Allotment-holders are taking legal action against Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, over his decision to approve the development of a site in Watford used by local families for more than 100 years.
The court action comes amid new evidence that sites are being sold off by councils – despite a pledge by Mr Pickles and David Cameron two years ago to protect them.
Members of the Farm Terrace allotments in Watford have applied for judicial review against the minister, who gave his approval for Watford Borough Council to seize the land as part of a development of up to 600 new homes and enhanced facilities for Watford Hospital.
Under the 1908 Smallholdings and Allotments Act, councils must provide sufficient plots to local residents where there is demand. The Act was placed under review by Mr Pickles in 2011, prompting a campaign by this paper to keep it in place. The Prime Minister then pledged his support for the allotments movement in the Commons, and the 1908 regulation was retained.
However, there is new evidence that local authorities are seizing hundreds of sites for other uses in opposition to plotholders. Under the 1908 Act, councils must offer suitable alternative land. Mr Pickles granted consent in May 2013 for the development of the plots under section 8 of the 1925 Allotments Act, as they were “unnecessary or surplus to requirements”. The Farm Terrace site is in high demand. An alternative has been offered, which plotholders say is unsuitable.
Mr Pickles has to respond to the action by 26 July.
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