The Loss of a Landscape in Watford

The Save Farm Terrace Allotments campaign fronted by Sara Trebar on social media has led to a considerable amount of attention – not by general media, not yet, as they wait for a ‘Yes’ from Eric Pickles in approving the destruction of the Allotments.

The arguments against the disposal of these allotments come from a wide range of people and cover a myriad of issues – this could all be added together and placed under a single heading: ‘We do not want to lose this landscape’

The reason for the disposal of the allotments is what separates this campaign from many others, (although I am sure that there are many other landscapes under a very similar threat), and is why this small campaign in a place I have never been is so important to all involved in the progression of sustainable development, which is of course all of us. It is the language involved and it is this language which could prove to disrupt sustainable development goals and all land management & planning for many many years to come.

The language used to promote the proposed development in Watford is pure spin. The development is to consist of affordable housing, but what is affordable to one person may not be to another, a term I have never liked for its ambiguity. The Mayor of Watford, who is passionate about realising this development stated that ‘good design’ will be used for the new open spaces, again a highly ambigious use of words. But such wording is now so regularly used that it can be forgiven it is merely useless and as such nonsense.

The worrying language is when the destruction of the allotments is included into the ‘Health Campus’ jargon, impressive spin and it has largely worked – a majority of Watfordians are clearly in favour of the health campus overall and as such the allotments are a sad but necessary loss. What is a health campus? The words to me conjure up an image of a University campus, with residential blocks for health workers and the occasional laboratory or training building. This is far from the reality. This is development for housing and businesses and there is nothing wrong essentially with that and I hope they refrain from using medical terms for the housing development – who would want to live in Gynecology Grove or Pediatrics Place? ‘Health Campus’ are words used to disguise a planning gain, it should be considered no more than that. It is neither and cannot be considered as a development based on the principles of Ebenezer Howard because the destruction of the allotments, which are little more than an added ‘gift’ to the developers to ensure the planning gains are forthcoming, to enable the ‘project’ actually negate any and all aspects of this development embracing social needs beyond the nearby hospital itself (please remember any condemnation of the proposals I make are with regards to the allotment land only). And forget ‘environmental’ – there is nothing at all on offer. Sustainable Development has to include environmental and social, this development is purely economic and as such the NPPF has to be ignored in the decision making with regards the development.

I use the word landscape deliberately, for the allotments are a landscape, which adds value to all surrounding landscapes. The gifting of the allotments to ensure the development proceeds may well be cheap for the council, but ultimately very costly, for allotments are now well known as the zenith in achieving sustainable, socially inclusive, urban or peri-urban landscapes.

And as a landscape in its own right, Farm Terrace is subject to, as with all landscapes in England, the European Landscape Convention, the text of which has been wholly ignored so far by the policy makers involved, (as I write this, on the Watford Health Campus website, the link to ‘public engagement’ leads to a 404 Not Found page).

The Mayor of Watford is clearly no ‘policy maker’, she has made herself the chief lobbyist for the development. But as Mayor is she not also in charge of the policy makers who need to be ensuring adherence to consultation guidelines, the Aarhus convention, the ELC etc., – is this not a conflict of interest? Is taxpayers money being used for lobbying & PR purposes on the side of the developers? If this is not illegal it should be.

Mayor Dorothy is acting as chief prosecutor as well as head of a jury to see a landscape executed. Let us hope the judge, Eric Pickles, sees the injustice of this.

Otherwise a very worrying precedent is set, one where any attempt at a landscape approach, (essential to prevent further disenfranchisement of people from the landscapes they live in as well as the death of other species in that same landscape), is thwarted by the elected mayor system England has chosen to accept.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “The Loss of a Landscape in Watford

  1. Mike

    The 26 hectare site is mainly brownfield and contaminated – it won’t be at the end of the regeneration. The current industrial estate on the site is run down and an eyesore.
    At the heart of the health campus is a new, reprovisioned hospital. It is vital that Watford keeps its hospital – for teh vast majority of residents/patients and for local jobs.
    The hospital say they need around half the allotment site for the new hospital.
    The council – which aready provides good allotment provision, above the national average – have promised to provide new allotment plots to the 65 allotment holders and is investing £800k in current allotments sites in the borough.
    As the 26 hecatre site is cleaned up and decontaminated, the plans which are being worked up, have more landscape for local residents to actually access and enjoy.

