Residents outraged over proposed allotment fee increase
Allotment owners in Barry are worried that a major rent increase proposed by the council could price them out of plots they have tended to for years.
As part of its proposed fees and charges for 2023/24, the Vale of Glamorgan Council is looking at increasing the annual rent for allotments by 67% for Barry and Rhoose.
At the Old Pencoedtre Allotment on Eifion Close, Barry, many of the gardeners say their spaces have been invaluable over the years, especially during the cost of living crisis, in helping them to put food on the table and look after their mental well-being.
Karen Glover, who has rented her allotment for 13 years, said: “Obviously we can’t get 100% of our food from there. We wouldn’t pretend to, but a huge portion of our food comes from the allotment.
“We go to the allotment daily. It is not just for the food side of it either. It is also for the mental health benefits that we get from it.
“I am a cancer sufferer. I was diagnosed during the pandemic and honestly, without the plot I don’t know how I would have got through it.”
The council’s proposed allotment fee for this year would see it go up from £6.50 per perch (25.3 meters squared) per year to £11.20 per perch per year.
Many of the spaces at the Old Pencoedtre Allotment, including Karen’s, are the equivalent of about 10 perches in size. Karen said she is currently paying £70 a year and could see her bill go up to over £100 by August.
The council said people will have the option of halving the size of their plots to reduce the cost of renting them. However, Karen explained that it is not that simple for her and others at the site.
She said: “Because the plots are so well established, to split it in half would actually be quite a difficult task.
“We have got buildings on the [plots]. The greenhouses and the polytunnels. So what part of it do you actually give up? How would they then have access?
“If they gave up half of the plot – some of the plots where maybe the half you give up is down the back of the plot which is next to a fence line – how would that be managed?
“It is not as simple as just drawing a line across the ground.”
Another complication that Karen pointed out is the fact that people have already planted on their plots for the coming months.
The other option that people have is to give up their plots altogether. However, this is also not as straight forward according to Karen, whose plot is like a “sanctuary” for her and her husband.
She said: “We would be absolutely devastated. I just can’t think of how we would manage without it.
“Immediately what comes to mind is the fact that we would have to cull our chickens because how would we re-house them?
“More to that, how do I then go about putting food on the table? This provides food for the table. Without it, I have then got to source fruit and veg.
“Am I then going to be relying on community larders? We could even be forced to use food banks. We don’t know.”
Milton Maragh, who has had a plot at the allotment for nearly 30 years, called the proposed rent increase a “disgrace”.
He said: “The majority of people here are older people who have gone past retirement age a long time ago, so this has given us something to do, like produce our own food, keep our mental health intact because it does have a calming effect when you come down.”
Milton, along with others at the allotment, said they think the allotment has not been properly looked after by the council over the years and would expect to see vast improvements if a price increase goes ahead.
Some of the problems that people at the allotment complained about included a poorly maintained road which runs through the site, inadequate fencing and grass not being cut.
Milton said: “This is a ridiculous situation with the council because they have done absolutely nothing in this allotment. Believe me.
“The road… it looks a bit dried out at the moment, but sometimes when the weather is bad you can’t drive in here.
“You have got stuff in your car to take down to the allotment and you can’t because the road is so soggy.”
When asked how much he benefits from the allotment, Milton added: “A great deal. As I said, I am producing my own food, which with the cost of living as it is today, is a great help to pensioners like me and my wife.
“I don’t think it is justified putting up the rent by 60-odd percent. It is difficult for people to pay that money because, as I said, the majority of us are pensioners.”
If the cost of renting the allotment goes up, Milton said he would have to think about giving it up. He said: “It would be a great loss.”
Another person who has a plot at the Old Pencoedtre Allotment is Mike Dean. He said: “I think a 67% increase is outrageous.”
Mike, who has had a plot at the allotment for 32 years, said he remembered the fee being £2.10 for the year at one point.
He now pays about £60 a year for his plot and could be paying over £100 if the price goes up again.
However, he said an increase won’t make him pack up. Mike added: “I do it for my welfare and my health, my mental health as well.
“I can afford over £100 a year, but there are a lot of people here who can’t.
“I think there will be people who will finish their plots because they can’t afford it.”
Mike also pointed to the sense of community at the allotment – something that a number of growers at the site fear losing if they are priced out.
Mike said: “There are always one or two plots which are vacant and they introduce new people in, but it is not long before they are just one of the crowd.”
Darran Fitzgerald, who has had a plot at the allotment for 13 years, said this is something he benefits from.
He said: “If I lost this now, I wouldn’t know what to do. It is just a nightmare.
“And the money I have spent on it. It is way over £100 just for the security cameras, not including the solar panels for lighting.
“This is my social. This is where I come and enjoy myself.”
The allotment fees for Cowbridge will remain the same at £14 per perch per year.
In a report on the proposed fees and charges in the Vale of Glamorgan for 2023/24, the council said that this is to “decrease the risk that demand is reduced, and residents are not deterred from contributing to making the Vale of Glamorgan a greener and healthier community.”
A Vale of Glamorgan Council spokesperson said: “Under the current arrangement, the Council is subsidising the Barry and Rhoose allotments as the fees charged do not cover the cost of their upkeep.
“In order to make them more self-sustaining, it is proposed to increase the perch fee from £6.50 to £11.20 per year.
“This is in line with the Council’s allotments in Cowbridge, where fees are currently £14 per perch per year.
“Most allotments are made up of 10 perches, so for Barry and Rhoose, this works out as an additional 90p per week.
“The Authority has made its stark financial position clear recently as discussions on the 2023/24 budget continue.
“We are facing a financial shortfall of around £9 million, with the cost-of-living crisis a key reason for that.
“The measures referenced are some of the changes being considered across the Council to address this issue as part of the budget-setting process.
“All such proposals are subject to public consultation until 15 February.
“The Council has no wish to subject anyone to financial hardship.
“Allotment holders are able to request that their allotment size be reduced by 50 per cent, in which case their allotment fees would be less than that paid for 2022/23.
“Alternatively, allotment holders could approach the Council with a proposal to set up an allotment association.
“This would involve taking over the management and maintenance of the site from the Council, in which case no fees would be charged.
“All associated costs would be picked up by the Association, as would the responsibility for lettings.
“We respond to requests for repairs to perimeter fencing and allotment access issues when these are reported to us.
“There is only limited funding available though, as the service is currently operating at a considerable loss.
“Much of the current funding is spent on water bills, the removal of fly-tipping and the clearance of old plots for new tenants.
“This can cost anything up to £2000. As advised above, should allotment holders feel that they can provide a better service at reduced cost via the setting up of an allotment association we would be pleased to hear from them.”
By BBC LDRS
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