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?

Advertisements

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.
IMG_20150505_133933 (1)
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

Watford Borough Council’s Allotment Poster

WBC Allotment Poster Campaign

“It was interesting to see at last Watford Council are attempting to rectify a five year decline in allotment applications by launching a new bus stop poster stating “join our growing community of allotment holders”. Official figures provided by the council show that the allotment community isn’t growing but that applications have dropped from 340 in 2009 to 128 in 2014. We had asked the council why there had been a decline in numbers over this period whilst asking for them to produce the numbers. Because there had been a very small increase from 136 applications  to 155 between 2011 and 2013 they said because the question hadn’t been phrased correctly they hadn’t provided the information. It will come as no surprise to anyone throughout the battle to save our allotments that the Council did not admit to the Government when asking for Farm terrace to be closed down that it had failed in its advertising but instead provide website hits to its allotment page instead!

We will of course be going back to the council with a rephrased question so the numbers of applications can be quoted to the general public. Unfortunately, we have a council in Watford who will never hold their hands up and admit when they have done something wrong nor admit that they could have done better”.

Petition news! #SignForVictory ‘Shed Selfies’

#SignForVictory
#SignForVictory

Have you noticed what is happening to allotments around the country?

We are allotment holders at Farm Terrace Allotments in Watford and you may have seen us in the media recently having won a High Court decision that overturned the council’s attempt to de-regulate the land for development purposes.

When the allotment holders were first informed of the potential redevelopment we were told that the neighbouring hospital wanted to expand and there was quick agreement that this was a worthy reason. People started to drift away and the council stopped maintaining the site. Then it was discovered that most of the site was to be turned into apartments and the hospital could not expand. Further investigation revealed that the bulk of the plan was 700 new apartments in the most densely populated part of the town. The allotments are one of the few urban green spaces in the area.

To the surprise of the Watford Council the decision was challenged by the remaining allotment holders. Despite numerous attempts there has been little effort from the council to negotiate with allotment holders whose holdings only take up 15% of the land under discussion. It became clear that the only reason the allotments were required was to increase profitability and it has been conceded that the redevelopment plans would still be profitable without the allotment land.

The Council has now submitted plans to deregulate twice and the most recent decision of the Secretary of State was quashed by the High Court. Despite this the Council immediately announced plans to resubmit a de-regulation request but instead of the Health Campus expansion they now cite that there may be a primary school built on the site. Under current laws it is legal for the council to submit such requests as often as they like until they achieve the desired result.

Will You Be Next – #SignForVictory

One of the things we discovered while going through this process is the current legal situation allows councils across Britain to provide weak or incomplete information when claiming exceptional circumstances for deregulating allotment land supposedly protected under law. Exceptional Circumstances is the reason councils must provide to override the Allotments Act of 1950 that you thought was protecting your precious plot.

Using our experience in campaigning for Farm Terrace, we have decided to launch a larger campaign to Save All Allotments across Britain. Our goal is not to stop councils having access to land when it is genuinely needed but to have the exceptional circumstances section of the law tightened to reflect the protected status of allotments.

One of the things we discovered while going through this process is the current legal situation allows councils across Britain to provide weak or incomplete information when claiming exceptional circumstances for deregulating allotment land supposedly protected under law. Our decision to pursue the argument in this manner follows the disturbing information we found in our freedom of information request that showed that between 2007 and 2014, a total of 194 out of 198 applications to close allotments were granted by the Secretary of State (SOS).

In view of this we realised that this process of taking protected land to meet property developer’s appetites is occurring across the UK and we decided that a large, national petition was needed to help protect the UK’s historic allotment sites. We set this up and despite been told we could expect a few hundred signatures we achieved 6000 votes in three days and have now passed 13 000 votes, showing us that this was a national issue

change.org/SaveOurAllotments

Election time – A national issue

With an election looming we realise we need to increase the public and political awareness of the need to protect allotments and have a new campaign to push the issue further up the political agenda. We are running a ‘Sign for Victory’ campaign and are simply asking people to place a poster on their shed or allotment and take a selfie and pass it on while sharing with us. We want to let the political parties know that the people of UK respect and want to protect their allotments that have provided protection for the country in times of need.

The poster link is http://tinyurl.com/orcfv27

or you can send a self-addressed stamped envelope to C/O Evolve, 77 Vicarage Road, Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0EJ and we will send you a poster.

Allotments have been vital to UK communities and have been key in feeding the population in historical times of crisis. They provide physical and emotional care of the citizens and the national removal of this resource would be an act of vandalism that future generations will judge the present on. Green spaces and allotments are the lungs of a community and nestled in between residential areas ensure that young people have the chance to experience food growth and natural development in a world becoming more distant from the natural process.

