Is this the end? How do we feel?

It has been a few weeks since we received the Government’s decision on the third application to ‘deregulate’ (close) farm terrace. People keep offering their condolences and asking is this is the end of the line? Honestly I don’t know. How do we feel? We know the decision is morally wrong. We are thankful that our fantastic legal team have agreed to look through this latest document to see if it is legally wrong and we are comforted by the support of local residents and supporters far and wide.

And we have been here three times before.

The first time back in May 2013 was the worst. We were sure that the government would back us up. Andy our chairman and others spent weeks completing our submission, which still stands as a robust document, so when the Watford Observer called me for a quote about the fact ‘we had lost’ – it was the first I had heard and I was shaking with shock. I met my neighbours who also have a plot there and we cried in the street. Luckily in July 2013 we got legal support funded through crowd funding and challenged that the decision had been incorrectly made. In August 2013 the Secretary Of State acknowledged his error in the decision and through a Judicial review formally quashed the deregulation decision. But in September 2013 Watford Borough Council put in a 2nd submission to close the site.

In December 2013 the SOS agreed a second deregulation whilst stating exceptional circumstances for the first time as the statutory criteria to close had not been fully met. I heard about this when a friend called me. This time I was not so surprised but the exceptional circumstances threw me. It still does. On July 25th 2014 We took the government and the council to the Royal courts of justice for a second Judicial review and on October 31st 2014 we found out that we had won!

In January 2015 Watford Borough Council put in their third submission to close the allotments. They believed that it was simply a matter of updating the information that was referred to by the judge and that the decision would be made quickly. The update from the Council that ran to 44 pages and 43 appendices.

We were made to wait 15 months.

On the 26th May 2016, this year, I was sat on the park having a picnic after school with my family when the same friend called to tell me the news that the government had agreed a third time to deregulate. My phone didn’t stop ringing that afternoon. It was mainly the press but also supporters trying to make sense of the legal jargon.

I felt numb. I still do. As I have explained we have been here before but each time you hope that this time ‘they’ will see sense. That this time David will beat Goliath.

We know that there will be no hospital buildings built on the Farm Terrace land. We know that all the plots will be bulldozed over to build flats and car parks. We know that this unique green lung that has been with us since the 1890’s and surrounded by buildings and traffic, once lost will be gone forever. We are not unique, many allotments are being ‘sold’ to developers but we are the most high profile case.

One day I am convinced that school children will study our case. The question I ask myself is whether they will study it because finally we won or will they study it because we lost and it marked the end of allotment gardens?

Don’t worry. We will fight on!

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The Farm Terrace Story

Artichokes with flats behind!

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!

Our appearance at Toby Buckland’s Garden festival at Bowood House Friday June 5th

SJ Shedfie  Toby and Martin

This Friday (The 5th June) we will be talking about the threat to English allotments at the prestigious Toby Buckland Garden Festival at Bowood House in Wiltshire.

Toby is an English Gardener, TV presenter and author. He is most famous for his time as the main presenter of Gardener’s world.  This is an amazing opportunity for us Allotment folk to tell our stories of threatened allotments, warn others of the dangers and help people prevent their beloved allotments being sold for profit.

But most importantly it will be a great opportunity to show case allotments and their absolute importance as an unfortunately dwindling part of the English countryside.

Allotments have always been central to politically uncertain times. From Winstanly’s Diggers to the Dig for victory campaign there have been various ‘Allotment’ campaigns throughout history, what perhaps is important about this one, our one, is that we have so much national support and not just from other plot holders but also from environmentalists, wildlife experts and even famous gardeners!  To be given the chance to come together and unite at such a wonderful Garden festival as Toby Buckland’s is quite something isn’t it?

It will be the first time that allotment groups under threat get together and have a strong united voice.

Like all Allotment parties, it is going to be a good one (Anyone who has attended a Farm Terrace one will vouch for that) and it is our intention to deck the marquee out colourfully and passionately, recreating as best we can the warm fuzzy feeling of well being and most importantly community that we get down on our sites! There will be a scarecrow, an old radio, a flat cap, bunting and homemade produce – you get the picture!

Allotment folk will get to mix with celebrities of the garden world with famous people like James Wong, Graham Harvey, Jim Butress and Toby Buckland himself of course.

Our main speakers are; Sara Venn, Martin Clarke, Maddy Longhurst, Dr Margi Lennatsson and myself.

There will be many other allotment holders present and there will be a debate which will hopefully be continued back at our stand in the main area.

So if you are free Friday 5th June (Or Saturday 6th as we will be on the stall Saturday too) and fancy meeting up with us all and celebrating the eclectic and eccentric world of allotments, while drawing attention to the fact that if we do not keep pulling together and supporting the fight to keep allotments, there will be fewer and fewer of us left.

