GUEST COLUMNIST: We want to cut allotment rents, says Martin Lee, Labour leader at MDC

The benefits of allotments are well known – they give people the opportunity to get out in the open air, to exercise, meet with others, and to grow affordable, healthy produce.Allotments add to people’s quality of life, their health and wellbeing; and they are important green spaces in urban areas.

My Labour colleagues have visited allotments across the district, and spoken to many allotment holders. The main issue that people raised was the cost of allotment rent, which has increased from £26 per year in 2009 to £50 in 2012.

Allotment holders expressed concerns that the increasing cost would put people off. One explained that many of the allotment holders were pensioners who grow produce for themselves and to give away, and that this gave them a sense of purpose and a reason to be active. He described how important the friendships that develop on the allotments can be in preventing social isolation.

Allotments draw people from different generations together; many people talked about younger people working alongside older allotment holders and learning from their knowledge and wisdom.

It seems only right that the Council should support and encourage people to take on allotments, but after discussions with allotments holders, and the Chad’s own Lazy Gardener it has become clear that the steep increases in allotment rents are causing a great deal of concern.

Unfortunately, due to the rent escalator strategy which began in 2009, yet another allotment rent rise is planned for 2013, which would mean that an allotment would cost £66 from next April. This would be, in effect, a 254% increase since 2009. This seems unreasonable and may also be a false economy; the proposed rise would not make a significant difference to the Council’s funds, but may well discourage people on low incomes from using allotments and reduce the overall occupancy rate.

After listening to the very real concerns voiced by experienced allotment holders, the Labour group will be putting a motion to Council, calling on Councillors to reject this increase and to reduce the rent to £35 a year to ensure that Mansfield’s allotments are affordable for all.

The Beacon Project

The Beacon Project, established by St John’s with St Mary’s Church, supports homeless and vulnerable people in Mansfield. It started life several years ago offering teas, coffee and hot snacks at the back of the Church to several young homeless people, but it is now based in the old Church Hall on Wood Street.

The Beacon provides a range of services to including lunchtime meals, facilities for washing clothes, showers, access to a nurse from a local surgery, food parcels, clothing and sleeping bags. Some of this work is funded by the NHS, but is supplemented by voluntary donations.

At a time when jobs are scarce and benefits are being cut, projects like these offer a lifeline to those most in need in our town. I was delighted therefore by the success this week of a Tin & Packet Food Collection for the project, organised by community volunteers, John Coxhead and Lynne Cooper. Due to the generosity of the people of Mansfield over 2000 items were donated to replenish the cupboards at the project. Well done to all concerned and to those who gave so generously.