure is anything more than an negotiation tactic.”

He used a metaphor to explain: “If you want to get income tax up by 10 percent then you say it’s going to go up by 20 per cent.” A member of the CNC, Cllr Salih Gaygusuz, said they would only vote in favour if the price was justified: “Hobbies can be expensive things and I don’t think the increase is really that high given the pleasure users get out of the allotments and various options are available with different price bracket to suit their budget.

“I get a lot of pleasure out of growing vegetables in my own back garden, I will not support any unreasonable increase driving people away from using our allotments.”

He emphasised that allotments are in high demand, it is “not expensive compared to other districts”, and SADC is only looking to cover running costs - not make a profit.

He added: “I feel that the allotment users should only pay enough to cover the price of running the sites, not a penny more, that is exactly what the council is doing.”

Batchwood district Cllr Roma Mills, also a member of the CNC, said she thinks the process should be more transparent: “My view is there should be a proper consultation with allotment holders - we need to understand overall costs of running an allotment.

“It’s not unreasonable to have an increase, but it is unreasonable to not have a conversation with people who run the allotments about overall costs they pay to make sure they can maintain the area.”

Three years ago Leeds City Council lost a legal battle against the Leeds and District Allotment Gardeners Federation after it tried to double allotment prices from £38.50 a year in 2013, to £58 in 2014 and £72 in 2016.

The increase was deemed unlawful by a High Court judge because the Allotment Act 1950 said: “For use as an allotment shall be let at such rent as a tenant may reasonably be expected to pay.”

Head of community services for SADC, Debbi White, said: “A number of proposals have been put forward, but no decisions have been made yet.

“The charges are intended to cover the costs of running the allotments and no more. This includes the provision of water, general maintenance and administration.

“The committee and the council are committed to allotments as valuable green spaces and community assets that improve people’s quality of life by promoting a healthy lifestyle.”