  2. Mike, all you say is fantastic and as I stated in my blog I am not disputing the development as a whole but the language used to defend the grabbing of the Farm Terrace allotments. I spent a great deal of time reading through all the blurb laid out by the council and Mayor, (which doesn’t state clearly what you say in one sentence about half the allotment site being needed for the hospital site itself – if it does I have missed this point and many others will have also in the tiresome and weighty spin) and the defence is not just weak but irresponsible – hence why I wrote what I did and stand by this. I am afraid that in the 21st century (indeed as in the 20th century also) you cannot railroad such decisions without real and recognised public engagement and in fact it is widely recognised now that good public engagement can lead to cheaper decision making and a truly worthwhile result.
    It is clear in all the existing blurb that the allotment site was added into the development at a later date – the loss of these allotments, irrespective of the allotment issue in Watford generally, is no small loss. But twisted language and aggressive lobbying by the Mayor has created a situation which was guessed by many in the NPPF debate, one which only benefits lawyers ultimately.
    Your last sentence is interesting and further illustration of what I am trying with difficulty to emphasis: Who is ‘working up’ the plans for a new landscape for those who will live there? Is the public involved in what that landscape ultimately provides for them? And if there is to be more green space, why not work around the allotments, which already exist as exemplary green space.

  3. Mike

    I did enjoy reading your article but as a local resident of west Watford, I just thought that there should be some balance.
    I wonder do you live locally?
    How do you know about the engagement that has taken place?
    The plans being developed for the Health Campus, since around 2005, are well known locally. This scheme has been worked up over many years. It’s hardly being ‘railroaded through’.
    The original public planning consultation took place in 2008. Planning permission was granted in 2010.
    The history of this goes back further – Watford faced losing its A & E – but a campaign by local residents and politicians meant that the hospital services were retained. As well as serving hundreds of thousands of patients, the hospital is a significant local employer – with many staff living locally. It’s incredibly important to the town to keep the hospital.
    The hospital nhs trust are now starting to work up their plans in more detail – that is one reason they have recently said that they would need part of the allotment land, if possible.
    The council has been engaging with the 65 allotment holders since June 2012, precisely around this issue, since it was first raised.
    It has then been democratically considered by Watford’s Cabinet and a unanimous decision was made to include the allotment land, subject to Secretary of State approval. Some might not agree with the decision, but that is democracy.
    The mitigation is for the council to provide new plots – some nearby on Vicarage Road – and also invest £800,000 on allotment facilities around the borough.
    The final masterplan is being developed, so further consultation will happen.
    Taken from the Health Campus website: “As the Health Campus reclaims predominantly brownfield land – including contaminated sections of the site, which will be remediated – this alleviates pressure for greenbelt, greenfield or in-fill development. One of the many benefits the Health Campus will bring to the locality is an increase in shared public open spaces, from green parkland areas and riverside views and walkways. A key commitment is to increase the overall green spaces available to the community. With a large proportion of the site currently unattractive brownfield land and industrial estate, the landscaping of new parkland and a native tree planting initiative will create much-needed accessible urban green space, bringing new flora and fauna to the area. Plans for the Health Campus include the development of a lake on the site, that will provide a new bio-habitat for west Watford and with it attract new insect and other wildlife as well as new plant types. The lake will also provide a community amenity and an improved visual environment, far removed from the existing industrial landscape that the site displays today. Alongside the existing River Colne, there will be accessible riverside walks and areas of associated parkland where the community and workers can break from rigors of urban daily life to relax and enjoy the views.”

    • Watford Tax Payer

      What a fantastic piece of Fib Dem spin!!!

      I wonder if ‘Mike’ is the same ‘Mike W’ who also thinks we need to spend £4.3 million on the top of the Town?

      Shame on the Lib Dems & shame on the Mayor.

      Try LISTENING to the people who duly elected you. #sameolddotty

    • Mike, you vindicate my blog completely. I was trying to illustrate that the allotments should be separated from the core development and that using the same language for the allotment element was erroneous. I made it clear that I am not a Watford resident and also clear that I was only talking about the allotments!
      To be trolled by a libdem councillor is a first for me and this together with the use of ‘democratic’ is I fear to say much more in tune with what we see when US tea party politicians take to the web.

  4. Bob Wakeling

    Mike’s comments are just a regurgitation if Mayor Dorothy’s spin arguments. The allotments are not contaminated so don’t need regeneration. The allotment site that has been offered as a replacement for the Farm Terrace site. Is not of comparable soil quality and is 2.5 miles away. I’ve clocked it in my car. The spin figure given by the council is 1.2 miles. We’re not crows. Our site has been mismanaged by the council (I believe willfully) so that enormous amounts of work is now required to bring it to a good safe state so that prospective allotmenters will accept any offered plots. That is of course when local people are made aware that there are plots available. There has been little or no promotion of the site.p by the council led by Mayor Dorothy. It is only by chance that a friend told us of a site that we now hold one. We thought that there was a years long waiting list but that is not the case. We desperately want to save our allotments.

