Gardeners hope court will prune back charges

Daily Echo: Alex Mullins Alex Mullins

IT is a ruling that could have huge implications – for gardeners and civic bosses alike.

A case set to be heard in Winchester County Court today could mean allotment holders around the country who have seen charges soar are in line for a refund.

Earlier this year, Alex Mullins, representing plot holders in Eastleigh , challenged Eastleigh Borough Council’s 60 per cent rent hike on his allotment, from £25 to £40 a year.

During a hearing at Southampton County Court, a judge ruled that the increase should be similar to other services – such as charges for the council’s swimming facilities, which had gone up by nine per cent.

It meant that Mr Mullins, 64, was entitled to a £12.75 refund and led to speculation that the council could have to hand back cash to each of the 700 members of the Eastleigh and District Allotments Association, or see hundreds of similar cases brought against them.

But Eastleigh Borough Council decided to appeal against the ruling, and a judge will decide today if it should be upheld.

A ruling in favour of Mr Mullins could have implications for councils around the country, some of which have put their allotment charges up by as much as 500 per cent over the past four years.

Mr Mullins, who keeps a plot in South Street, Eastleigh, said: “Judging by the emails I’m getting from other allotment holders, there are a lot of councils around the country waiting for this result.

“If you take into account there are 350,000 allotments nationwide, if the charges all went up by 50 or 60 per cent, you’re talking about a lot of money.

“The allotment movement pays £21m a year anyway. We’re not adverse to increases – but penal increases like this we don’t like.”

Eastleigh Borough Council declined to comment on the case ahead of the appeal.

In the original case, council representatives argued that they had reached the 60 per cent increase by assessing prices set by other authorities and that £40 was a reasonable rent for the service provided, which included water and electricity.

The council also said that the fees amounted to 77p a week and that it was subsidising allotments by more than £70,000 a year.

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