The Farm Terrace Story
Farm Terrace lies behind Watford Football Club’s football ground in the densely populated area of west Watford made up of mainly terrace housing with small gardens. The allotments date back to 1896 and were formally an old sewage farm, the soil is amazing.
It currently covers 2.63 hectares or 128 plots. Originally it was at least 3 times this size.
In May 2012 we received a letter from Watford Borough Council stating that the allotments could be needed as part of the Health Campus development, which was to include possible hospital buildings, houses, flats (now 750 in total) and ironically green space.
At the same time, the Council also closed our waiting list and have since 2012 not allowed new tenants on Farm Terrace.
In December 2012 – Watford Council decided they wanted the entire allotment site to develop on as part of the ‘Health Campus’ scheme.
It was at this time that I started a social media campaign, using Face book and twitter. My first ever tweet said “Help the council wants to build flats on our beloved allotments’
The response was phenomenal with so much support from so many people.
We were not against the hospital re-development but we soon realised that the hospital had no funding or firm plans for any expansion.
The allotment site only takes up roughly 20% of the total area of the Health Campus scheme but we were happy to compromise and thought that we would make a wonderful integral part of the garden-less estate and an opportunity for use by the hospital which stands to the side of us.
But the council would not listen to us and the consultation process was basically just a box ticking exercise.
In January 2013 – We formed a Community Association whilst Watford Borough Council wrote to the Government formally requesting the closure of the site.
Legally the council had to relocate us they offered us a horse grazing pasture over 2 miles away!
In February 2013 – We lodged a Community asset request with Watford Council
Unsurprisingly in April 2013 Watford Council denied the Community asset request. Significantly the council conceded that in all respects the application was sound, and that the only reason to deny the application was because the council had resolved to build on the site.
In May 2013 the then secretary of state Eric pickles agreed the deregulation, we were as you can imagine heartbroken.
We put in a FOI request and found out that this had indeed happened to many others, and in fact as I said before that between 2007-2013 there had been 199 applications to deregulate sites, 128 were approved only 4 were declined (67 were withdrawn/undecided or invalid)
Basically that the government had agreed 80% of deregulations!
But in July 2013 – We got legal support with the prestigious ‘Deighton Pierce and Glynn’ legal practice, and we raised money through crowd funding so we challenged that the decision had been incorrectly made.
In August 2013 – The SOS acknowledges an error in its decision and a Judicial Review was lodged to formally quash the deregulation decision
But in September 2013 – Council put in 2nd submission to close site
December 2013 – SOS agrees second deregulation whilst stating exceptional circumstances for the first time as the statutory criteria to close had not been fully met
Coincidentally, in January 2014 – The SOS releases new allotment guidance “clarifying” the criteria that needed to be met for applications to close allotments whilst allowing an “exceptional circumstances” clause to be considered if the criteria to close have not been fully met.
In July 2014 we took our case to the Royal Courts of Justice in Westminster and over 100 allotment holders and supporters put on what was called ‘The most colourful and ‘peasful’ protest the Royal courts of Justice had ever seen!’
While we were waiting for the decision the council wrote to plot holders offering a generous compensation of up to £1,000, way above the statutory minimum required, to vacate our plots
On October 31st 2014 we found out that we had won the judicial review! You can imagine the party!
But again In January 2015 Watford Borough Council put in their third submission to take the land stating that all that was needed this time was a minor update to previous submissions. However this ‘update’ ran to 45 pages and 43 appendices.
In April of this year the Department of Communities and Local Government informed us that the decision would not be made until after the General election when the new Government was in place.
We are still awaiting a decision from the new secretary of state Greg Clark.
I honestly don’t know what will happen to Farm Terrace. But I can tell you that we won’t stop fighting!