“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”.
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
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.
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 –
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.
“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.
English politicians, particularly in local politics, have a strong record in blithely ignoring international initiatives towards promoting environmental and landscape issues. And Central Government are happy to ratify many conventions and incorporate the text into national strategies, only to brush it all aside when a political ‘think tank’ suggests otherwise. The Public Forest Estate sell-off during the International Year of the Forests 2011 was a classic example.
2015 is the International Year of the Soil. Do not expect to read much about the concentrated efforts of research and awareness happening across the globe in regards this still relatively unknown, but known to be absolutely vital natural element we are dependent on. Very little has changed since Leonardo Da Vinci claimed “We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.” in the 16th Century. And as Britain builds her way out of the economic downturn of…
So, while I am finalising final drafts, let me fill you in…
As most of you are aware, we at Farm Terrace Allotments won a major Judicial Review to stop our beloved, historic Allotment site from being deregulated.
Unfortunately this was not the end.
Despite our immense local and national support and even though Watford Borough Council have already spent a fortune on legal fees regarding our case, they said from the moment we found out we had won that they would put in another submission straight away.
A few weeks ago, we found out that this was indeed the case –
We will of course fight on. We too are putting in a counter submission. The plot holders were ready to compromise with the council to spare either side from having to go through this again, but the council would not budge an inch. They seem hell bent on taking our site no matter what. Their submission includes ”possible’ school, ‘possible’ hospital buildings but no certainties other than housing and a car park. They appear to be using the new exceptional circumstances clause to put this submission through again and we are going to fight this all the way again.
We believe that we have a duty of care to fight until the bitter end. This is not our land, nor there’s. This is community land which has been in service since 1896 and should continue to be so for the next 100 years.
We have accomplished so much;
We have featured in most newspapers and gardening magazines.
We have been on local and National TV and Radio.
We have organised ‘The most colourful protest’ in Westminster.
We have taken our case to Judicial review at the Royal Courts Of Justice and won!
Personally, I have to admit that I was absolutely shattered! I have suffered from campaign fatigue at least 3 times and have had to walk away, just for a couple of days but sometimes weeks. A campaign like this can and will, take it out of you. BUT and this is a big but, it is not resolved. It is not finished. Not for us, not for many other allotment sites. I have been contacting by a further 3 sites facing closure or suspecting they are. I promised that we would Save Farm Terrace and Save All Allotments.
I believe that in order to save Allotments we need to change the law regarding deregulation of Allotments.
The government group responsible for allotments is called the Department of Communities and Local Government. Interestingly, around the time of our very public challenge, the DCLG changed the guidelines appearing to add better protection and added transparency. Unfortunately that is not the case and in fact the new guidelines make it far easier for councils and land owners to close allotment sites.
We need to change this. The first step I believe is to start a national petition.
This is what I am about to do now. I truly believe that we need united national action and that the time to do it is now – it will hopefully save Farm Terrace too.
Those of you know that this is not just about Farm Terrace. It is not ‘just’ about allotments.
This is about standing up to bullies, whether they are in the school playground, or they are your Mayor or it is the government, we must stand together and fight injustices when and where we see them. Because if not, what example are we setting for our children?
More details to come in the next couple of days. Thank you so much for your ongoing support, I will be needing you to not only sign and share the petition (once it goes live) but also to keep talk to friends and family about it and help spread the word.
I will regularly update this blog letting you all know what is happening and where we are. We achieved so much last year, who knows what this year will bring?!