At the start of 2014 we heard the news that Eric Pickles had given his judgement once again that the Allotments behind Watford Football Club could be built on by the local council. The Allotment holders are fighting on. Here is an article I wrote last summer.
In Watford a Lib-Dem Mayor and a Tory Minister sweep away a green lung. PETER FROST goes digging down at the allotments.
The allotments behind Vicarage Road Football Stadium have been there for at least 120 years. As the small streets of working class terraced houses were built in the late 1890’s the locals turned to this green lung for leisure, fresh air and somewhere to grow fresh fruit and vegetables.
In two World Wars, when German blockades caused food shortages, the Watford allotments proved a literal lifesaver just as they did all over the nation.
At the end of WW2 there were one and a half million allotments in Britain.
Today there are less than a third of a million and proven demand for at least another 90,000.
The vast majority of these allotments are supposed to be protected by various acts of parliament. Local councils have a legal obligation to provide these leisure gardens and growing spaces for local people.
Despite this, rapacious developers and cash strapped councils are casting a covetous eye over these urban oases with view to the rich pickings that could be had by building on them.
One good example of how this can happen in the face of the law and the opposition and campaigning of local allotment holders and their supporters is taking place at the moment, just a little to the North of London, in the Hertfordshire town of Watford.
In Watford, Liberal Democrat Mayor Dorothy Thornhill (annual allowance something over £65,000.) and Eric Pickles (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) have decided the town’s green and bountiful allotments can be swept away.
Despite loud opposition, including from the local Labour Party, Mayor Dorothy had no problem pushing her plans through. She has a massive majority on the 36 member Watford Council (25 Lib-Dem; 8 Lab; 3 Green; 1 Independent (an expelled Tory).
Eric Pickles, no doubt in the spirit of coalition, rubber stamped the decision. So much for Cameron and Clegg’s greenest ever government.
In place of the allotments is a vague plan for a development that will include, depending on just who you believe, housing, a hotel, shops and a car park.
Rather cleverly Mayor Dorothy and the Lib-Dem dominated Watford Council are calling the plan a ‘Health Campus’ and linking it to the redevelopment of the neighbouring local hospital.
Yet even they admit that no part of the hospital will be built on the former allotment site.
Indeed the hospital development is rather theoretical at the moment with no funding in sight and not much hope of it from a government keener on shutting accident and emergency departments and complete hospitals rather than improving old hospitals or building new ones.
So even with the allotments planned to go I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for and hospital improvements on the new health campus.
In the meantime the battle to save Watford’s Green Lung isn’t over. The plot holders and their many supporters are still determined to win the struggle and save this amazing green oasis just behind the Watford football ground.
A return to the Tory good old days.
In 1836 Charles Darwin and Captain Cook arrived at Sydney, Davy Crocket fought at the Alamo, and in a little brewing town just north of London they built the Watford Workhouse.
That workhouse is still there, right next door to the famous Vicarage Road Stadium, home to local football club the Hornets since 1922.
Carved on the local bricks of the workhouse are some tragic reminders of the Victorian culture that our coalition government would love to see back again.
Carved into individual bricks are memorials to friends and relatives who died penniless in the workhouse and were buried in unmarked pauper’s graves.
The workhouse is now the centre of a rambling group of buildings that make up the well loved Watford General Hospital.
The people of Watford need and deserve either a new hospital or at least some long needed improvements to the one they have.
Instead they seem to be promised a huge and profitable mixed development on the site of the long established and popular allotments and a return to the tired old Tory values demonstrated in those pathetic messages carved into the workhouse walls.