Fears over Gateshead allotment rent rise plan
Allotment gardeners faced with a proposed rent increase of more than 200% say they will be driven off their plots by the price hike.
Gateshead Council wants to put rents up by between 214% and 233% for people using its allotments, saying its budget is being squeezed.
That increase would mean someone now paying £33 for a plot of up to 300 sq m could see their rent rise to £110.
Plot holders faced with the rise say it is unaffordable.
But the council claims it would still be subsidising allotments if the new charges come in and its prices would be in line with many other councils.
It is now consulting on the proposed changes and will make a decision in June.
But allotment gardeners who have received a letter outlining the proposed charges are angry.
Caroline Bentham, who has a plot in High Spen in Gateshead said: "The allotment is something you can do without having a massive expense and to get a bill like that - I was just absolutely shocked."
Sid Taylor, who has a plot on the same site and who is retired, said: "I couldn't afford to [pay]. I would have to leave my allotment and I've been on the allotment for 42 years."
Some fear that if allotment holders leave the land then it will fall into disrepair and could then be earmarked for development and lost forever.
Ian Cameron, who also has an allotment in High Spen, said: "You're going to see a lot of empty plots throughout the borough.
"It will have devastating effect on people on low incomes and pensioners, for whom some of them their allotment is their only form of exercise, of keeping fit."
Labour-run Gateshead Council says it must reduce the subsidy it pays to keep its allotments to protect other services, and so plans to increase charges - which have not gone up for three years - to help balance its books.
It denies the proposed charges will price people off the land.
Deputy council leader Martin Gannon said: "We don't want to see that happen. That's why we're carrying out this consultation.
"We want to work - hopefully in partnership - with the allotment associations. If there are other ideas, other than spending more money, we're more than willing to listen to those things because we are genuinely concerned and passionate about issues to do with health and well being within Gateshead."
However, some people believe Gateshead should be more imaginative in its approach.
Gateshead Lib Dem councillor Jonathan Wallace is himself a keen allotment gardener. He has a plot on a privately-owned site in the borough.
He believes Gateshead Council should allow its plot holders to be more self sufficient - and allotment committees to run their own affairs.
He said: "They can run the sites. They can decide what their priorities are, set the rents accordingly, collect the money as they actually do at the moment, and then spend it on their own sites.
"So the money circulates around their own sites, it's used to improve that site and it's not a cash cow for the council."
While other councils in the North East and Cumbria are increasing charges for allotments, none have done so by as much as Gateshead proposes.
Sunderland plans to put up charges by 5%. North Tyneside Council put rents up by 10% last year when it changed the way it charges for plots, which it now does per sq m. It says it is fairer and actually means some people pay slightly less. Durham County Council is also moving towards this system.
Newcastle City Council plans to put charges up by 3%, as does Carlisle City Council. Middlesbrough Council says it has no plans to increase charges.
See more on this story on Sunday Politics, BBC One, Sunday 17 March, 11:00 GMT.