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Labour councillors fail to change minds at Farm Terrace meeting
Opposition politicians have failed to force a rethink on plans to build over a set of historic West Watford allotments as part of the Watford Health Campus.
An attempt to send the Farm Terrace Allotment decision back to Watford Borough Council’s ruling cabinet was voted down by Liberal Democrat councillors at a meeting last night.
At a meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee last night councillors and allotment-holders got a chance to question two of the cabinet politicians who made the decision.
Opposition Labour councillors called in the decision made by elected-mayor Dorothy Thornhill and her cabinet on December 3, which would see the land used for housing and hospital buildings.
The move comes as part of the multimillion pound project that will see the land behind Vicarage Road redeveloped with a new hospital and around 600 new homes.
The meeting started with deputy Labour leader Jagtar Singh Dhindsa asking why Mayor Thornhill had not attended.
Councillor Iain Sharpe, the Lib Dem portfolio holder for planning, legal and property, said it was because the health campus came under his purview and that of the community portfolio holder, Keith Crout.
Labour leader Nigel Bell began proceedings by outlining his party’s concerns that sites other than Farm Terrace had not been considered for housing, and also asked why a private finance initiative had not been explored as a way to deliver the new hospital.
He also expressed concern that so many new homes were being "crammed" into an already densely populated area of West Watford.
"We are not opposed to housing on the health campus site but 600 seems to us and many in West Watford over the top," said Councillor Bell.
Representatives of the allotment holders were also allowed to address the committee before the cabinet members were questioned.
One representative, Marion Harvey, said allotment-holders had always supported the health campus and the new hospital.
She added: "It is particularly the annexation of Farm Terrace we have found difficult to understand and in all honesty I still can’t see a real reason why it should go ahead."
Mrs Harvey also pointed out there was currently no funding or concrete plan for a new hospital and said the allotments should only be considered once there was.
Mary Reid, from the West Watford and Oxhey Garden and Allotment Society, said the Farm Terrace land was only being used for around 60 homes and asked why other land could not be used for those houses.
Councillor Sharpe argued that without the Farm Terrace land the health campus scheme was "barely viable" and only became viable for developers and the council with it included.
Cabinet members were also pressed about what would happen if the government rejected the council’s application to build on Farm Terrace.
Councillor Sharpe said in that case the land would be left but more homes would need to be shoehorned onto the site as flats to make the scheme viable and the new hospital would suffer.
He added "Every time you do something reducing the return it queries the viability of the whole thing including the hospital."
Councillor Sharpe also challenged Labour councillors to suggest land suitable to take some of the health campus houses, saying the council had looked at all other options and there were none.
He said: "There is no magical parcel of land waiting for us to develop".
In the end a motion to send the Farm Terrace decision back to the cabinet was defeated with two Labour and a Green councillor voting for and five Liberal Democrats voting against.
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