Dear Elected Mayor Dorothy and Liberal Democrat Councillors of Watford Borough Council,
We the Farm Terrace Association feel compelled to write an open letter to you to express our deep and bitter disappointment about the contemptuous way you and the majority of the Council have behaved towards our campaign to keep our allotments.
We believe that at no point in this process have you stopped to listen to what the people of Watford, the local community of West Watford, and the tenants of Farm Terrace allotment site wanted.
In good faith, we entered into your consultation process. At the beginning, we met with your consultants and showed we were willing to work with them and the hospital to ensure that, if the allotments were integrated into the Health Campus, we would help create a community garden that would maintain and increase the biodiversity of the area and could be broadly enjoyed by the local community, hospital patients and other groups. You lacked the vision to include the beautiful historic allotments into the Health Campus scheme, and you lost our goodwill and co-operation.
When we became impassioned in pleading with you to listen, you said we were being unreasonable. You battled on with taking Farm Terrace, repeatedly claiming it was either allotments or a new hospital – when in fact your private sector partner Kier stated at meetings with our members that the development could be viable without the allotments, just less profitable. You have consistently led the people of Watford to think that the Watford Health Campus is synonymous with developing the hospital whereas we believe they are totally separate projects. As you know, Watford Hospital has requested a small amount of the allotment land to allow them greater flexibility to develop the hospital. However, as you are also aware the Hospital has to raise its own funds through Central Government to do this and as of yet this has not happened.
When we pointed out that it seemed that your real aim was to build lots more houses, (your original plan was for 300 until you decided to take the allotments and revise the overall development to 600 homes), you claimed we were being selfish. But we do not wish to stand in the way of a hospital redevelopment or even the wider health campus. We just don’t believe it is right to build on green space that should be available to local residents, living in one of the most densely populated areas of Watford, to grow and cultivate fresh fruit and vegetables. We believe that other considerations have been ignored – those of biodiversity, sustainability and environment.
You have used a ‘divide and conquer’ approach with many of our plot holders, having individual meetings and promising extravagant amounts of sheds, equipment and plants; this feels as though they might be being offered extra compensation if they leave plots quietly now.
You have never carried out a broad consultation with the people of Watford to find out whether they agree with taking the allotments. You have forged ahead, omitting to promote the availability of allotments and allowing Farm Terrace site to become overgrown with weeds on the increasing number of plots which are empty due to this lack of promotion. We are sure there are more Watford residents who would like a plot were they not under the misapprehension that all plots are occupied and that waiting lists are long.
Even in the last few weeks, when Secretary of State Eric Pickles has admitted that he made a mistake in granting you permission to develop on this land, you are still sending planners and surveyors to the site despite not currently having permission to build on it. You have even allowed these surveyors to spray paint on our lovingly tended plots! This is possibly not illegal but is insensitive and invasive and feels like bullying.
Many of our fellow plot holders and many of the people of Watford have been led to believe that this was a fight that Farm Terrace Association could never win. You have, however, been unprepared for the strength of feeling this issue has raised.
We firmly believe that the majority of people of Watford are behind us. After all, the allotments belong to the people of Watford. We are just current custodians of land that has been used since 1896 and should be there for future generations – land that in years to come will become increasingly important to support local and sustainable food production.
We would like to extend our sincere thanks to the residents of Watford for the level of support they have shown us over this past year. The extent of the support speaks for itself. Participation in our online social media campaigns has been utterly phenomenal; we have over 1800 followers on twitter, over 500 on face book. We have had articles printed on us in The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Independent to mention but a few. When we launched our ‘Go fund me’ site www.gofundme.com/3ig1fo to help fund our court case against the Government’s original decision to grant you permission, within a month we had received nearly a third of the money needed to take this fight all the way. At the time of writing this letter over 400 people have already donated money to help our fight, and the fund is growing still.
Dozens of people have written to the Watford Observer in support of keeping the allotments – and these are not just our members – whereas it is only a handful of Councillors and the Hospitals’ management who have written in favour of losing them. We receive messages every day thanking us for taking this cause on.
For these reasons we ask Watford Borough Council not to send another submission to the Secretary of State. We would like to ask the people of Watford to show their support for us by writing directly to you via firstname.lastname@example.org and copying us in on all emails at email@example.com. If any of the residents of Watford would be interested in having a plot on Farm Terrace now or at any time in the future (instead of having to walk 2-3 miles to the next nearest site), could they please inform Watford Borough Council and ourselves of this. We ask everyone who does write, to copy the communication to us so that we too can see the extent of the support. Amazingly, Mr Pickles’ office lost some of the original correspondence sent in objecting to the proposed closure, so we want to ensure that no more goes astray!
Once again we would like to thank the people of Watford for all their support so far and hope that we can call on them again, if the Council refuses to listen and again attempts to destroy the allotments in favour of housing.
The Farm Terrace Community Association