Allotment holders have hit out at council bosses over plans to increase rent charges.
Hartlepool Borough Council confirmed last month that charges were due to be increased from 15p per square metre to 42p.
It comes as the council aims to make a saving of more than £1million.
Over 60 allotment holders attended a meeting of the council’s finance and policy committee yesterday.
They were able to put questions to councillors present, including Coun Marjorie James, chairwoman of the Neighbourhood Services Committee. She defended the council’s stance.
Coun James said: “The concern is that the allotments service runs at a £100,000 deficit per annum.
It’s disgusting the way the council are treating allotment holdersAllotment holder
“Other parts of neighbourhood services are having to fund the money in order to deliver the service.”
However, allotment holders dispute the deficit, and so a meeting is due to be set up in the coming weeks between the council and allotment associations to discuss that, as well as the prospect of introducing self-management.
The attendance of the allotment holders at yesterday’s meeting was described as a “protest” by one of them, while another, who did not want to be identified, described the planned increase as “disgusting”.
He said: “It’s disgusting the way the council are treating allotment holders.
“Many of the allotment holders are unemployed, pensioners or disabled.
“They are targeting the wrong people. They don’t realise how much it costs to look after an allotment.
“We are a little community and for many of us, this is one of our main pleasures.
“It feels like they’re trying to take that away.”
Another allotment holder told councillors: “What is going on is absolutely disgraceful.
“It’s about time you took notice of what we say as allotment holders.”
Based on an average plot size of 250 square metres, holders would pay £105 a year, which works out at about £2 a week. The council’s Neighbourhood Services department says it has to find £1.225m of savings over the next three years.
However, the significant increase was questioned by Coun Shane Moore, who represents the Headland and Harbour ward for UKIP.
He said: “I was very surprised when I saw the report come through on this to increase it so much in cost.
“I understand that it needs to run itself, or it is running at a loss.
“It’s also my understanding that pretty much all of our recreation and sports facilities in Hartlepool are running at a loss.
“For some people, this is the only physical exercise and wellbeing they have in their lives. I really do think it’s unfair.”