Council officials have been accused of getting into bed with a premium-priced business backed by venture capitalists – in this case, an allotment bed.
And allotment holders are worried that plots costing no more than £90 a year will soar in price in line with the amounts charged elsewhere by the business, Roots Allotments.
The Brighton and Hove Allotments Federation (BHAF) is worried that people will be priced out growing their own food if the “privatisation” goes ahead.
Roots charges £9.99 a month – just under £120 a year – for a 12 square metre “mini-plot” in Bath, according to the company’s website.
A 36 square metre “starter plot” costs £19.99 a month (£240 a year) and a 72 square metre “couple’s plot” costs £34.99 a month (£420 a year).
Brighton and Hove City Council said that it was in discussion about leasing land to the company but said that no decisions had been taken.
The council’s “full-size” plots are 250 square metres, with half and quarter plots available as well as 25 square metre “micro plots”.
Allotment rents are 35p a square metre a year with the price due to go up to 36p a square metre from October.
After the increase, the standard charge for a full-size plot would be £90 while a half plot would cost £45 and a micro-plot just £9 a year.
Roots Allotments currently has two sites in Bath and is trying to open a third on the outskirts of Bristol in the face of opposition.
Mark Carroll, who chairs the Brighton and Hove Allotments Federation, said that the council was listening to allotment holders’ concerns.
Mr Carroll said: “These allotments should be council-run allotments. They are planned for council land.
“The proposal is to rent this land to a venture capital-backed private company to rent back to us at between 16 and 20 times the price of the equivalent land on a council-run allotment.
“Sadly, this follows a pattern of public services with huge waiting lists becoming run down and the private sector stepping in to offer an alternative to those who can afford it.
“There are currently over 3,000 people on the waiting list for an allotment in the city.
“We are very concerned that the people allotments were originally intended for and who benefit the most will be effectively excluded from these plots due to the incredibly high cost of a plot.”
Those wanting an allotment in Brighton and Hove face a wait of two to three years at best – and as long as eight years at some of the most popular smaller sites.
Roots founder William Gay, 28, a director of Allota Futureland Limited, said that the company was in talks with the council about a site in Hove and was considering seeking a second site on private agricultural land in Ovingdean.
He did not respond to a request for comment on Mr Carroll’s concerns.
The council said: “Roots approached the council to discuss the possibility of them leasing council land. The discussions are ongoing and no decisions have been taken.”
The police have been called in after Roots faced opposition to its new site at Abbots Leigh, in North Somerset, on the edge of Bristol.
Residents have blocked vehicles heading into the field and police were called to resolve stand-offs between villagers and the allotment group’s workers.
According to the Bristol Post, planning officers from North Somerset Council have advised Roots to do nothing more until a legal argument about whether planning permission is needed has been settled.