Farm Terrace Allotments – The Saga Continues

As you may recall, Agents of Field have been staunch supporters of the ongoing Save Farm Terrace campaign since the very beginning.

In December 2012, Mayor of Watford, Dorothy Thornhill, announced her plans to dispose of our neighbouring allotment site, Farm Terrace, claiming the land was essential to the re-development of the town’s hospital. However, plot holder and campaigner, Sara Jane Trebar, challenged the decision, after discovering that their historic allotment site was actually earmarked for flats and a carpark, eventually taking Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, to court in summer 2014. Agents of Field attended the protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice at the time of the hearing, appalled at the behaviour of our Mayor and strongly opposing the council’s plans which had been steamrollered through without any discussion with the plot holders.

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It was a landmark victory in October 2014, when the High Court quashed the council’s plans to redevelop the land, but Watford Borough Council put in a further submission in January 2015, and we are heartbroken to hear that it has been approved. Here is Sara Jane’s latest Facebook update on 26th May:

“It is with great sadness and a complete sense of injustice that we have to announce that the Secretary of State Greg Clark and the Department for Communities and local Government have agreed for a third time to deregulate the Farm Terrace Allotment site in Watford.

Despite backing down following the first attempt and despite losing a High Court Judicial Review the Government have agreed to allow Watford Borough Council to deregulate our beloved allotment site.

We are now consulting with our prestigious legal team to see whether it is possible to challenge this latest decision. When Watford Borough Council put in their third application in January 2015 they believed that it was simply a matter of updating the information that was referred to by the judge in the successful judicial decision in October 2014 and that the decision would be made quickly. This was 15 months ago and an update from the Council that ran to 44 pages and 43 appendices!

We believe that Mayor Dorothy Thornhill and Watford Borough Council have acted appallingly throughout this whole campaign and we have been shocked and deeply upset by their attitude towards plot holders and the media coverage of the story. Not once did our Mayor accept our invites to come and talk to us on Farm Terrace stating various reasons for not being able to attend.

We still find it bitterly disappointing that when given the opportunity (numerous times) to include Farm Terrace in their plans for a much needed regeneration of the area, Watford Borough Council refused point blank to discus possibilities of inclusion or compromise. Surely the inclusion of Allotments in highly densely populated areas like West Watford should be not just accepted but encouraged! Watford Borough Council plans to build 750 new ‘units’ on the site. Farm Terrace Allotments date back to 1896 and contains 128 plots.

It is worth noting that the Council closed the waiting list for Farm Terrace back in 2012 which meant that plots have been left vacant and overgrown. It has broken our hearts that these plots which could have been let out to families in the local area have been withheld from the community over the past 4 years, whilst the use of Food banks in Watford has shown a significant increase in usage.

We believe that the ‘sale’ of allotments, particularly in urban areas has become a national epidemic and we have campaigned for the laws surrounding the protection of Allotments to be strengthened.

We started our campaign to keep our beloved allotment site in 2012. Since then many other high profile allotments have been deregulated such as Stapleton Allotments in Bristol and Coombe Allotments in Gloucestershire. We also found out through our own Freedom Of Information request that between 2007 and 2013 out of 199 applications to deregulate allotments 128 were approved and only 4 were declined (67 were withdrawn, undecided or invalid).

We have had the support of the National Allotment Society who believe that the criteria to deregulate as set out in the 1925 allotment act has not been met.
This has been a very public and very emotional battle for all the plot holders. We have won 3 times including a monumental case in the High Court, however this latest decision in our opinion shows how unjust this system is and that each time the ’little person’ wins the goal posts will be changed.

Once again we feel very bitter about this third decision and extremely angry at the lack of government support; they say they support allotments, but this decision suggests that’s all just empty words. We hope we can use our experience to prevent others having to go through the same.

Sara Jane Trebar
Spokeswoman for The Save Farm Terrace Association”

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We’re so disheartened by this latest news as we believe allotments are valuable community assets – you can read my full rant against the recent spate of allotment closures here.

It remains to be seen whether Sara Jane will challenge the council’s decision once more, but we applaud her for everything she has managed to achieve so far.

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Green Goddesses

As yesterday was International Women’s Day, we wanted to (belatedly) give a shout-out to all the green goddesses out there; the wonderful women who champion the grow-your-own movement and are inspirational in their green-fingered greatness! Here are some of our favourites:

Joyce Veheary – Founder of Lend and Tend Joyce Veheary
Lend and Tend is the brainchild of actor, writer and all round wunderkind, Joyce Veheary. Matching people who want to garden (but have no land) with people who don’t garden (but do have land), Lend and Tend provides the ultimate patch-match service; a godsend in urban environments where outside space is at a premium.

