I wrote a while ago about my allotment and what it means to me. Shortly after that it appeared that there would be large hikes in the rent and there was a worry that the site might be sold. Whilst the management of the site is undergoing some upheaval, rent rises have been put on hold and selling the site is not on the cards. It’s a different story for the allotment holders of Farm Terrace Allotments in Watford, though.
In June 2012, the mayor of Watford Council, Dorothy Thornhill, wrote to allotment holders telling them that they were considering selling off the allotment site for development in conjunction with other land. The developers would build 600 new homes, with about 60 of them on the allotment site, and retail space and, in an agreement between them and Watford Council, potential profits would then be used for the regeneration of Watford General Hospital. Six months later, the council voted in agreement of the proposal. It was suggested that allotment holders at Farm Terrace would be offered plots at another site some 2 miles away.
It’s a sad story but, unfortunately not an uncommon one. Land is at a premium, especially in urban areas where there are pressures on any space that is not already built on and, as green spaces go, allotments seem bottom of the pile when it comes protection from development. When it was announced that the current government planned to sell off our woodland in an attempt to raise money there was an enormous outcry. How could they even think of it? The resulting campaign was so successful the government backed down. I imagine if they tried to do the same with our parks the nation’s response would be the same, so why don’t we all get behind the plight of threatened allotments in the same way? Well, maybe because we don’t all have one or because we aren’t interested in gardening or that the issue is very specific to a particular area and doesn’t then get national coverage. The situation with Farm Terrace though, is symbolic of so many other problems facing our country that it should be of interest to us all.
Allotments really are a unique part of our heritage. I would spend childhood holidays travelling the long journey from the north-east to Cornwall with my nose pressed up against the window watching in fascination as the allotment sites whizzed past. The little worlds that were created, with their sheds and crop protecting contraptions, intrigued me so much. Then there were the days spent at the allotment of a friend and his dad. I can still see us playing in the greenhouse with that warm, damp air and the smell of tomatoes that was so potent. Why allotments are treated with such disdain by councils, politicians and developers I don’t know? We’ll give dreadful pieces of architecture that nobody likes listed status, protecting them from the demolition team, and yet small patches of land, vital bits of green space that give people a sense of belonging, that give them the opportunity to grow their own healthy food and to get fresh air and exercise while doing it don’t matter. I know, instead we’ll build yet more ‘homes’ that are so poky and unattractive and have no outdoor space of their own, oh and I’ll throw in yet more shops because we really need more of them.
We do need good health care facilities and providing them isn’t cheap, so when businesses step in and say they will contribute to these costs it’s no great surprise that our leaders have jumped at the chance of this private investment. The problem is it does leave us exposed to those with the power and in today’s world this is big businesses. These companies deal in the realm of profit and loss and the problem is not everything in life can be measured in these terms. Libraries are closing across the country, deemed not to be not worth the expense any more, and yet what could be a greater expression of a civilised society than these places of learning and their resources that are free to all. For me, allotments too are a symbol of a society that understands and appreciates what makes for good and happy lives. To allow allotments to be concreted over when the government is constantly going on about the need to eat healthily and tackle obesity is like selling off school playing fields but spending billions on hosting a huge sporting event.
Allotments should not be treated as if they are just another scratty piece of land ripe for development. They deserve to be protected as part of our cultural heritage and also for what they give to people today and for future generations. Who knows how climate change will affect our food supplies but with so much of it now imported and worries regarding food security for the government and councils not to recognise the true worth of these plots of land is yet another mixed message in today’s confusing world.
I hope so much that the action group that has been formed to save the Farm Terrace Allotments can find some way to halt the destruction of their much loved plots. If you’d like to find out more about the allotments, the story behind their campaign and to sign their e-petition please go to www.farmterrace.btck.co.uk.