  5. “Mike” or Councillor as I prefer to (correctly) name you. When will you stop with this Propaganda?? It is completely transparent for those of us in the know! Really??? All this AGAIN ‘Mike’!! I thought we sorted all this Spin out on the Watford Observer web site where you often like to comment on Farm Terrace articles but always get talked down by local residents who seem to know more than you.
    Ok well here I go AGAIN…. And I am quoting facts which you can NOT dispute, so run back to Dorothy and tell her you failed…
    1) Hospital Campus needs half the land, do they? As I previously commented either your maths are no good or you just love lying so much you can’t stop! 2/5 Mike 2/5! NOT half. And that would only be if the Health Campus came up with funding which they haven’t FACT!
    2)Good Allotment Provision?? Really? According to your own research West Watford (where Farm Terrace is located) does not have enough provision!! Even with Farm Terrace! Also as you well know, there has been no publicising of allotments to the community for a long long time and the waiting lists for many have been suspicially hard to get on to!! Which leads me nicely onto..
    3) You say you want ‘more landscape for local residents to actually access and enjoy.’ and ‘increase the overall green spaces available to the community’ . Again spin. Had you been doing your job properly you would know that is exactly what we have already at farm terrace and you would work with us to rennovate and improve the allotments instead of yet more ‘green’ spin!!
    4) DEMOCRACY??? Don’t make me laugh!! Most of the residents of Watford had absolutely NO IDEA you are planning on building 600+ houses and flats there. You have made NO attempt to inform them of this whatsoever!!! DEMOCRACY?? We plot holders had no say and were not properly included in any part of the laughable ‘Consultation process’ other than to be lectured at by you Lib dems. You lib Dems who by the way, were the ONLY ones who voted this decission in!!!! THERE WAS NO DEMOCRACY!!!
    We the residents of Watford have spoken time and time again about how unhappy we are with the decission A) to use Farm Terrace land to build housing on (We are not against the Health Campus at all) and B) the decission to build hundreds and hundreds more flats i what is already by your own web site’s terms… “One of the most densly populated areas’!!
    You may think you have washed your hands of this awful decision by passing it on to the Secretary Of the State but this terrible blatant land grab will always come back to Watford’s Lib Dem Council.

  6. Bob Wakeling

    Thanks Sara Jane. I wondered why this “Mike” didn’t reveal his full name. It’s obviously because he’s ashamed to be known for talking so much rubbish. In addition to what I said earlier, it is also a fact that the Lib Dem council led by Mayor Dorothy had meetings long before any idea was released to us allotment plot holders and the local residents that there were plans to take the allotments. In April 2012 (i.e. before the June 2012 quoted by Mike) they discussed offering an area on Lower Paddock site but came to the conclusion that it is too far away. In other words it was done in secret. Mike didn’t mention that when he was relating the so called democratic procedure that has taken place between the council and the tenants. I was at the meetings between the council on one side and the plot holders and residents on the other and when we put forward detailed arguments we presumed the council were listening but they then stepped up and read out their prepared statements ignoring our position completely. I agree with Sara Jane; any reference to democracy on the part of councillor Mike is a total sham.
    Another point of fact is that at a meeting of so called consultation the representative of the developers, Kier, was asked directly if the developmnet could be achieved without the allotments being used. His answer was YES!

  7. Jon Wright

    I’ve heard this type of spin before, mainly from the Labour council up here in Redcar and Cleveland and now by the new lib dem council. After trying for years to remove an old farm from a field next to our estate they finally succeeded, but only after promises of tree planting, a lake and forest for nice family walks. Nice glossy brochure, I wonder how much that cost us.

    Well, we now have the houses but still waiting for the trees, lake and forest.

    It matters not whether your council is Tory, labour or lib dem, your all being conned by these shysters who’s only motivation is to try and sell us out to the highest bidder.

    I wish the folk of Farm Terrace the very best in their fight against these villains. Don’t give up. Give em a bloody nose from me.

  8. Democracy, when all the Cabinet (who voted this land grab through)are from one party, I believe two are even partners?

  9. Pingback: Watford Mayor Belatedly Runs Allotment PR Exercise After Farm Terrace Dispute | ukgovernmentwatch

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