Sheffield City Council is planning to more than double allotment rents in 2013. Rent (which excludes water charges) will go from £13/year to £30/year for small plots, from £18.30/year to £42.50/year for medium plots, and from £23.70/year to £65/year for large plots. That’s an increase of ~130% for small and medium plots, and ~175% for large plots. (They also intend to ramp up charges for water by between 20% and 60%, depending on plot size, but that’s a separate issue.)
The reason for this, of course, is to save money. The council subsidises its allotment provision heavily. Even after the rent increases, it’s projected that income from rent will cover less than 60% of the £300k+/year that the council spends on its 3000 allotments. (Quite how they manage to spend £100+/year per plot when all they seem to do is manage the waiting lists and invoice for rent is beyond me, but perhaps they do a lot on other sites that I don’t see.)
However, there’s now hope that the council may have to back down or see the rent increases overturned in court.
In 1981, Mr Vivian Price Q.C. sitting in the High Court Chancery Division, found for Dennis John Harwood against Reigate & Banstead Borough Council when the council attempted to increase his rent from £3/year to £10/year. The Judge concluded, “What does seem to me to be the right approach for the council to take is not to discriminate against this recreational activity as compared with other recreational activities… in the ordinary case if there is to be an increase in the rent charged then it should be in line with the increases that have been charged for the use of the other recreational facilities.”
Last week, Southampton County Court found in favour of Alex Mullins against Eastleigh Borough Council. The council had attempted to increase rents by 60% from £25 to £40. The court ruled that this was discriminatory, and the rent increase was pegged to increases in comparable services (specifically to the 9% increase in swimming pool charges, according to the Daily Echo).
These two cases appear to establish that for a council to increase allotment rents at a rate greater than it increases prices for comparable leisure facilities is illegal. (Comparable leisure facilities include bowling greens, swimming pools, tennis courts, football and cricket pitches, and the like.)
So what does Sheffield City Council plan to do to costs for those comparable leisure facilities? According to The Star, they’ve reached an agreement to increase bowling green fees by 22%. The Council itself says that charges for football and cricket pitches will go up by 14% (https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/your-city-council/finance/budget-update/updates/parks.html). The 130%/175% increase in allotment rents therefore does seem to be out of line with increases in charges for other services.
So it appears that the council’s plans are illegal, and that the allotment rent increases need to be brought into line with the increases in charges for other recreational facilities (or vice versa). It will be interesting to see how the council responds to the Eastleigh case, and if they don’t respond, whether anyone is willing to take them to court.