Watford Borough Council told to release health campus financial report ahead of Farm Terrace Allotments High Court battle (From Watford Observer)
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Watford Borough Council told to release health campus financial report ahead of Farm Terrace Allotments High Court battle
Council bosses have lost the fight to keep financial figures underpinning the Watford health campus secret ahead of the High Court battle over the Farm Terrace Allotments.
Watford Borough Council argued it should not have to release a report containing the sums that led it to argue the 118-year-old allotments were needed to make the redevelopment financially "viable".
However a judge at the High Court has ruled the council should hand over the report and other documents relating to the scheme to the allotment-holders' legal team.
Following the ruling Sara Jane Trebar, spokesman for the Farm Terrace Community Association, said: "This ruling is very good news indeed and will strengthen our case considerably."
Farm Terrace Allotment holders are challenging the second decision by Communities and Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, to allow the allotment land to be built over in the health campus scheme.
The scheme promises to redevelop the land behind Vicarage Road with up to 750 new homes, businesses and leave room for new hospital facilities.
The Secretary of State made the decision on the basis that without the allotments "the Watford Health Campus Scheme would not be economically viable and that wider public benefits of improved hospital facilities, housing and green spaces would not be realised".
The plot-holders' solicitors, Deighton Pierce Glynn, say their challenge hinges on two questions: Did the evidence Mr Pickles have evidence to show that the health campus could not work without the allotments and was his evidence accurate and up to date.
As such the solicitors have applied for the council to release the sums in a report by accountants Grant Thornton that showed the scheme was not "viable" without the allotmemts.
The allotment holders also asked the council to release details of when changes were made to the health campus masterplan, which was eventually released on January.
As well as this they have challenged the council and the hospital to release any communications or minutes that showed there were "firm proposals" to build new hospital facilities in the scheme.
The council did release headline figures in the Grant Thornton report about the health campus’s finances.
These projections showed that without the allotments the council’s projected return of £9,895,000 from the scheme turned into a £3,369,000 loss. Likewise the hospital trust’s returns went from £2,036,000 to £715,000.
However the council refused to release the full report to the court, arguing it was confidential.
It said: "In all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exception outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information."
Latest health campus masterplan.
The council also said it could not release a paper trail detailing the development of the health campus masterplan because it had been developed via an "enormous amount of iterative project working".
It added: "Only from formal meetings - such as the LABV board or the council’s cabinet - do a whole host of options, issues, changes and drafts become crystallised into firm recommendations and decisions. It is simply not possible to provide, on a dynamic scheme of this scale, a precise suite of conclusive documentation."
Following the ruling a spokesman for Watford Borough Council said: "As part of the Judicial Review process the claimant’s lawyers have asked for disclosure of a number of documents.
"We have, as far as we are able complied with the order for disclosure, which was an agreed order. Claimants have also served a further witness statement which we have also responded to."