Farm Terrace Allotments – One year after we lost the fight to keep our plots.  

20171102_0943501883903839.jpg The entrance today

One year ago todaywe lost our fight to save Farm Terrace. We fought a good fight but the odds were stacked against us. Farm Terrace allotments stand behind Vicarage Road stadium in West Watford and date back to the late 1890s. There were over 128 plots which accounted for just under 10% of all allotments in Watford. Farm Terrace was the largest allotment site in the centre of Watford, a densely populated town of 80,000 covering eight square miles.

It was May 2012 when the Farm Terrace Community received a letter from Watford Council stating that the land was needed for the so called Health Campus to rebuild the hospital situated next door. It soon became clear that the hospital was not the priority and housing seemed to be the real pursuit of the land grab, leading the remaining Farm Terrace allotment holders to challenge the eviction. The initial reaction was to tell us we were wrong and force a legal battle but in 2014 the Mayor of Watford, Dorothy Thornhill, admitted at a Mayoral hustings there would be no new hospital for Watford and only a possibility of new facilities. The campaign that followed to save Farm Terrace was bitter, raw and passionate. The Mayor of Watford swayed the public with untruths and unfulfilled promises. Ultimately the truth came out that the land would be used for a football carpark, housing and possible hospital facilities if there was funding. In the end the dubious council campaign did its damage.

We finally lost our four year fight at the Royal Courts of Justice late last year and were given just 48 hours to leave our allotments despite requesting a short extension to remove our belongings. This was denied and the council arranged a fence to completely surround the fence already around the allotment to prevent re-entry. Almost one year on the allotments remain abandoned and derelict with a season of fruit and vegetable crops rotting in the ground.

The council had to offer us new allotments that were close to Farm Terrace. Their proposal to the UK government was to replace the lost 128 plots on a site two miles away on the outskirts of Watford at Oxhey Village. To date only 22 plots have been replaced with 11 used by new tenants. The site chosen by the council was not accessible for most Farm Terrace users and eight of us reluctantly optioned to relocate to an existing site relatively closer than the Oxhey Village option.

As any allotment holder knows starting a new plot is daunting. Luckily we had experience and knowledge but it was hard work and bittersweet preparing the new space. In the first week we found our plots had been rotavated for us by the council but contained bricks and other building rubble. We dug deep and through hard work and perseverance similar to our four year court battle we have moved forward and pursued our true goal of growing vegetables. We now have new sheds, worked-over land and fresh compost that has led to a productive first season. Despite the group success we still felt like misplaced refugees in a place we did not choose after decades developing our Farm Terrace community.

We have turned our anger and bitterness into digging, building and planting. The fact we could do this side by side was invaluable. To retain some identity we named our plots in the corner of Holywell allotment site ‘Farm Terrace Corner’ so our old site will never be forgotten. It is still difficult to walk past Farm Terrace but as I began to write this piece I felt that I had to. It stands like a decaying museum piece and I fear for inner city and town allotments as developers continue to eye up short term financial gains rather than long term social profit of community assets like Farm Terrace. The partnership between Kier and Watford Council to redevelop the area around Watford Hospital is a good example of this. Farm Terrace was not lost because people didn’t want it or that it wasn’t needed but because of short term greed.

Dorothy Thornhill and her Lib Dem council now wish to distance themselves from the sordid affair and have already relabelled the Health Campus as the Riverwell Development which currently has permission for 85 ‘housing units elsewhere on the development’. No planning permission for Farm Terrace has been submitted yet. While we wait to see exactly what will become of our beloved site I worry how little value the government places on green sites over quick profit.

It has been depressing, demoralising and destructful but these feelings are being recycled and reused as physical energy as I weed and plant spring bulbs on my new plot whilst other allotment site continue to be closed and developed throughout the UK.

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7 thoughts on “Farm Terrace Allotments – One year after we lost the fight to keep our plots.  

  1. I can’t bear to think of all the fruit lying rotting under our mature trees, while my 5 plum tree replacements from the council produced sweet blow-all this year, and will do for many years to come, before they are big enough.

  2. The whole saga has been a disgrace by the council. The hospital redevelopment has time and again evolved and was obviously a key reason why the mayor didn’t become the MP. Some of us always saw how it was all hollow promises but it gives no satisfaction as to how the hospital side of the plans has been reduced and watered down into an excuse to line the pockets of certain people by building yet more houses and industrial parks and yet surprise surprise, no progress has been made on the hospital whatsoever.
    Farm Terrace Allotment holders have been treated disgracefully and I’m still angry about it…. yet not surprised as development is very rarely refused in Watford which in 20 years or so has gone from a Market Town to an inner city borough (with again the market shamefully treated, moved and hidden away).
    The allotments were only positive contributions to our town and environment and indeed health and welfare but not only did they not generate money but they stood in the way of it. Never mind, we will soon have bigger traffic jams, worse air pollution, skycrapers, over population and lack of infrastructral development (the mayor might count the wasteful money spent on the bridge over the pond) but no new hospital and no green space.

  3. You fought a valiant fight, we are ever vigilant about our council’s plans for our allotment near Hampton Court palace. Our lease is up for renewal and delay after delay is our story. Hopefully we won’t be in danger, but after following your story one lives in hope x

  4. I’m sad and angry that a council is able to treat local residents so poorly and then do nothing with the land. Our fight at Park Road continues; the first planning application was rejected but I suspect Percy and his pals are re-grouping. My post All Change talks about my emotions of leaving and starting a new plot. I really do admire how you are dealing with this – keep posting.

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