4 April 2011

Allotments - Digging for Gold

Barnet Council want allotments to be self managed. Many of them are half-way there already. Allotment holders have to be self reliant as it's not as if the Council do much for them anyway.

In Barnet there are 45 sites and 4,500 plot holders.

Barnet has "consulted" on its ideas for the allotments as per the attached link.

Before the consultation income was £95,000 ( this appears to be just the direct let and self collect sites - as always there is a lack of clarity in Barnet's figures - total income is £140,000 - which is chicken feed - sorry ! ) and expenses were as follows:-

Services £27,500 ( things like a temporary toilet )
Skips £13,500
Repairs £26,000
Improvements £23,000

Total £90,000

Surplus £5,000

The funny thing is that allotments are a recreational activity and are intended to be subsidised. Barnet have other ideas. They have just served on my friend Mr D. a notice to increase his rent from £5.90 per pole ( an ancient measure of 5.5 yards square - most people have 5 or 10 poles ) to £17 per pole, so an increase for 5 poles from £29.50 to £85 p.a. i.e. an increase of 188%

At the same time they want allotments to go self managing = in OneBarnetSpeak - more work for more rent.

So rents across the board will go from £95,000 to £273,728 ( 95000 / 5.9 * 17 ) which the self managed sites will have to pay 50% of,

and costs will fall as follows :

Services to £nil - tenants to be liable
Skips to £nil - tenants to be liable
Repairs to £nil - tenants to be liable - break-ins are frequent
Improvements to £nil - tenants

so for the Council the position will change to

Income £136,864
Expenditure £nil
Surplus £136,864

and for the plot-holders it will probably be cheaper to go to the supermarket. They will have to pay for security, fencing - which is not cheap, water, tree pruning ( lots of those near/on allotments ) renewing the vehicle tracks in allotments, the annual skip for rubbish clearance, the toilet so that people can stay on their allotment for a few hours, insurance and everything else.

The only snag is that allotments are a recreational facility that is meant to be subsidised. The Council simply should not be making a profit from its allotments. The main legal case in respect of allotments is Harwood v Borough of Reigate and Banstead ( see http://tinyurl.com/4x3aes7 )

and this is what the judge said:-

"What does seem to me to be the right approach for the defendants ( the Council ) to take is not to discriminate against this recreational activity as compared with other recreational activities. In other words, unless there are some very special circumstances relating to this particular recreational facility which, if it were some other recreational facility would require that a higher charge should be made for the use of that facility, then 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."

so unless Barnet have increased all other charges for recreational activity such as tennis, swimming and football by 200%, which they have not, then they need to go back to the drawing board and revise the charges.

The internet suggests that making a profit from allotments is illegal. Mr Mustard will allow the Council 30 days to go back over your decision and make another better one before he enquires too closely into the law ( I know you read the blog ). You have already been dragged through the Courts on wardens and lost. The CPZ review is next and you are definitely on dodgy ground there. Will allotments be the third cause célèbre ?

Please can you start turning into commonsense Council. How many disgruntled residents do you want to have ?

My unanswered question  is - why do Barnet Council make so many bad decisions ? Answers on a postcard to..,.. actually better to email mrmustard@zoho.com

1 comment:

  1. When we go self managed in Oldham WE will have the rent not the council. They will have a peppercorn rent per site for 25 years

    So that should be money the plot holders can use to benefit the sites.


I now moderate comments in the light of the Delfi case. Due to the current high incidence of spam I have had to turn word verification on.