My support for allotments in my home town of Gateshead is well known so when an allotment issue pops up, I am often contacted (wearig my local councillor hat) by residents and the media. A few weeks ago, the Council announced allotment rent rises that would mean some would be paying a rent 330% higher than they do now. Many concerned allotment holders very quickly got in touch with me once they were informed of the rise. To cut a long story short, after I raised concerns with officers of the council (and other councillors raised similar concerns) it was announced that the Council Cabinet would not consider the proposed rent rises but there would instead be consultation with recommendations for increases coming to the Council cabinet in June. The consultation closed just over a week ago. (For the record, my allotment is privately rented, as is Dad's.)
As part of the consultation, and at the request of some of the allotment holders, I hosted a meeting earlier this month at Gateshead Civic Centre which was attended by nearly 40 allotment tenants of the Council. The meeting was positive and a wide range of concerns about the management of the sites was raised. I have been pushing for the sites to be run by the allotment holders themselves rather than by the Council. Each site would choose a committee and officers and they would set the priorities for the site, decide what work needs to be done, set the rents accordingly, collect them and spend the money on maintaining the site and the priorities the officers have decided upon. Over the past decade there has very little Council investment and expenditure on the allotment sites though the Council does claim the service is subsidised. Any work that has taken place tends to be of a reactive nature - such as sorting out damage after a flood. This would change if the system I propose is adopted.
Generally, the idea of self-management was supported by the meeting as long as sites could move towards it at their own pace. After all, it will only work if there are allotment holders on each site prepared to come forwad to be officers. The meeting was also interested in moving forward with another idea I had - setting up a Gateshead-wide society to promote allotments and food growing in the borough. Hopefully, sometime this summer we will get an organisation in place.