Here are the details of our debate –

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For more information on the event itself please see – http://www.tobygardenfest.co.uk/pages/bowood-house

I will be there all day both days so please come and say hello and let me give you a Sign for Victory poster for your own #shedfie in support of our petition – https://www.change.org/p/eric-pickles-secretary-of-state-for-communities-and-local-government-help-protect-the-uk-s-allotment-sites

We look forward to seeing you there and sharing this unique experience with you! #SaveOurAllotments

Farm Terrace Allotments – The Watford Parliamentary Candidates’ Opinions

The Save Terrace Farm Allotments campaign in Watford has grown into a national campaign and an election issue. This was demonstrated when the BBC chose the Farm Terrace Allotments to interview local candidates for MP.
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So what do the candidates have to say about the allotments?

We asked them…….

Here are the responses as we received them

Matt Turmaine – Labour

I’m sure it goes without saying but for the avoidance of doubt, Labour locally and I as your parliamentary candidate, are opposed to the concreting over of the allotments for the health campus development.

It is my view that, as expressed by previous chief exec of the hospital, the campus development can take place without it – sure, it may make it harder but it demonstrates a total lack of political vision, imagination and willingness to engage with the local community to go ahead with it as the council proposes.

If I am elected as Labour MP for Watford, I would lobby against such use.

Dorothy Thornhill – Liberal Democrats

I disagree the decision will have been made but due to purdah it will now have to wait. Such judgments are not political; ie the outcome of the election will make no difference to the decision as it is based on strict criteria which are as you know are  subject to law and judicial review. Whoever is mp will of course, make  no difference to the council’s position which is that jobs,homes, new hospital facilities are  more important than allotments, which will be replaced. I am pleased that we are treating allotment holders fairly by  giving them a new plot , new  shed ,plants etc and compensation. Tending an allotment in a building site is just not a good thing it will quite honestly be awful.

Nick Lincoln – UKIP

My stance re the allotments is to protect and preserve these unless clear proof can be offered that they are indispensable to the Heath Campus development. In my opinion this proof has not been evidenced in any conclusive fashion. As such I am happy to endorse your (high profile!) campaign to protect this bit of rare green land in West Watford. The allotments should not be built on full stop, whether this is an expansion of the hospital OR (the likely route) houses / new school / whatever other plan the Town Council has this week!

Richard Harrington – Conservative

My views on this case are in line with the Hospital’s wishes, and their position, as it has been all along.

I can totally appreciate the upset that potentially having to move from Farm Terrace may have for some of the plot holders, which we discussed when I came and met with you all originally. It’s clear why there is such an emotional attachment to the allotments, and the amount of work that several of the plot holders have put in. I think this is clear, and therefore don’t honestly believe that anyone would make any decision to change the use of allotment land lightly or without a very good reason.

The NHS Trust have said clearly in public, and also personally to me, that the additional land will help them to meet the requirements of the Hospital – and the new facilities and services they want to offer. My position, as it always has been, is to support the Hospital and help them to secure what they need for the redevelopment and new facilities. They have argued that the additional land will improve the Health Campus scheme for a number of reasons, and as such I have sided with the Hospital on this over the past couple of years.

It’s true that I don’t agree with the way everything has necessarily been handled with the case, but I do still accept that the Hospital are arguing for the land in order to improve the scheme and that underlying principle has not changed – and therefore nor has my position. It may seem like an easy thing for me to do to attack Dorothy over this, but I genuinely don’t believe that is the right thing to do for the whole of Watford or the Hospital which has to be put above anything political.

In terms of the wider points you have made about protection for allotments generally, I do think your wider campaign is admirable and have an awful lot of respect for you. I know you have already had a response from Stephen Williams in his capacity as the Minister responsible, but just to reiterate that the Government has taken action to support allotments over the past few years.

Allotment provision has increased under this Government, with a survey from the National Allotment Society showing that 2000 new allotment places have been created. There was also new guidance issued last year which strengthens allotment protection, and ensures that waiting times must be considered. There are also new community rights that have been created, for example through neighbourhood plans, and a best practice guide for establishing community orchards and other spaces for growing food has also been issued.

While that is positive, I can imagine it will come of little comfort or assurance while the fate of Farm Terrace still hangs in the balance. Given that the Department had considered Watford Borough Council’s latest application for several months, and this has now been delayed further, I do believe that this is being taken seriously and that the legal position is being considered thoroughly and properly.

Aidan CottrellBoyce – Green Party

The war waged by the Lib-Dem led council against the allotment-holders at Farm Terrace is testimony to a staggering lack of imagination. It seems bizarre to most people with even a passing knowledge of the issue, that the destruction of valuable green space with a long history of promoting exercise and healthy eating, is the only way to increase the housing stock in Watford. There are myriad solutions to this problem. It speaks to a profound lack of imagination that the council has focused – with such a monomaniacal fixation – on this particular, very unsatisfactory, one.

