Allotment rents set to be raised

Harlow Close allotments treasurer Cliff Lowton with other allotment holders who are challenging St Helens council's plans for changes to the site
Harlow Close allotments treasurer Cliff Lowton with other allotment holders who are challenging St Helens council's plans for changes to the site
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CASH-strapped council chiefs are set to raise the rent for allotment holders in St Helens.

Angry committee members at the Harlow Allotments in Sutton Heath labelled plans to up the rent from about 12 pence per square metre to 20 pence per square metre “astonishing”.

They also claimed elderly or ill allotment holders would be driven away by the threat of tenancy termination agreements for non cultivation for just three months.

Treasurer Cliff Lowton said: “We’re a self-managed site so we currently charge £60 a year to enable us to manage the site properly. But if the council put the rent up we would have to double the rent in order to maintain the management the site.

“We accept that something is going to have to shift, but that rise is way above the rate of inflation and beyond many people’s pockets. It’s generated a lot of anger.

“If we are forced to raise the rent to £120 a year then we won’t be able to offer concessionary rates for pensioners and people on benefits either.”

Under the council’s plans, allotment holders across 17 different sites in St Helens will have their current tenancy agreements terminated before being offered first refusal on their plot at the new rate of rent.

Previously, allotment rent was fixed - irrespective of the size of each plot. Harlow Allotments members also poured scorn on plans to remove internal fencing to create open plan allotments.

Mr Lowton added: “In the past, plots have suffered severe soil erosion and flooding after heavy rain. But the internal fences have stopped that completely.

“The vast majority of allotment holders here would prefer things to stay as they are.”

A Town Hall spokeswoman said: “Following a review of allotments it was felt that the former method of charging was unfair.

“In line with other authorities, it was agreed to charge per square metre so those with smaller plots did not pay the same as those with larger plots.

“There is a clause in which anyone who does not keep their plot cultivated could lose their tenancy. But, before this happens, a letter of improvement is sent out and it must be stressed that termination for non-cultivation is a last resort.

“When the review was undertaken it was felt that many of the interior fencing was not needed as the allotments are there, in part, to foster community spirit so holders can chat with their neighbours while tending their plot. There is an outer fence which provides appropriate protection.”