Gardeners fear plans to increase allotment rents and reduce discounts to those living on a state pension could force hundreds to leave their plots.
Leeds City Council plans to increase rent for plot holders by 60 per cent over the next three years, while giving state pensioners just a 20 per cent concession as opposed to the 50 per cent discount they currently receive.
The proposed changes, which will go before its executive board today, come as the council bids to scrap the £137,000 subsidy it pays towards the cost of running Leeds’s allotments.
But Leeds and District Gardeners Association (LDGF) is angered by the plans, which it claims could drive gardeners away from the pastime.
Ian Wood, LDGF chair, said: “The younger families are working and are educating the gardeners of the future.
“I worry that they would not prioritise the 60 per cent rent rise over something else.”
He said when allotment rents were increased by 60 per cent in Birmingham in 2012 around 500 people gave up their plots.
Consultation with the council’s 3,400 plot holders suggests that, if the council does withdraw its contribution, just over half would support rent rises to cover the shortfall. But LDGF feel the council’s survey did not make clear that an option open to allotmenteers was the possibility that the voluntary group could take over the management of plots.
Mr Wood said: “We want to work in partnership with them, we want local people to run the sites. When local people run the sites the sites are cost neutral for the council.”
A report suggests the council could contribute as much as £53,000 towards its savings target by making internal cuts.
Despite this, if the plans are accepted, plot holders at 97 sites in Leeds currently paying the full rate would still see their rent almost double over the next three years – up to £72 a year by 2016.
The council plans to keep 50 per cent concessions for students, the disabled and the unemployed and introduce a lesser 20 per cent discount for those on a state pension.
Mick Hogan, 69, who has a plot at the Old Lane site, in Beeston, said: “It’s totally unfair, these are pensioners, they’re living on the breadline as it is.”
Coun Mark Dobson, the council’s lead member for the environment, said: “We have been determined to keep the cost down to plot holders, and having listened to the consultation, put forward a proposal to introduce incremental price rises each year instead of one large blanket charge, while keeping concessions for groups such as the disabled and unemployed.”
COST RISES IN THE PIPELINE
Allotment holders were initially faced with the threat of the annual rent of plots quadrupling in December.
Leeds City Council first announced it planned to end its allotment subsidy in 2012, which at worst could have resulted in rent rocketing from £38 on plots without a water supply to just under £160 a year.
The council consulted with gardeners, looking at rents and management. Leeds and District Gardeners Association favours on-site allotment associations handling and maintaining plots in a bid to save on council costs.