Oxford’s allotmenteers face a fees hike

Oxford’s allotmenteers face a fees hike
Photo by Dan Burton / Unsplash

Allotment holders in Oxford could be facing higher fees for growing their own vegetables, as negotiations between the City Council and Oxford’s allotment association have failed to reach a resolution.

If negotiations fail, allotment holders fear that the council could take on direct management of the sites. Oxford City Council says that the current rates are “hugely under-rented” and that the national rate is 350% of what Oxford allotmenteers are charged – even without taking the city’s high property values into account. But the growers worry that a rent increase would put allotment growing out of reach of many.

Discussions between the Oxford & District Federation of Allotment Associations and the City Council over the city’s 35 allotment sites have been ongoing since 2019.

One sticking point appears to be discussion over transferring liability for boundary fences from the council to associations, run by vegetable growing volunteers. ODFAA are recommending associations don’t accept the council’s offer, as it would amount to a liability on smaller associations which might have to fold in the event of a minor accident. At a recent meeting, plot holders and associations unanimously voted to reject the council offer and send ODFAA back to negotiate.

But Oxford City Council says that rents have remained unchanged since 2014, and that the proposed 30% increase is equivalent to 3.3% per year since then. It says that all rent is reinvested into the allotments: “The Council recycles all of the rents back to the allotment associations via insurance, site maintenance (particularly trees) and grant funding. The Council does not know of any other local authority that recycles all such rents.”

Allotment holders told the Oxford Clarion that negotiations have been hampered by changes of officers and responsibilities at the City Council. The demographic of allotmenteers varies across the city: although some are affluent, others have been affected by the high cost of living and see their allotment crops as part of everyday subsistence. Many sites have waiting lists stretching several years.

Roz Smith, Liberal Democrat city councillor for Quarry & Risinghurst, said: “I’m extremely concerned about the potential rent and liability increases on allotment associations which could affect some of the poorest in Oxford. I will be asking the City Council to consider fairer terms – surely no one wants to see allotments close?”

Oxford City Council’s full statement:

Councils have a duty to provide allotments where there is demand. There is no legal requirement for the Council to provide anything other than the land.

The leases to the Council’s allotments expired in September 2021. The rents are reviewed every seven years.  The current rents payable total £11,739.02 and were established in 2014.

In February the Council’s proposed to increase the rents to £15,237.23 a year; an increase of 29.8% over the last nine years, or 3.3% a year.

The Council recycles all of the rents back to the allotment associations via insurance, site maintenance (particularly trees) and grant funding. The Council does not know of any other local authority that recycles all of such rents.

The Council’s allotments are hugely under-rented. The current rent equates to £81.75 per acre whereas the average UK rent is £280 per acre. Given the Council’s 143.6 acres of allotments and at 16 plots to the acre, the market rent should be around £40,000 a year.

The law requires an allotment to be let at a rent which a tenant may reasonably be expected to pay. This is normally at a level equivalent to the alternative use of the land or by comparison to other allotment rents.

Historically at Oxford City allotment rents has been extremely low, so any increase will seem comparatively high.

Typical misconceptions are that a local authority should fence the allotments, provide a site shed, pay for water, provide electrical installations and clear the allotments where they have become overgrown or have abandoned huts and polytunnels. There is a fundamental misunderstanding in relation to the Council’s statutory obligations to simply provide land.