Rethink call on ‘ill-judged’ allotment rents decision

PROPOSED hefty increases in Bristol’s allotment rents and charges look set to be a major issue in the run-up to the Bristol City Council elections next month.

There was a huge row earlier this year after plans were put forward to raise the fees for the first time since 2018 and introduce new rules.

Thousands of people raised objections, which led to most of the rule changes being dropped, although the rent rises were still said to be needed. 

As part of the negotiations over the council’s budget for 2024-25, the Conservatives persuaded the Labour-led administration to delay the increases, which would see the cost of a medium plot rising from £70 currently to £113 in 2025, and then £156 in 2026, until next year.

Now the Green Party, which says it was excluded from those discussions, has “called in” the decision made at the Labour cabinet meeting on March 5 to bring in the rent rises from 2025. This is a process that can be used when councillors believe a decision was not made following the principles laid out in the council constitution.  

 The call-in was being discussed at a meeting made up of councillors of all parties on March 27, after the Voice went to print. But whatever the outcome, it’s likely the issue will be revisited after the elections on May 2, when Bristol will be returning to a committee system rather than a cabinet one.

Green Party Councillor Martin Fodor (Redland) said, “Allotments serve key functions to communities across Bristol, providing an outdoor space to not only grow food, but for education and community, all of which can improve quality of mental and physical health.   

 “Whilst we recognise that fees may need to gradually increase to restore the smooth running of the service for plot holders, the decision from Cabinet to increase rents was deeply flawed. The consultation was a complete muddle, survey results were ignored, key information like the real budget of the service was presented late and totally inadequate, and the equalities impact assessment was not fit for purpose. 

 “These proposed shock rent increases are the result of an ill-judged freezing of rents by the Labour administration, which has created a failure to invest in the service for many years. In 2022, the Council agreed an inflationary rent rise of 25% to cover the period 2018-2025, which was never implemented. The administration and Cabinet member with responsibility for Public Health and Communities must also answer why this was never put in place.”  

 Councillor Emma Edwards (Bishopston and Ashley Down), leader of the Green group, said, “Until May, Labour has total control of Bristol City Council, despite the Green group being the largest political party. As opposition councillors, although we are limited with the information we can get and the influence we can have, we have enough information to believe that this decision was in breach of the decision-making process as laid out in the constitution.” 

“When the city finally gets balanced committees representing all parties elected by residents, the Greens will make sure the committees pick up the pieces and start to listen to the concerns, wisdom, and insight of allotment communities.  

“These voices will be central in shaping our strategy to support the service and ensure there is a clear budget to sustain it. Meanwhile we will continue to gather information about what the current administration is doing. 

“Sadly, the furore created by these ill-judged proposals means it will be a more difficult task to ensure a collaborative debate that develops a better way to manage this service.”