Save Farm Terrace Allotments

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Farm Terrace Allotments is fighting to save its site.

Farm Terrace Allotment site has existed since 1896. It stands in the centre of the hugely urbanized town of Watford as an oasis in an urban jungle. However, it is in the middle of a bitter war with its council and central government who want to build housing on the site. This situation is becoming an epidemic as more and more councils see selling-off allotment sites as a way of generating cash. Since 2007, there have been 132 separate applications to close down allotments under section 8 of the 1925 Allotments Act. Out of these 132 applications 97% were approved (128 cases) and only 4 cases refused.

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Allotment sites have been and indeed, still are, spaces of contention. They have been built over and built around and sites that were once on the edges of towns, are now often deeply embedded within the urban environment, as is the case with Farm Terrace allotments. As such, they provide vitally important green breaks in urban environments. In 1923 the National Union of Allotment Holders said:

The national benefits which accrue from allotments [are the] increase of home food production; the economic, social, and recreative value of the movement; and the necessity of maintaining “lungs” and preventing further congestion in our urban areas (Allotment Holder’s Year Book 1923,  page 60).

Maintaining green lungs and increasing food security are even more important today than they were 90 years ago.

Roger Backhouse of SKGAS gives some good advice about saving threatened sites. The full story of SKGAS’s fight is told in NSALG’s quarterly magazine Allotment and Leisure Gardener, 2010 volume 1 pages 40-42. Here is a summary of Roger’s experience:

  • Nothing is absolutely safe! Even full sites can be threatened.
  • Act on early information – if there is a rumour ask for an official denial. Go to the press early.
  • Try to identify political levers – are there council or government policies that support allotments? In SKGAS’s case, the Council’s bio-diversity policy very good.
  • Try to get wider support in the community – even non-gardeners didn’t like the idea of allotments being sold.
  • Don’t rely on one political party – try them all.
  • Do use official channels, speak at Council meetings, keep speaking brief and try to use a little humour if possible.  Going on at length only alienates councillors.
  • Use people power at meetings, no need to be nasty or threatening – it is counterproductive –  but a large group of people does help sway councillors
  • Thank those who’ve supported you  – our chair wrote letters to thank  supportive councillors. SKGAS gave certificates of appreciation  to thank leading  council supporters and the local paper.
  • Co-operate with the press,  even if it means ringing round twenty members for a photo call yet again.
  • Try to have one or two committee members free from everyday responsibilities of running a society to concentrate on campaigning.
  • Freedom of Information Act requests can produce useful information but going to the Ombudsman turned out to be a waste of time. NSALG gave good advice.
  • Our campaign attracted new interest in allotments. However, some joined who weren’t really interested in gardening, but in saving land from development, so didn’t attempt to cultivate plots leaving us with unlet and unattractive plots fuelling the case for sale.
  • Among society members there can be fatalism and fear of council power, rarely justified. Another problem was most members on the unaffected sites remained uninvolved.  Others were more interested in pursuing their own vendettas rather than the bigger  issue of fighting site sales.

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