But the issue is more profound than that. The ongoing battle which the Lib-Dem led council has fought against the allotment-holders demonstrates a willingness to stand up for the wrong people. We, as a society, and therefore our elected officials, should be fighting tooth and nail to preserve allotments, a shrinking but incredible valuable resource, and to support allotment-holders. The allotment project was initiated to create islands of community cohesion and cooperation in an otherwise ferociously, competitive urban landscape. In that endeavour, across the country, it has proved successful and valuable time and again. The decision by the council demonstrates the short-sightedness of governance which is dictated by the logic of electoral cycles: ploughing money into healthcare whilst destroying green spaces which are so valuable for promoting healthy living.

The Green Party in Watford have stood up for the allotment-holders at a local level and, if elected MP, I would argue in their favour at the national level.

 

Conclusion

We appreciate the responses from all the candidates as communication must be key in such cases.

We want to make it clear that we are in full support of regenerating the area on the existing brownfield land, and supporting any hospital expansion. The NHS in Watford have made it clear they are in no position to expand for a number of years and the current submission by the council revolves around a housing development, not a hospital or even a possible school.

We have been committed to compromise and innovative ideas to integrate the allotments into any regeneration or health plans as they could be key to both. It is has been distressing to be continually misrepresented by a council who have so far refused to compromise in any manner. The current Mayor has not even set foot on the site and has been unwilling to even meet the plot holders and listen to their concerns and suggestions.

It is difficult to find any facts to back up the idea that the current government has increased allotments, despite asking for them. The only facts we clearly have is that only 4 out of 132 applications to de-regulate have been refused.

I cannot tell you who to vote for. I hope you do vote, I really do and I personally hope you vote for somebody who supports Farm Terrace.

Alys Fowler, The Guardian , Home Farmer Magazine and the next phase of the Poster Campaign…

Guardian pod cast

It has been an interesting week. The kids are back at school – phew! And I finally could get back on the computer – uninterrupted. First job was the web site. I hate updating this as it takes me ages to make one small change when I am sure an expert would say something like “instead of doing all that  just press F4!” But it has been done- slowly, please have a look and tell me what you think. http://savefarmterrace.wix.com/savefarmterrace  My friend Sian suggested we should put a timeline of events up. I think it’s a great idea as I already forget bits about everything that has happened to us.

On Wednesday I was very pleased to be invited to the Guardian HQ to do a pod cast on the importance of Allotments. The HQ was VERY cool as you would expect and I felt VERY old as the average age was about 30! Hosting the pod cast were Alys Fowler and Jane Perrone. I got completely star struck meeting both of them! Unlike me I was very quiet and shy to begin with. They were both absolutely lovely and I was thrilled when Alys took a picture of us all for her social media sites!

The debate itself was really interesting and it gave me a lot of food for thought (excuse the pun) I don’t want to give too much away before it is released on Wednesday but we talked about the political history of Allotments and the reasons why they are different from growing stuff in your own garden. Also there was the lovely Lia Leendertz (on the phone) and the very interesting George McKay author of Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism and Rebellion in the Garden http://georgemckay.org/radical-gardening/

I will put a link for the Pod cast up soon as it is released.

Obviously I gave them all #SignForVictory posters and this reminded me that we need more famous people to endorse the campaign so let me know who you think we should contact and if anyone has any connections that would be most appreciated!!

Thank you to those of you who have been posting your #Shedfies.Agents of Field 2  #Shedfie

This is one of my favourites from @AgentsOfField !

You can download yours here – http://tinyurl.com/orcfv27

I am getting a bit frustrated as we need loads more signatures on the petition and although the poster campaign is going well we need a real surge now! This week there were more stories about allotment deregulation ‘fiascos’ which while it makes me sad at least they are getting press coverage. I should contact them with our posters –

http://m.newsshopper.co.uk/news/12903264.Neighbours_campaign_against_plans_to_build_Chislehurst_school_on_allotments/?ref=fbshr

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3047651/The-Good-Life-cancelled-allotment-holders-council-bulldoze-old-plots-build-car-park-football-pitches.html

Thanks to @kevmarriott for putting us in touch with @homefarmer Magazine who have done a great blog on us and are going to put a full pagr poster in their magazine. Interestingly Ruth from the magazine’s mum was originally from Bushy (Near Watford) and they are based in Preston (Near my home town Leyland) It really is a small growing world!http://homefarmer.co.uk/save-all-allotments/

I have been potting on more Tomatoes, my husband is addicted to tomato seeds (Particularly Italian ones!) and I have lost count of the different varieties we are growing. Must go and water them now. Will put up another blog next week. Until then please keep reminding everyone to sign the petition – http://change.org/SaveOurAllotments

And keep growing… x