Changes to the “allotment service rulebook”, which governs how council-owned plots are run in Hartlepool, clarify the authority’s right to inspect land let to tenants.
But representatives on the Allotment Focus Group were unhappy with clarifications, which state a council officer or agent may inspect their allotment and any shed or greenhouse on it.
However council chiefs stressed the council always had this right, and they were just clarifying their rights to tenants so they were fully aware.
They also said as the council is liable for anything that happens on the land, they may inspect it if they have any concerns over issues such as illegal activity, animal welfare, chemical storage and health and fire safety.
The issue was up for debate at Hartlepool Borough Council’s Neighbourhood Services Committee, which was looking at changes to allotment rules, regulation and site management following a referral from full council.
Coun John Tennant, chair of the committee, stressed the land is owned by the council and they have always had the right to inspect.
He said: “It could be for any reason, it could be for any potential risk to allotment holders, and that’s not to suggest anyone is doing that.
“We are not just going to turn up on your allotment site, we will write ahead.
“We’re not just arbitrarily going to go round to everybody’s plot, and it has to be made clear, this has always been the authority’s power, it’s just making it clearer in the regulations.”
Coun Dave Hunter stressed the council has a responsibility to residents, but would only carry out checks if there was a reason.
He said: “We will only go in if there is a valid reason, if we’ve been given the information to suggest there is wrongdoing. It’s not as if they’re doing this every single week, every single allotment.
“If there is something there that could be criminality, could be dangerous, could be a number of things, the council are duty bound to go and check that, legally, they’re only going in there if there is a reason.”
Councillors also said although allotment holders may not like the measures there are ‘good reasons’ allotments need inspecting and they are not ‘invading’.
Council officers added they would not be inspecting all sites, it would just be done if the need arose.
Other alterations agreed by councillors to arrangements included adding extra dispute resolution steps for allotment holders.
If a tenant is unhappy with a decision made by the council heritage and countryside manager, they can appeal it with a chief officer from another council department.
They also take it to the councillors on the Audit and Governance Committee to appeal.
Previously if a decision was upheld residents would have to take it through the corporate complaints procedure, then if still dissatisfied, through the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, which remains a final option for residents.
Several tenancy rules are also due to change from April 1 2021 ensuring plot allocation is allocated to one plot per person, and stating any groups or organisations who own a site must provide evidence of their status.
The changes were all approved by the Neighbourhood Services Committee.