“WE won’t give up the fight”.

That’s the message from the man who represents more than 700 Hampshire gardeners after losing a legal battle over allotment rent hikes.

As previously reported, Alex Mullins successfully challenged Eastleigh Borough Council’s bid to up his rent for a plot from £25 to £40 – an increase of 60 per cent – during a small claims hearing earlier this year.

But the authority launched an appeal amid speculation that the ruling could spark a flurry of similar claims in the borough – and payouts totalling hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

Yesterday a judge ruled in the council’s favour after calling the original small claims procedure “wholly inappropriate”

for a dispute that could have “potentially involved substantial sums of money”.

Judge Iain Hughes praised Mr Mullins for his “diligent and focused” approach during the ten-month legal fight and did not order him to pay costs.

But the decision came as a disappointment to the 64- year-old, who fronts the Eastleigh and District Allotment Association.

If the decision had been upheld, it could have had implications for councils around the country, some of which have put their charges up by as much as 500 per cent over the past four years.

After the hearing at Winchester County Court, Mr Mullins said he was “surprised”

that his case had got to this stage in the legal process.

And he added that he would be looking at whether to apply for a judicial review “in the next few weeks”.

“My understanding is that the case I made was right, but the place in which it was heard was wrong,” he said.

“It’s an indication of how strong the case was that the judge did not award costs.

“I am still going to explore other possibilities.”

Mr Mullins, who runs a plot in South Street, Eastleigh, was told he was entitled to a £12.75 refund after the original small claims hearing in Southampton County Court in February. The hearing heard how rises should be in line with other council services, such as swimming.

But Eastleigh Borough Council, which has always maintained that the rental hike was reasonable, will now not have to dig into their funds for the payout.

Cabinet member for leisure Alan Broadhurst said: “I think it was the right decision.

“We obviously hope that the matter has now been settled but if Mr Mullins feels that he wants to take it further he of course has a right to do so.”