Are Sheffield City Council’s planned allotment rent increases illegal?

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.

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12 Responses to Are Sheffield City Council’s planned allotment rent increases illegal?

  1. Rob says:

    Let’s be honest, no council is going to respond unless they have to! Apparently it only cost £50 to take the council to court in Southampton so I reckon we can probably manage to have a whip round for that at the next meeting ;)

  2. Andrea Marshall says:

    As part of the leisure industry, allotment rent increases should only increase in line with other local leisure facilities i.e. council run swimming baths, gyms, cricket clubs, tennis courts etc. etc. To increase allotment rents more than these other facilities is discrimination and illegal.

    Councils are supposed to give allotment tenants 12 months notice for an increase higher than inflation levels. During this period you can take it to NSALG who will fight it for you and take the council to court if necessary.

    Look up the court case “1981 Chancery Division of the High Court Case – Dennis John Harwood v The Borough of Reigate and Banstead”. Email this to every local Councillor and your MP in your area to show them that you mean business. Email them with every bit of legislation. Arrange meetings with your Councillors and Allotment Officer on your allotment site. Set up a petition. Rattle their cages and jangle their nerves.

    Think this way, if other council run facilities had to pay the same increase don’t you think there would be a massive public outcry? Allotment holders are no different so don’t let these Councillors intimidate you into thinking that they can throw you off site because you protest. However, if you don’t pay your rent they can throw you off.

  3. Tim says:

    I tried emailing various councillors about this. I had replies from the two Lib Dems that I contacted, and one was helpful in finding out and passing on some information that I asked for. None of the four Labour councillors replied. Unfortunately, the councillors that didn’t reply are those that I really wanted to hear from, as our council is now controlled by Labour.

    Two of the councillors in my ward have held surgeries in the past fortnight, so I’ve been to see them both. Both have expressed sympathy, but basically pleaded powerlessness. That includes a Labour councillor.

    In Sheffield, we have a cabinet system for local government, so there’s a specific councillor in charge of allotments, and he’s not from my ward. As allotments don’t fall within my local Labour councillor’s area of responsibility, he leaves the policy detail to the responsible councillor, and doesn’t feel it’s appropriate for him to propose changes in conversations with constituents. Of course, the councillor who is in charge of allotments is one of those who didn’t reply to my email.

    The council is aware of the Eastleigh case, though, and is taking legal advice, which they expect to receive early this week. With the budget being put to the council on Friday 9th, that means we should have a decision very soon on whether they’re going to try to press on with the changes.

  4. Tim says:

    Halton Council has just dropped its plan to quadruple allotment rents. Hopefully the first of many.

  5. Tim says:

    Sheffield City Council has now received its legal advice, and has decided to press on with the increases. It looks like this will have to go to court to be resolved one way or the other.

  6. Tim says:

    Hmm… Halton’s new plan is to increase rents by 160%, instead of the 300% originally planned (see http://www.runcornandwidnesworld.co.uk/news/9603995.Allotment_holders_furious_over_160_per_cent_rent_hike/). It seems that councils haven’t been put off by the ruling against Eastleigh Borough Council.

  7. Nick says:

    I waited 5 years to get my allotment last september to expand my current home grow your own to sustain my family. I spent 3 months clearing it (including glass, flammable liquids & asbestos,), I pay for water (the tap is not within walking distance we have to run 2 hosepipes if we want water) and now the council want to increase the rent! Will they give me a rebate for all I’ve spent on the plot so far? I think not! Rent increase is terrible!!

  8. Tim says:

    Some better news from Hyndburn in Lancashire:

    “Allotment holders, who have formed a new borough-wide group The Hyndburn Federation of Allotments, have received pledges that rents will not rise until 2013 and then only in line with other leisure cost rises, expected to be a fraction of the earlier proposals.”

  9. Tim says:

    It looks as though the appeal has gone the way of Eastleigh Borough Council (see http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/9845294.Allotment_holders_lose_legal_battle/). I’m not sure of the details, but my guess is that that puts an end to the prospect of legal challenges to rent increases elsewhere, including in Sheffield.

    Of course, plenty of tenants will still be unhappy, and the increases may create problems on some sites, but if the council is acting within its rights then there probably isn’t anything more that can be done.

  10. Tim says:

    I now have a little more information, and things may be more complicated than they first seemed. The judge at the appeal didn’t say that the rent increases are legal (or, for that matter, that they’re illegal). Instead, he ruled that the Small Claims Court, where the case was previously heard, doesn’t have the authority to handle this sort of case, so annulled its ruling. That puts things back at square one, but Alex Mullins (or someone else) could yet try again in a higher court.

  11. jason says:

    if there are all these court cases about rents i ask what is sheffield fed doing about itwe pay a membership to them for them to fight our corner and i know i used to be apart off it

  12. mick says:

    who would put up their prices 140%in any bussiness they would not, but the sheffield council labour dont .so i will vote for someone else next local election ,so why dont every one else they dont listen to any one just blindly waste money

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