The government group responsible for allotments is the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). Around the time of our successful and public court challenge the DCLG claimed to change the guidelines affecting allotment decisions to add greater protection and transparency to the process. Unfortunately that has not been the case and in fact the new guidelines make it easier for councils and land owners to close allotment sites.

Please have a look for yourself at the new guide lines here –

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/276081/Allotment_disposal_guidance_-_Safeguards_and_alternatives.pdf

Your Allotments need YOU

Remember you only need to download the poster and place it on your shed, garden area or allotment and take a picture of yourself to show you support saving allotments.

And of course sign the petition.

Any help you can provide will ensure this issue is front and centre of political discussion where it must be to save the allotments we are custodians of.

Kind regards

Farm Terrace Allotment Holders

change.org/SaveOurAllotments

http://savefarmterrace.wix.com/savefarmterrace

Delayed 3rd Decision

This week the Department for Communities and Local Government confirmed that they would not be issuing a decision before the National Election, on the third application by Watford Borough Council to ask for the deregulation of Farm Terrace Allotments.

This is a very significant announcement for us as the fight to save the allotments becomes an election issue as a new government may reach a different decision. As we know, Watford is a closely observed marginal seat in the national elections, so it will be a great time to raise the profile on not only our case but the whole issue of development on allotment land whilst bring public and media scrutiny on Watford Borough Council.

This proves that Dorothy Thornhill and Watford Council were somewhat over confident when stating in October 2014 that despite being disappointed with the outcome of the judicial review in favour of the allotment holders were confident that the Secretary of State would arrive at the same conclusion in re-taking the decision. Despite lodging a new application with the Government at the beginning of 2015, the defence and counter arguments made by the Farm Terrace has still left what seemed a straight forward decision to the council open to much debate in central government.

We will soon be announcing a new and exciting part of our Save Our Allotments campaign  which will hopefully help spread our message far and wide across the country, informing people not necessarily on Social media sites, about our fight and petition as although we are now at 13,000 we still need many more signatures!

From now on I will be writing blogs more regularly to keep you informed on all the issues.

In the meantime although some people try to  pretend it is just happening to us please see this piece – http://www.itv.com/news/west/update/2015-03-24/my-heart-sank-villagers-react-to-allotment-eviction-note/ Our sympathies lie with the tenants of Coombe Allotments and we will continue to support them in anyway we can. They are just one of many recent cases.

Finally if you haven’t already please sign – https://www.change.org/p/eric-pickles-secretary-of-state-for-communities-and-local-government-help-protect-the-uk-s-allotment-sites and share it with your friends, family and work mates. If you would like me to send you a copy of the email explaining the importance of the petition for you to share please contact me at savefarmterrace@hotmail.co.uk

Thank you and this in indeed a victory – for now!

Sara Jane

SJ being filmed at plot

The Government’s response to our petition and our reply.

Please share our attached the DCLG’s response to our petition and our reply.

Their response –

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-response-to-a-petition-on-protecting-allotment-sites

Our reply –

“The DCLG’s response repeats its mantra that the new guidance strengthened allotment protection.  But repeating something many times doesn’t make it right.  The guidance has not strengthened allotment protection, and the DCLG’s statement doesn’t mention the dilution of the previous long-standing requirement that replacement sites be within ¾ mile of the centre of demand.  Instead the DCLG says that replacement sites have been provided when consent has been granted.  But it is telling that they are silent about how near those sites were to the centre of demand.  There is no point creating new sites or providing replacement sites if the people for whom they are created can’t get to them.  Look at what Watford tried to do – they tried to move us all to a site over 2 miles away on the outskirts of town that many of us couldn’t get to. What the DCLG’s new guidance has done is enable any local authority to sell off allotment land in the middle of towns, which is prized by developers, and replace it with a cheap field on the outskirts, whether or not anybody can actually get there on a regular basis.  What local authority wouldn’t want to do that? We could wait and see In a few years’ time how many allotments are left in places where people actually live, and we would see whether the guidance really has strengthened allotment protection or not.  But by then it would be too late. It is time to act now!  The distance under the policy criteria should be moved by a change of law to the statutory criteria to strengthen protection. We will continue with our petition and with our campaign until we see this done!”

Please continue to share our petition and donate if you can to our fighting fund if you can.

https://www.change.org/p/eric-pickles-secretary-of-state-for-communities-and-local-government-help-protect-the-uk-s-allotment-sites/u/9728711

http://www.gofundme.com/save-farm-terrace

Thank you