Free plots for these groups were introduced many years ago by Ashford Borough Council at a time when take-up allotments was at an all-time low. Those days have gone, and the council has been considering changes for several years now. The proposals in the letter will have to be approved by the Cabinet of the Council (elected members of the Council who make the decisions, as opposed to people in the department of the Environment like Eileen Law or Julie Rogers, who are employed by the Council). However, in the present financial climate it isn't likely that the idea will be rejected.
To clarify, anyone on a means-tested benefit, and anyone receiving the state old age pension, will now qualify for a half-price standard plot - which is now a 5-rod plot (about half the size of the old standard plot). They may still keep any more land they have, of course, but for the rest they will pay the same as anyone else. This means some people who have had their plots free for years will now recieve a bill which, under the new rules, would arrive in October and be payment for the land in advance. If you are unsure of how much land you have, and thus how much money you will be asked for, it will be on your paperwork from the council. If you have lost this, you can find out by contacting Eileen Law at email@example.com or on 01233 330528
No doubt this will come as an unwelcome surprise to some people. A number of arguments have been put forward for the change. The new scheme has been discussed in the Working Group and members of the Committee of Ashford Allotment Society (many of whom will be affected by the changes themselves) have had an inkling they were coming for a while.
Among the given reasons for the change are:
- The requirement placed upon the council to balance the money coming in with what they pay out for things like water and so on. Asking everyone to pay something is felt to be less unfair than keeping some plots free and raising the rents much more for everyone else.
- Things which are free are often not valued enough. There has been an awareness that while some people who have free plots are amongst the keenest and best gardeners on the sites, others do barely enough to keep the plots in their names.
- Ashford has been keen to bring the allotment services in the Borough in line with what goes on elsewhere. While it would be nice for us to see some of the facilities that other allotmenteers enjoy, it is also true that reduced prices rather than free plots are the norm.