Huge increase in allotment fees agreed

Image above: Allotment shed, photograph Rennie Pilgrem

Councillor Samia Chaudhary, Cabinet Member for Leisure Services, has approved and agreed LB Hounslow’s Allotment Strategy, including plans to increase the fees by 69%. The fees are set to increase from £71 a year to £120, in line with the average for London.

The London Borough of Hounslow has 29 allotment sites, with around 2000 plots. There are considerable waiting lists and interest among residents in keeping an allotment is growing. According to the Council’s Allotment Strategy, the Council recognises the benefits to residents, in terms of mental and physical well being and also the benefit to the environment, in terms of increasing biodiversity. It wants to improve facilities on allotment sites to make them more valuable.

Hounslow currently charges £71 a year for an allotment plot, with a concessionary rate of £35.40, which makes it one of the cheapest places in London (9th cheapest out of 21 Boroughs). The average cost in London is £120. What determines the costs is usually whether sites have toilets and water. The cheaper ones have neither. Hounslow is planning to provide toilets and improve the management of water on its allotments throughout the borough.

The £120 fee will be all inclusive, including water charges. Plot holders on sites which have no water provision, such as Saxon Avenue and Manor Garden, will see a smaller increase – to £90. Allotment holders who live out of borough will be charged £250 per annum.

Images above: Photographs from the Chiswick Horticultural and Allotments Society

Blanket concession for over 65s abolished

Perhaps the most controversial change is that the blanket concessionary fee for all over 65 is being abolished.  The concessionary fee will be kept at £36, but to receive it, people will need to provide evidence that they are receiving benefits, including pension benefits.

The age profile of people who have allotments is high. Most are over 45, with the biggest group (35%) aged 60 – 69. Only 4% of allotment holders are aged 30 – 44, while 27% are aged 45 – 59 and 29% are aged 70 – 84.

Chiswick has more allotments per head of population than most other parts of the borough. Chiswick Homefields ward has 91 plots per 1,000 households. The National Allotment society recommends an average of 20 plots per 1,000 households. The average for LB Hounslow is 18 per 1,000 households, but some areas such as Feltham West and Hounslow Heath have none. Chiswick also has the highest waiting lists, with 68 people currently waiting for an allotment in Dukes Meadows.

Image above: Woman and cat on her allotment; photograph by Marianne Mahaffey

LB Hounslow talked to allotment holders throughout 2019, in face to face surveys, a focus group and a seminar with 100 participants. Of the 195 respondents to the survey, 62% professed themselves satisfied with the service and 71% expressed satisfaction with their site over all. Areas for improvements were toilet facilities, waste management and security.

The Council also wants to make allotments more accessible to the wider community by involving schools and community groups, for example introducing a referral system through GPs.

Cllr Chaudhary signed off on the decision to go ahead with the changes outlined in the strategy on Christmas Eve, as a ‘Single Member decision’, rather than the strategy being discussed and decided on by the full council.

Chiswick councillor John Todd has challenged the decision. He wrote to the Chief Executive of Hounslow, Niall Bolger, before Christmas, asking him to intervene and defer the decision, because of the lack of financial detail in the policy document:

“there’s not one item of financial data, projections nor justification or contemporary budget/costings. This material omission renders the intent flawed, unsubstantiated and annoying to allotment users being asked to pay a substantial increase”.

The Chief Executive declined to intervene but has offered to set up a meeting with senior officers to discuss the impact of the Allotment Strategy further.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Londoners’ way of life changed long term by the pandemic

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