Allotments – already a Community Asset?

6am meeting for 3 counties radio (2) copy

To protect our beloved allotment site from developers we made an application for it to become a community asset. This basically means that the community has nominated it as being of community value. This is now a decision the council has to make. To turn us down they have to give us good reason. Once I announced this on the social media sites I received a lot of surprise that allotments weren’t already regarded as “Community Assets” and that indeed hardly any other allotments have applied for this designation.

It is my feeling that our own (lib dem) council is behaving in an abhorrent and destructive way towards allotments, having ‘got rid’ of various whole sites and parts of others.  It is unfortunately a pattern which is being repeated throughout the country as allotments seem to be seen as disposable land and land which can be built upon by greedy councils and greedy government eager to build their way out of this current economic climate regardless of where they do it.

This is the point that really bothers me.  Take our own site as a prime example. Lets for one minute imagine that Dorothy Thornhill and her council really did need to build more housing in West Watford (which they definitely don’t) and let us again suspend reality and say that the hospital regeneration was going ahead and that they had funding and plans in place (which they don’t) but let’s just say for arguments sake they did.  I still don’t understand why they think they can build on allotments. Why allotments aren’t seen as being of equal importance to hospitals and housing, particularly in highly urbanized areas. In fact surely they go hand in hand.

As I said before the vast majority of housing certainly in West Watford is terraced houses with small back yards and increasingly, all the new-build flats that are going up in Watford are flats with no outside space. Allotment type land dates back a thousand years to the Saxons. The General Enclosure act of 1845 was enacted due to civil unrest and the provision of land to be set aside for the landless to grow their own food in the form of ‘field gardens’. Urban allotments began to emerge as ‘Guinea’ gardens to allow the work force who were majority housed in tenements and high density terraced housing without gardens, to be able to grow their own wholesome food while being engaged in productive use and keeping them away from the sins of alcohol abuse….!

Apart from the alcohol are we seeing a link to present day here.  Surely it is of moral and basic common sense that in a place where you have a lot of housing you need allotments to allow people to get out in the fresh air, get using their hands and growing food to provide their families with, especially in as  our government likes to bang on about this current economic climate.

Now, to address the health aspect; It is laughable to us residents that Mayor Dorothy keeps using ‘the health campus’ as the main reason she needs our land. We have already argued that they can still proceed with the “health campus”, without actually requiring the allotment land. Call me stupid but surely we should be trying to keep people out of hospital not try to put them in it! PREVENTATIVE MEDICINE!! Ask any doctor and they will tell you that gardening is one of the best forms of exercise you can do. It works not just your heart but also your muscles… and then there are the mental health benefits, Just being able to sick your head out a window and take in a big breath of fresh air is good for your mind so imagine an hour or two working on the land, planting seeds, watching them grow reaping the benefits of your labour all in the peace and tranquillity of a countryside type ambience. Therapeutic doesn’t even cover it.  The irony of what the loss of their plots will do to our large amount of elderly plot holders are unthinkable to me…

Legally of course the council has to re house us and compensate us but of course this clearly highlights the complete lack of understanding between the powers that be and the people who do. Apart from the fact the suggested plot is over 2 miles away and far too far for many of us to walk to with our families, wheel barrows and equipment.  You can’t just‘re house’ allotment plots! They take years to establish.  We have had ours for only 4 years and we are only half ways there!  Many of our residents have had their plots for 30+years!! And some small amount of monetary compensation is no fair swap for the blood sweat and tears you put into your plot, the time you spend developing it or the love and care you give to your piece of England’s fine countryside.  How can people even contemplate giving that away?

Then there is the community aspect. Our local residents may not have ever thought about having an allotment, partly because our council has not been actively promoting them (wonder why) but for many it is something they come to later in life when they have the time to devote to it.  Unfortunately when that time does come for many of our residents it will be too late. The allotments, their local allotments will be gone and they will have to move to another community to use theirs…

I do honestly believe that allotments hold the key to the future of our communities particularly in urban areas where life is so frantic we simply do not get the chance to chat to our neighbours or have get together in local places. We live in a fantastically multi racial, multi religious country. Where not everyone worships in the same place, many do not drink so don’t meet their neighbours in the pub and some understandably are unsure of where the common ground is…

Of course the allotments are the perfect place for this type of integration to happen.  A place where the colour of your skin or the god you worship doesn’t come into the equation.  All that matters is what you are growing! It is a place where a friendly nod of the head soon turns into a conversation about different gardening ideas and friendships are made. This is how our future communities can be nurtured…

The fact that we have to apply to make allotments a Community Asset is to me as unbelievable as the fact that our councils and governments seem to find it so easy to get rid of allotments.

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5 thoughts on “Allotments – already a Community Asset?

  1. A wonderful piece. The injustice you and your fellow allotmenteers face has hit me and many others hard. I think that beyond the obvious injustice of losing what is vital urban green space to development it is the way this one has been handled that is appalling. In a week where a politician faces prison for lying, news of a politician twisting the truth to push a policy through remains non news. This kind of untruth is now accepted. It is a harsh thing to state that someone lies, but justified by the sheer nonsense that is being touted by Mayor Dorothy and her team, who are civil servants and paid for by taxpayers I assume and therefore should not be busy spending their time ‘lobbying’ on behalf of developers. This is no health campus, this construction is an added incentive to developers to benefit from planning gains! This goes against the grain of all academic, scientific and policy with regards urban green space and its benefits to people. To state otherwise is fatuous, which is exactly what Mayor Dorothy has done. What is ‘good design’ to her is not good design necessarily and where in her process does the text of the legally binding European Landscape Convention sit? It has been ignored. Hold your head up and state that the loss of the allotments is awful and then there is a level playing field to work from – but to try and attempt to degrade the allotments is completely unacceptable.

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