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Green fingered Watford protestors mass at High Court in test case to save allotments

 Published on: 25th July 2014   |   By: The Newsdesk   |   Category: Uncategorized

A band of Watford gardeners today launched a David and Goliath test case at London’s High Court in a bid to save allotments in their area and also in the hope that their action will serve to throw up legal protection to block a trend which has seen allotments across the country from the gardening scene. A number of allotment holders at Farm Terrace, Watford, have banded together to attack a Government decision to allow transfer of the land to a corporate vehicle that will develop them as part of the Watford Health Campus project. Green fingered supporters massed both inside the crowded courtroom at London’s High Court, and in a protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice. In the court room Jason Coppel QC told one of the country’s top judges, Mr Justice Duncan Ouseley, that allotments are disappearing from the UK at precisely the time when they should be encouraged. He said that only four of 199 applications made to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to transfer ownership of allotments, under the 1925 Allotments Act, have been refused. But he continued: “What is different in this case is that allotment holders have fought back, and challenge the decision against them. “They are backed by the National Association of Allotments and Leisure Gardeners. They see this case as a litmus test for the protection of allotments.” He said that allotments are of “historical and social importance” to the UK and added : “In uncertain economic times there is a strong case for developing allotments, not for their disposal. Meanwhile, the UK relies on imports.” It is the second time the Farm Terrace allotment holders – spearheaded by Andrew Moore, Massimo Trebar and Robert Wakeling – have fought back. Last year the High Court the Secretary of State’s initial decision to transfer ownership of the land to the Watford Health Campus Local Asset Backed Vehicle as quashed and he was ordered to re-consider the matter. However, after he re-considered it he came to the same decision as before. In today’s action, however, the protestors claim he was wrong to do that and are asking the judge quash the latest decision, made in December last year. Mr Coppel said that the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, is the “guardian of allotments.” But he accused Mr Pickles of departing from his own published policy by taking the view that there were “exceptional circumstances” in the case of the Watford allotments in that the Watford Health Campus Scheme would not be economically viable without the allotment land. Mr Pickles had taken the view that refusing to allow transfer of the land would prevent wider public benefits including improved hospital facilities and housing from being delivered. But Mr Coppel said that the conclusion “no allotments equals no project” was not supported on the evidence, and that protection of them could be included as part of the project and could even make it “more viable”. He said that the Council has never claimed that the project will not go ahead without the allotment land, and has in fact said precisely the opposite. Lawyers for both the Government and the separately represented Council will argue that the decision was lawful and should stand. Zoe Leventhal argues on behalf of the Secretary of State that he reached an entirely rational judgment to the effect that exceptional circumstances justified his conclusion. Robin Green argues on behalf of the Council that its assessment of the viability of the Health Campus project was that the allotment land is outside the flood plain and would be more easily developed, improving the likelihood of the scheme’s financial viability and allowing many benefits to the public to be realised. According to figures in written arguments before the court, the development cost will be around £350m, and will take up to 15 years to complete, while the Council is providing £1.6m towards re-providing allotments and making town-wide allotment improvements. The judge is to reserve judgment in the case after hearing a day of complex legal argument. Speaking in advance of the hearing, Andrew Moore, one of the claimants, said: “It is a shame that we have had to take the case this far. It’s not too late for the Council and the Secretary of State to change their minds and accommodate the allotments within the development.” Adam Hundt, of Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors, who represent the allotment holders, added: “This case will affect many other sites across the country that are also under threat from development.”  

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