Hewson On ... Big Society pushes up allotment costs

I read recently with some alarm that various councils round the country were "jacking up their allotment rents to claw back a few bob" due to the present squeeze on public expenditure. London boroughs appear especially fond of this trick, including some of the leafier and well-heeled postcodes. I'm not sure this misery has quite reached W1, in central London, yet, but give it time.

Unsurprisingly, there is much concern among those affected. Some of the rent increases - seemingly imposed with little or no consultation - are steep to say the least and more are planned as town hall cuts continue to bite. Many of those affected believe that councils are seeking to raise funds through indirect taxation, such as hikes in allotment charges, rather than implementing cost savings and working more efficiently.

It's all rather ironic and seemingly at odds with the coalition's desire for a "Big Society". For, if allotments are not about "society", what on earth is? Isn't the whole idea to promote sharing, self-help and community spirit? A kind of bulldog spirit for the noughties, if you like.

That being so, I'm not entirely sure how it squares with asking allotment holders for more cash, even if local authorities have been told to freeze council taxes. I'm even less sure how making allotments more expensive to keep sits with the "5 a Day" initiative for eating more fresh fruit and veg. Or, for that matter, the present enthusiasm for us all to have more fresh air and healthy exercise - I can handle a bit of obesity, particularly in winter, but that's just me.

Neither are such stiff rent rises likely to encourage families to grow more of their own and eat more healthily, unless they have a large garden plot, when household budgets are shrinking and food prices are rising. Speaking of which, I almost, though not quite, shelled out 80p for a single green pepper recently. And let the records please show that I don't shop at M&S or Waitrose.

Anyway, I don't have an allotment. But that's not the point. Apparently, such luminaries as BBC journalist John Humphrys, celebrity chef and campaigner Jamie Oliver and a "rock chick" by the name of Anita Pallenberg have plots to call their own - and that's good enough for me.

Andrew Hewson is a freelance writer and columnist.


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