Farm Terrace Allotments now (and then)

(‘Now’ photos credit Marcus Dove)

Mayor Dorothy Thornhill and her Lib Dem council have finally bulldozed Farm Terrace allotments in Watford. All that remains are a couple of stubborn sheds (left to give the last few animals some refuge) and piles of rubble.
Of course we knew that this would happen and we know that in their embarrassment to wipe out any connection to an allotment site the area will change beyond recognition. That is why it is so important for us to record it now.


Farm Terrace allotments date back to 1896. They were at least three times the size they were at the end and reached out to behind the hospital and towards what is now Laurence Haines school. They can clearly be seen here behind Vicarage road stadium.

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Many people ask me what exactly Watford Borough council will do with the land and the truth is that we honestly don’t know. When the judge at the Royal courts of justice finally ruled in favour of them destroying the allotments she did so unconditionally.
Originally Watford borough council said it would all be used for a new hospital and then they said it would be for part hospital ‘buildings’ and partly for housing on the development known as the Health Campus. the irony was not lost on us and within a few years they could no longer claim any health benefit and the name has now been changed to the Riverwell development. Here is the latest photo that I could find of that and you can see the allotments listed as part of the Northern development zone, you can just about still make it out.

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In 2009 when we first got a plot on Farm terrace There were roughly 120 plots and around 90% occupancy. Typical of that of any allotment. We had neighbours all around and there was a waiting list for the vacant plots.


The first thing Watford Council did was to close the waiting list, they then asked for voluntary relocations. Some people who had already fought development took this. There then, as is well documented a huge public legal battle. We were fighting not just for our own site but for the protection off ALL allotments. In spite of our best efforts and after a bitter 6 year battle we lost. During this time, and make no mistake, in order to make the allotments look derelict, unused and unloved the council started picking off the remaining plot holders. We were offered, new plots, shiny new sheds and up to £1000,00 in compensation to vacate. In the end just 24 plot holders remained. I estimate that around 10 years ago there were probably about 90.


We won the first legal challenge and even after that, we continued to offer a compromise to the council. They could take most of the vacated site, but they were not interested. They wanted it all and I do believe the mayor Dorothy Thornhill wanted a win.
As per legal requirements we were offered replacement plots but there was nowhere near enough to take us all and the site offered was more than two miles away. In the end around 10 of us relocated to 4 or 5 different sites but the move was too difficult for most.


My own personal difficulty lies in the fact that for the local community of Farm Terrace (of which I am part) there are no local allotments now. Slowly over a period of time they have been cut back and cut back until now like Farm terrace there remains absolutely nothing!


We will still have our memories but soon all that will be left of Farm Terrace will be these blogs and the well documented press coverage of our case.

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Starting over again.

It has been one full year since we received the keys to our new allotment. It was bittersweet. After being evicted from Farm terrace, part of the legal requirement was to offer us a new plot on a new site. “Like for Like” that phrase will stick with me forever. In the end six of us took plots on the second nearest site of Hollywell allotments. It is about a 20 minute walk from our house whereas Farm Terrace was a 5 minute walk and was an old sewage farm so the quality and indeed general appeal was not ‘like for like’. However for the purpose of this blog I am not going to focus on the negative but instead the positive. I have had too many years of negative.

We went to look around the new site on a cold winter’s morning. It was not inspirational but then hardly any allotments are at that time of year! We talked about it and decided that we would take over an area of wasteland, thick with brambles and overgrown weeds so that we would be able to be together. The council would have to rotovate the ground and replace everything we had as part of the ‘relocation’ so at least we knew that we wouldn’t have to clear the plots. This did not make us popular with other plot holders as usually when you take on a plot it is your responsibility to get rid of anything unwanted.

This work was done and the plots were measured out. Those who had (and still wanted) 10 poles or 20 got them. We had 5 and we are happy with 5. The highlight for me was a brand new shed! At Farm terrace we had an enchanting home-made shed which had been left by the previous tenant. But for all its charm it was rat infested and falling apart! The shed the council had to give us is brand new (another big faux pas for other allotment folk) and big enough for the whole family to shelter from the rain in!

