Gardeners fight Government plans to build on their allotments

The 'Independent on Sunday' Dig for Victory campaign visits a growing community under threat
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Sara Jane Trebar and her children are keen to make the most of the sunshine that's been beating down on their broad beans. That's because they know that their days at Farm Terrace allotments in Watford could soon be numbered.

On Friday, the mother of three will travel with other Farm Terrace allotment holders to the High Court, to hear the fate of their site. They are challenging a ruling by Eric Pickles, the Secetary of State for Communities and Local Government, to allow Watford Borough Council to build over it.

If they are unsuccessful, the 128-plot allotment, which has been cultivated since 1896, and adjoining sites, will be replaced with 750 homes and commercial buildings forming a proposed £250m Watford health campus.

"We've been offered an alternative site 2.6 miles away, but this is a local community," said Mrs Trebar. "You can replant these vegetables, but you can't replant a sense of community. This site survived two world wars and Thatcherism. Getting rid of it now is immoral."

Along with two dozen other allotment holders, Mrs Trebar has been fighting the development plans since 2009. Along the way they have raised £15,000 for legal fees and used the Freedom of Information Act to force Watford Council to make several embarrassing disclosures over how the development was planned.

"The council relied on us getting fatigue, or being stereotypical retired people without the stomach for a fight," she said. "But we're fighting because we know the same thing is happening to other people up and down the country." Campaigners see Friday's judicial review as a test case, after the first permission for construction was overturned in 2010.

Last Friday, The Independent on Sunday continued its Dig for Victory allotment campaign by planting a Bramley apple sapling at the site. Andy Moore, chairman of the Farm Terrace Community Association, said: "Thank you for this tree; sadly this spot will have to be temporary until we know the fate of the allotments. But we are hopeful."

In 2011, the Dig for Victory campaign led to David Cameron and Mr Pickles renewing their pledge to protect allotments in 2011, after the 1908 Smallholdings and Allotments Act was put under review. However the latest figures show that 68 allotments have been "disposed of" since 2011.

Gardeners' Question Time regular Matthew Wilson, a long-time allotments champion, said: "Allotments are more than just a place to grow vegetables. They are important social fabric for the community." Matthew Wilson was a former Watford council allotment officer for the threatened plots. "Sadly this government is showing it doesn't value green space as much as it claims," he said.

A Watford Borough Council spokesman said it was investing £810,000 in new allotment provision, and that the new development on the Farm Terrace site would "create hundreds of new homes; thousands of jobs; the opportunity for new hospital facilities, and green open spaces including a community garden".