THE cost of running an allotment in Sheffield is set to grow.
More than 3,100 allotment holders face a small increase from April, then can expect to pay almost double from the following April as the council seeks to cut its subsidy.
Enthusiasts are also now being asked to switch from payment of rent in arrears to payment in advance.
The council believes it has general support for the rises as a result of talking to allotment holders and says it is still offering a 45% subsidy, with smaller plots costing less than £1 a week for rent and water in 2013/14.
Half-price discounts will be available for pensioners, disabled people, students and those on low incomes.
But not all allotment holders are convinced. Peter Morgan, of Hangingwater Allotment Association, described this year’s increase and the decision to secure payment in advance as “a double whammy” and said the 100% increase was “a big surprise”.
And he questioned whether allotment holders should be expected to help towards the cost of other parts of the council’s parks and countryside section.
Many allotment sites were established in previous periods of national austerity to help working people enjoy a better lifestyle and to help feed themselves, pointed out Mr Morgan.
“Allotment holders by nature are not the most radical of individuals and may be seen as a soft touch by the city council. In light of the current proposals, this might change.
“The effect of what is effectively a double rent payment in 2012 and a proposed rent increase of around 100% in 2013 does not suggest that the Labour city council is supporting the interests of the common people in times of austerity.”
The cost of a 250-square-metre plot for rent and water is currently £35 a year, which compares, for example, with £47 in Bradford and Bristol. From April, this is set to go up to £37.90.
But the big increase – to £70 – is due to come in April 2014. Smaller allotments will cost £50 a year and bigger £100.
Mr Morgan expects to pay £100 instead of £52.60 a year.
Sheffield has a waiting list of around 2,400 people, he said, and the development of allotment sites supported the environment and the drive towards a greener and more sustainable lifestyle.
“Demand has never been higher and there has been increased activity and cultivation on many sites. On my own site, at Hangingwater, we have been working with the allotments office to help them increase the occupancy of plots and to encourage cultivation of neglected plots.
“We have also had many clear-up days to remove debris and tidy up the site and have also helped improve public footpaths around the site.”
Peter Sides, secretary of Rodney Hill Allotments in Loxley and secretary of Wisewood Horticultural Society, said: “It’s a heck of a big increase. I have been growing for 25 years and, if you are experienced, you can get a decent return in terms of what you produce. But for someone starting off, it is a large outlay.”
Chris Heeley, head of countryside and environment, told councillors the new charges were being set to reflect the authority’s “significantly reduced” spending power, “extensive” consultation, the need to ensure plots remained accessible to people most in need and the authority’s statutory requirements.