BY GILLIAN METCALFE & MERLIN PENDRAGON

Although the allotment holders of Hastings may not be planning a pitchfork rebellion, the usually law-abiding and civilised group of gardeners show signs of quiet revolution. This is because Hastings Borough Council have floated the idea of a 66% rent increase on their plots.

The benefits of allotment gardening are already well-documented and protected in Allotment Acts from the 18th Century onward, but a recent study comparing the health of non-gardeners to gardeners also states that, “Allotment gardening can play a key role in promoting mental well-being”.

With one of the highest rates of depression in the South East, especially among flat-dwellers to whom gardening space is so often inaccessible, Hastings could clearly benefit from better access to allotments. The spaces provide great ecological benefits, developing wildlife corridors, biodiversity and healthy composting practices.

So it seems highly unusual that Hastings Council should be planning a drastic increase in rental costs that might not only discourage new gardeners but potentially force away existing plot holders.

Andrew Colquhoun, Chairman of the Hastings and St. Leonards Allotments Federation, says, “The figures put to site representatives …seemed to suggest that the Council might be seeking a rent increase of about 66%…Subsequently we have heard that this increase might be spread across two years, but this has not been confirmed…it would still mean an increase of about 33%
this year.”

Colquhoun has laid out various arguments as to why the rents for 2018/19 could be increased by 10% but no further. He says that allotment legislation requires rent increases to be based on what “a tenant would reasonably be expected to pay” (Allotment Act 1950, s10) and that the Council’s proposed increases would mean that Hastings holders pay substantially more than those in similar south-eastern towns.

The current proposal needs to be seen against a background of consistent rent increases and reductions in services provided. Further increases could demand an amount that the allotments’ many poorer tenants simply cannot pay. This is not a fair situation nor necessarily a financial benefit or break-even for the council if its tenants are required to leave

Research and information for this article has been provided by Peter Driver of Lower Torfield Allotments,  Andrew Colquhoun of the Hastings and St Leonards Allotments Federation, and Judy Clark, site secretary for Bembridge Allotment Association. Contact any of these organisations for more information or to learn how to help.

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