Allotments should not be sacrificed for ‘risky’ health campus, says Labour group (From Watford Observer)
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Farm Terrace Allotments should not be sacrificed for ‘risky’ health campus, says Labour group
Labour politicians have questioned whether 117-year-old West Watford allotments should be sacrificed in the “risky” health campus scheme when there is “no viable plan” in place for a new hospital.
The opposition group argued financial uncertainty surrounding Watford General Hospital had reduced the regeneration scheme too “speculative property development”.
Watford General Hospital.
The criticism comes after the government granted permission for Farm Terrace Allotments to be concreted over as part of the scheme to build 600 new homes and hospital facilities on land behind Vicarage Road.
The Department of Communities and Local Government’s ruling, which was announced yesterday, follows a drawn-out legal battle against allotment campaigners.
Watford Labour leader, Nigel Bell, said: "With no viable plan to fund the hospital redevelopment this scheme has been exposed as a risky and speculative property development cooked up by a Lib Dem Mayor and approved by a Tory Minister, against the wishes of local people.
"We will be campaigning for government funding to give local people the modern hospital they deserve."
Original plans for the health campus had protected the Farm Terrace Allotments in the development. However, last year politicians at Watford Borough Council voted to include the allotment land in the scheme saying it was necessary to make it viable for developers.
Yesterday’s decision was welcomed by the town’s elected Liberal Democrat mayor, Dorothy Thornhill, who said: "Whilst in my head I never doubted that the right decision would be made, clearly it has been a long grind and a difficult one and you know there are times when you wonder.
"Asking to build on allotment land was not a decision we took lightly."
Plans for the health campus development.
Yet uncertainty remains over the health element of the scheme as Watford General Hospital’s latest reports show it is coming under increasing financial strain.
The hospital trust delayed its application for foundation status last year, which would give it the financial independence needed for any large-scale redevelopment.
West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust is due to unveil a new clinical strategy, which will outline its plans to redevelop Watford General.
Mayor Thornhill said: "Part of that redevelopment is around securing space for new hospital facilities.
"I don’t want a chief executive of the hospital in five or ten years time to turn around and say, ‘if we only had some ground, if we only we could’ve done that’.
"I don’t want to be responsible for Watford General Hospital not to be able to improve its facilities in the 21st century."
The issue of Farm Terrace has become a fault line in the Watford mayor election with the challenging Labour candidate, Jagtar Singh Dhindsa, promising to protect the allotments if elected.
Today Councillor Dhindsa reiterated his pledge, saying: "This is a sad day and a kick in the teeth for the allotment holders and the residents of west Watford. I want to see our hospital modernised with a scheme that retains the allotments."
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