Leeds council’s £53k legal bill for allotment rents court battle

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LEEDS city council spent more than £53,000 of taxpayers’ money fighting a recent failed court battle with Leeds allotment holders about raising their rents.

The figure was revealed at a meeting of Leeds City Council, after opposition councillors quizzed senior decision-makers on the costs.

Around £23,000 was spent on the council’s legal costs, and a further £30,000 went on paying the other side’s costs.

As reported in the YEP last month, a High Court judge overturned council’s plans to increase rent on the city’s allotments from £37 to £58 per year after members of the Leeds and District Gardeners’ Federation took issue with the new policy and launched legal action.

However the association has repeatedly said the key issue was not the rents increase - which it admits is minor - but the additional bid to reduce the amount of total rents the organisation gets to keep to maintain the council-owned land.

Members of the Federation reiterated their concerns in the Full Council chamber this week.

However councillor Mark Dobson, the council’s cabinet spokesman on allotments and green spaces, insisted the authority did the right thing in fighting the case and the costs “could not be avoided”

He said the judge had only quashed the council’s proposed new policy on a minor point, but he hadn’t criticised its right to set charges based on its financial position. The authority could therefore feel “vindicated”, he said.

The council’s executive board will meet next week to reconsider its position in light of the court ruling. However it is also expected to appeal the court’s decision.

A report being presented to the council’s cabinet next week says the authority “succeeded on some of the four grounds of the challenge” but accepts that one particular element “was unlawful because the council had failed to take into account Section 10 of the Allotments Act 1950.

“The Judge also expressed the view, without reaching a definite conclusion on the point, that he found it difficult to see how the decision could be approached without some sort of valuation exercise,” the report adds.

“This might be achieved by looking at rents charged by other local authorities.

“As matters currently stand, therefore, the allotment rents remain at the 2013/2014 level and a new decision would be required in order to make changes to them.”

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