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Losing the Plot in Watford

Allotment SiteThe recent decision of the high court to allow Watford Borough Council to destroy the Farm Terrace Allotments has implications for us all. It goes well beyond allotment holders and actually says a lot about our democracy.

From what I’ve read it seems fairly straightforward. Watford is a town that is, like much of the south-east of England short of housing. The council wanted the allotment land to build on and the plot holders wanted to stay on their allotments.

It ended up in a high court battle which the allotment holders lost and the 128 plots will end up under concrete.

Democracy Broken?

What’s really disturbing is the way the council have gone about things. If we are to trust our elected representatives, whether in Parliament or the parish council, they need to be open and honest with us.

The recent Brexit campaign was an example of what’s going wrong with democracy here. Both sides made exaggerated claims, playing on fears and desires. A lot of people switched off and, I suspect, a lot of people voted to leave the EU more because they wanted to give the establishment a kicking than anything else.

With the Watford allotments, the council implied the land was wanted for a hospital expansion. It’s pretty hard to stand up against better medical care. The reality was they wanted the land for some houses, a car park for the football club and possibly for something for the hospital. Even the hospital doesn’t seem to know what they will do with it.

Then the mayor describes it as “A really hideous, derelict site”. This is after offering large financial incentives to plot holders to leave and not allowing re-letting. She also claimed it would create 1300 jobs. That’s a lot of car-park attendants.

When our elected representatives or the officials they’re supposed to control lie or, to use a famous phrase, are economical with the truth, they have no right to our respect or support.

The only reason they remain in power is the apathy of voters. To use another phrase from my younger days

If voting changed anything, they’d ban it.

Waste of money?

The thousands of pounds spent on the court battles would have been more than enough to employ teams of gardeners to landscape and weed any derelict plots if they were an eyesore. And the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But the council for reasons of their own preferred to pave them.

Obviously Watford’s mayor would much rather look at a car park than a patch of green. Perhaps she should move to a flat overlooking one and have the joy of watching yet more cars fight for spaces.

As Joni Mitchell put it

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Why This is So Wrong

Once allotments are gone, they’re gone. Offering alternative sites is all well and good but when those alternative allotment sites are such a distance away that people end up having to drive to get to them, they become far less of a benefit both to the plot holders and the environment.

Allotments in our cities and towns are a benefit to the whole community. A break from the endless streets and concrete. A haven for wildlife. A social mixer where rich and poor along with all colours and creeds meet and realise they have more in common than divides them.

The Farm Gate allotments were over a hundred years old. I bet the soil was fabulous! In another hundred years, or even 30 the way things seem to be going, we may no longer even have cars in our large towns and cities. So what benefit another car park in the long term?

As for houses, yes we need more houses but we need houses in communities people want to live in. New houses tend to have tiny gardens, so providing green space and allotments becomes more important than ever.

This quick-buck solution of building on the plots is spending our capital to live on. Actually, it’s spending our children’s and grand-children’s capital. Using the savings to pay the rent.

Even if a site is half empty or even 90% empty, letting it go to concrete is wrong. In 20 years it may well be desperately needed and it just won’t be there. Once the Watford car park is built, we’re all that bit poorer.

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Posted in Allotment Garden Diary, Rants and Raves
5 comments on “Losing the Plot in Watford
  1. Steve Watkins says:

    John,
    This reminds me of an old saying: “How do you know when a councillor is lying ?, their lips are moving” !
    Seriously, people in positions of power who allow this kind of thing to happen should be ashamed of themselves, pay more attention to the voters that elected them in the first place and stand up to the developers.
    Time to start sending emails to the Mayor of Watford ?

    Steve W

    • John Harrison says:

      From what I’ve read of the case, I suspect it’s not so much developer pressure or bribes (of offers to do something for the community for free) so much as a belief that the allotments only benefit the plot holders and that the plots have no value. Hideous is an expression of personal taste!
      Assuming the council really believe the car park is of more benefit to the town, it’s the misleading sales pitch about needing it for the hospital that makes me sick.

  2. Louise says:

    The problem is that allotments don’t look ‘pretty’. There seems to be a need on the part of some officials for everything to be ‘tidied up’ to the point where all the life is taken out of things. There used to be a field close to the front between Llandudno and Craig y Don. There’s a block of luxury apartments there now that ‘improved the amenity value’ of the site! I had a job getting my head round that!

  3. cat Clarke, Derby says:

    Have you tried 38 degrees. It’s a crying shame and I hope the decision can be overturned. Take lots of pictures fur future reference

  4. Stephen Harding says:

    One of our local parish councillors wanted to sell the allotments and a field next door for ‘affordable housing’. Even though there are a lot of planning applications and permissions for housing that include a proportion of affordable housing. Therefore this idea was a non starter and a lot of us felt that there was something very fishy going on.

    Fortunately a number of other councillors felt the same and wanted some measures put in place to protect the land for future generations. The sites, and other recreational sites, are in the process of being protected by linking with Fields in Trust that protect land through a Deed of Dedication.

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