Because the quality of the soil at Farm terrace had been so good they also had to give us a lot of fertilizer. However this was dumped at the end of the allotment site and we had to organise ourselves to transport it to the new plots before anyone else could help themselves. This was done by wheel barrow load for load and took days.

I felt completely apathetic to the whole move. I can only liken it to having to have a pet dog put to sleep only to be given a new pup. Yes, it’s lovely and yes you are so ‘lucky’ but you don’t want the new puppy you want your old beloved dog. I felt hurt and completely unappreciative however for the sake of my family and friends I got on with it.

Now starting a new plot all over again is bloody hard work even with the ‘help’ we had but in our favour we had years of gardening experience and most importantly we had each other and that made it easier. We got to work quickly as a united group helping each other. Our first job was to put in the (now dilapidated) raised beds we brought with us from farm Terrace. I was also able to create a flower bed which I had always meant to get round
With the help of our friends we put in a patio in front of the shed and created space to sit and have a chat and a drink! We also made some temporary beds and began putting in plants and seedlings. My husband and I both work and could only spare weekends and the occasional morning or evening but I am proud of what we achieved.

Other ex Farm terrace plot holders were similar to us and worked about 50% of their plots others managed to work almost all of theirs again helped by the fact we were all in the same position and we could help each other. Thanks to Roger who is next to us I got my first ever harvest of peas!

The kids found it difficult at first. whereas before they had basically had the run of Farm terrace and knew it like the back of their hand they too had to start afresh and unfortunately they got shouted at a couple of times by other plot holders who understandably did not appreciate them on their plots!

Even I have found making new friends on the new site difficult. I had no enthusiasm left in me and was not in the mood to be happy and positive. Like most allotments our new one does not have an association and despite the desperate need it is often difficult to convince people. Allotments need an association because without one you cannot legally fight any threat of a land grab and, as we found out, an association brings people together even if the leg work can be difficult to begin with. Organising this is on my list of jobs for this next year.

The best thing about the new plot was that for the first time in 5 years we can plan and make arrangements for the future, It was never worth investing neither time or money in Farm terrace as we never knew if and when we could lose it. The luxury of being able to build something knowing it can be improved and bettered in the future is priceless.

In the middle of the summer we organised and held our first Allotment gathering and we invited past Farm terrace plot holders and supporters of our fight. It was a lovely day.

We have all named our plots Farm terrace Corner so that the name Farm terrace will never be forgotten. We regularly meet up there and have started a Wednesday coffee morning and have been able to encourage friends and neighbours to take plots on the site.

Now a year on I do feel positive about the new plot and have grown to love it as I did our last plot. We are lucky to have it and each other and gradually I have reduced the amount of times that I compare it (unfavourably) to Farm terrace. The kids feel like its home now and the added bonus of new children to play with is a luxury Farm terrace could not offer them.

I will never forgive Dorothy Thornhill and her Lib Dem Council for orchestrating and overseeing the destruction and abandonment of Farm Terrace Allotments. The people in that, my, local area who either live in small terraced houses or flats will never be able to grow food there. It will be a car park.
But now it is time to think about myself and to think about the future. That said I am aware that we are not safe from land grabbers. That no allotment site is. But prevention is the best medicine and if we can build a community here, create an association and make sure all the plots are worked it will be much harder to lose this plot.

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.

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!

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

Does Watford need an elected Mayor?

Mr Pickles

For those of you who have missed out on the election news in Watford, it was good news for Farm Terrace.

The Conservative MP Richard Harrington (who supports deregulation of the Allotments) won the seat but it is still good news for Farm Terrace, let me explain why –

Our elected Mayor, Dorothy Thornhill who has been the driving force behind the 3 submissions to deregulate the allotments only achieved third place in the election despite stating that she was the only person who could beat Richard Harrington. Matt Turmaine from Labour who supports the retention of the Allotments came a reasonable second with 14,606 votes with Richard Harrington achieving 24,400+ votes. I know myself that many people used their votes tactically as many people were scared that Dorothy would get in so voted for Richard to stop her becoming MP.

