A Scout group about to mark its 60th anniversary could be facing closure due to a massive rent hike by Luton Borough Council.
St Augustine’s Scout Group, part of the Icknield district, has just been told its ground rent is going up more than 53 times its current rate – from £150 to £8,000 a year – from September 1. And leaders fear this could be just the tip of the iceberg, with other groups around the town expected to face similar demands after a new policy for council land and property was agreed on Monday night.
It states that charges for community and voluntary organisations will now be charged market rates under a “fair and transparent policy”.
Finance chief Councillor Robin Harris was unavailable for comment but a council spokesman said: “No such policy had existed in the past, meaning rent was being charged inconsistently, and sometimes unfairly, with some organisations being charged well below market rates.”
The authority is setting up a hardship fund which will consider giving grants to hard-up groups.
But Icknield district commissioner Martin Wesley said the changes could “devastate Scouting in Luton”.
“I told them that such a sudden increase would cripple a Scout group,” he said.
St Augustine’s has been in existence since 1963, and is home to Beavers, Cubs and Scouts.
The group owns its building, in Icknield Way, but leases the land it stands on from the council.
“St Augustine’s will be 60 years old next year and they wanted to have a variety of celebrations,” said Mr Wesley.
“Now the worst case scenario is that they could end up actually closing down.”
Mr Wesley said another group in his district, Sells 7th, had been notified that their rent would go up to £4,500 a year.
And he said the move was at odds with the government’s focus on getting children active, especially post-Olympics.
“One of our local gold medallists, Etienne Stott, was first introduced to kayaking while a Scout,” he said.
“Who’s to say what future Olympians could be among our current membership?”
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