SJTrebarSara Jane Trebar – Founder of Save Farm Terrace
The woman who took the government to court over the threatened closure of Farm Terrace Allotments in Watford – and won –  is an inspiration to allotment holders all over the country. Still as vocal as ever about the value of allotments, Sara Jane has also recently been selected as an official Labour councillor candidate for Central Watford. (You go, girl!)

Sara Ward – Co-Founder of Hen Corner Sara Ward
Having adopted the good life with her husband at the end of the noughties, Sara grows seasonal veg, keeps chickens and produces her own honey, all in the completely improbable surroundings of West London! Along with keeping her kitchen garden in order, she runs courses, shares recipes, and makes cider. (God love her.)

alys fowlerAlys Fowler – Gardener, Writer, Presenter
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Alys Fowler: horticulturalist, journalist and the woman who first inspired us to get gardening. She showed us that  gardens could be edible and that urban living was no barrier to growing your own. A girl after our own hearts.

My Mum – Surprise GardenerKate
A keen grower of beans and tomatoes, Mum’s gardening exploits are legendary. Particularly the recent occasion she decided to grow beetroot. She wasn’t wearing her glasses at the time she bought the seeds from the garden centre, blindly planted them, fed them, watered them, and was completely baffled when her vegetable bed erupted into a bumper crop of red cabbage!

A big cheer for these and all the other women in wellies out there!

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The Good Fight

Like most Sundays, this morning I was up bright and early to get to the allotment, do what needed to be done, then get back to the garden to plant out my Cosmos bipinnatus.

At the allotment gate, I always check out the noticeboard to catch-up on the latest news. ‘Charlie from plot 56B is selling courgette seed’. ‘Sue on the plot 101a has found a roaming chicken and wonders if anyone has left their coup open?’ And of course an ad for the ultimate prize, where allotmenteers go head to head in the annual pumpkin-growing competition. Hardly big news in the great scheme of things, but it’s life and it warms me to know people care in this way.

However, this weekend, our garden of Eden, my one place of refuge, was turned on its head. Alongside these notices was a long letter from the allotment supervisor explaining that a few days ago, one of the allotment sheds was broken into and a rotovator was stolen.

These days, we are continually bombarded with horrific stories of terrorism, starvation and corporate greed. As a man who’s been around a bit, it’s fair to say I too, on occasion, have witnessed the darker side of individuals and their unscrupulous behaviour. So on the scale of things, a ransacked shed shouldn’t haven’t hung above me like a grey cloud all morning, but it did, and I began to question why. shed

For decades, allotment holders up and down the land have worked hard to create a unique place where they can go, a piece of land to call their own for a minimal cost. Those who can’t afford houses with gardens can come here with their families and grow their own food. Allotment gardening can improve social skills and our relationship with nature. We learn to grow, both on the land and as a person. We know gardening has so many social and health benefits, in recent years the media has high-lighted its positive effects in both therapy and rehabilitation. Gardening is a medicine that costs very little, but has huge rewards. And, as Agent Sophie has written before, in a time of cutbacks and food banks, allotment gardening is such a glaringly obvious solution, yet it’s future hangs precariously in the balance. Whether you’re tilling land in a plot beside a railtrack or sowing seeds on a disused industrial estate, allotments today are facing tough challenges and are awaiting decisions that could have monumental consequences for future generations. From the Save Farm Terrace and the Coombe Allotment campaigns to the crusade to save the Blue Finger land in Bristol (led by Sara Venn), these threats are becoming an ever more frequent blot on our slowly decreasing landscape.

So when I read on a little noticeboard of a minor theft, well, it’s like the allotment is being kicked from all sides. It doesn’t matter how big or how little the theft was, a gardener has been robbed. Again. But, and there’s always a but with me, my glass is half-filled and raised. Why? Because I believe there are good people out there. People who stand-up to these haters and fight the good fight. Whether it’s due to jealousy, insecurity or greed, these people will never find peace or fulfilment, they will always want what they haven’t got.

Believe me, I’m not wearing a cheesecloth shirt and smoking a crack pipe in a meadow somewhere, but I will say this. Look after your fellow gardener, and they’ll do the same by you.

Save Our Allotments Debate

Also, if you have the opportunity, try to get yourself along to Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival at Bowood House this Friday 5th June, where different allotment groups will be getting together for the very first time to discuss the future of allotments.

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