Also at the same time a number of local council seats were up for election with the Lib Dems (Dorothy’s party) losing a number of seats to both Labour and the Conservatives. This left the council more evenly balanced politically than it has been for many years (Lib Dems 19 seats – including the elected Mayor), Labour 13 & Conservatives 5).

http://www.watfordobserver.co.uk/news/12940443._Lib_Dem_s_13_year_grip_on_Watford_Council_is_now_set_to_end__say_opposition_after_crushing_election_night/?ref=mr&lp=7

Next year there are more local council elections (as the town’s boundary’s are changing) and there will be another round of local elections meaning that the Lib Dem seats which were ‘safe’ may not be any more…

Taking into account that even if we lose this 3rd attempt at deregulation (now that the new Conservative government has been formed) we potentially still have at least 2 more growing seasons taking us to Autumn 2016 and by this point the whole of Watford Council could look different by then, which brings me on to my next point…

Do we really need an ‘elected mayor’ in Watford? Please see the following thread from the comments section of the Watford Observer’s story (http://www.watfordobserver.co.uk/news/12939065.Richard_Harrington_storms_to_Watford_victory/?ref=mr&lp=13 ) and take particular note of the way ‘Wacko Jacko’ responds (he is well known to be Councillor Iain Sharpe, the partner of Dorothy Thornhill!)

ME:

‘Relieved that Dorothy did SO badly. There was a lot of tactical voting going on to keep her out because of the Farm Terrace Case and many other fiascos. We now have to look at how to get her out of her Mayoral role…’

WACKO JACKO:

‘Sorry I’ve been out of communication over the past few weeks, I’ve had an election to fight.

Sarah, what you are forgetting is that Harrington is in complete agreement with Dorothy on the subject of the Health Campus, only he is in a much more powerful position than DT to deliver it.

The huge vote in his favour should be interpreted as a vote in support of the Health Campus and a mandate to get on and deliver it. Also please note that Dorothy has three more years to run as Mayor, by which time the project will be in full delivery mode and your allotments will have been turned into much needed homes.

I like to quote figures, so here is a new one to ponder, Watford now has over 200 families registered as homeless and in temporary accommodation at great cost to us the taxpayers, whereas the allotment land which could go a long way to solving that problem benefits only around 20 families who could easily move to one of Watford’s allotment sites with vacant plots,

As I’ve said before your dog in the manger campaign, supported by Labour, is a disgrace, a waste of our money and is against the interests of the many poor families who deserve a proper home in Watford. In a word it is simply selfish.’

 ME:

‘Oh Mr Sharpe/ Mr Dorothy Thornhill, I imagine you have been VERY busy picking up the pieces left after the people of Watford voted massively against your wife! Perhaps now it is time you both faced the truth that no one in Watford trusts her anymore and they would even vote for a ‘Conservative’ who lives in North Watford – just to make completely sure that she doesn’t enter into Westminster and muck even more things up! Now as you like facts so much..

Your wife gets paid (in these economically difficult times) £65,000 +Pension, +allowance, + add ons and she thought so little of this role that

  1. A) She went for MP, B) She thought it was perfectly acceptable to do both and be a part time Mayor (for the full wage obviously) and also take the wage and responsibilities of a full time MP (Had she won).

Now I for one believe that the role of elected Mayor in Watford, has been proven by your wife, to be completely unnecessary and complete and utter waste of Tax payers money who paid £220,000 for the Mayor’s office – last year!!

What a shameful waste of money. This has to stop! Nobody else has an ‘elected mayor’- why should we? Particularly one who no one has any confidence in?’

So the question I have for all you Watford residents is who agrees with me? Is it time for a change?

Does Watford need an elected Mayor?