Review into huge price rejected as Harrogate garden plots debate gets personal

A resident's plea for Harrogate Borough Council to review a drastic rise in the prices it charges to rent garden plots has been rejected.

Tuesday, 3rd September 2019, 5:02 pm
The rise in prices of leased plots has resulted in some residents stating they wouldn't pay the increase.

Harrogate resident Neil Hind appealed to the authority's overview and scrutiny committee to add a review of the council's small plots policy to its future workload.The move was refuted by deputy council leader and economic development cabinet member Graham Swift - with the personal nature of the rebuttal prompting stand-in committee chair Coun Sam Gibbs to state multiple times that they were not to discuss specific cases.

Mr Hind is one of dozens of residents impacted by a 2018 review undertaken by the authority, in which the authority analysed and increased the prices of 22 plots of garden land it lets to householders via a garden licence agreement.

Addressing committee members, Mr Hind said he had multiple concerns about the sharp increase in rental fees, which are set to rise to a total of £7,730 per annum, up from the current £1,565 generated by the 22 properties.

Neil and Lucy Hind, who had leased a plot at Harlow Hill.

"In my own personal circumstances it's far too late, we've handed back most of our land, but for others impacted... we think it's very important it's looked at," Mr Hind said.

Mr Hind had previously leased a plot of land which was developed and maintained by local charity Horticap. It saw an award-winning garden established at Harlow Hill Observation Tower.

"If the aim of the policy was to increase revenue for council, it will fail, because the cost of maintaining that land that has been handed back will outweigh the relatively small increase in rent," he added.

However Coun Swift refuted the claims, saying: "Unfortunately Mr Hind isn't correct."

Coun Swift said the policy was not to increase the council's income but to "ensure fair rates across the district", as well as eliminating the "heavy subsidy" that had occurred due to rent prices not being raised for around a decade.

"We are here because one tenant with considerable wealth and public profile simply doesn't want to give up land... Broadly, I think it would be fair to saythere is no case for hardship in this circumstance," Coun Swift said of Mr Hind, prompting chair Coun Gibbs to issue multiple reminders not to talk of individual cases.

Coun Swift finished: "People who use council services need to pay a fair price. If they do not, everyone else is subsidising them, which isn't fair on the poorest in society."

While Mr Hind agreed that "value for money has got to be key for the council", he added that in his view the new rates were not "commercially acceptable".

During debate, Coun John Mann acknowledged the issue was "important", but said it was not worth adding to the committee's busy work programme.

The majority of councillors agreed with him in voting down the review, with no further action to take place on the matter.

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter