This live event has finished
- Farm Terrace Allotment holders are challenging permission Eric Pickles gave to Watford Borough Council to use the site in the Watford Health Campus scheme at the High Court today.
- The hearing has begun
- Farm Terrace Allotments barrister Jason Coppel QC has set out his case
- Watford Borough Council's barrister Robin Green has spoken
- Zoë Leventhal addressed the judge on behalf of Eric Pickles and the Department of Communities and Local Government
The hearing is over and Mr Justice Ouseley should return his verdict in the next week.
Mr Justice Ouseley asked Ms Leventhal what Mr Pickles thought would happen to health campus if Farm Terrace was not included.
She said without the allotments, developers would be more nervous and the health campus would be loss-making for the council.
Mr Justice Ouseley pushed Ms Leventhal on whether Mr Pickles thought the health campus needed Farm Terrace to go ahead.
She said: "It's more subtle than saying it won't go ahead without the allotments. It's saying a viable scheme does not exist without the allotments".
She added that experts said Watford council would make a loss of £3.3m on the health campus.
Mr Justice Ouseley wondered out loud why Mr Pickles didn't cite the public sector making a loss without Farm Terrace in his reasoning.
Ms Leventhal said Mr Pickles was aware there were no defined plans to build hospital facilities on Farm Terrace land.
She added Watford council identified the allotments as a site for "optimal hospital expansion", even if only for an "aspirational" expansion.
Ms Leventhal says Mr Pickles was not under the impression the health campus could only go ahead by building over Farm Terrace.
He concluded without Farm Terrace the scheme had "more risks and viability concerns".
Zoë Leventhal is now addressing the judge on behalf of Eric Pickles and the Department of Communities and Local Government.
She said when Mr Pickles made the decision it was a "balancing act" based on evidence in front of him.
She says he was not "misled" over the viability figures as knew they were from Watford Borough Council's point of view.
Ms Leventhal argued that Mr Pickles was not "misdirected" that the health campus would not go ahead without Farm Terrace land.
She says he drew a "more subtle" conclusion that not including Farm Terrace could make scheme unprofitable for the council.
Mr Green is now taking on the allotment-holders' argument that the hospital has no plans to expand as part of health campus scheme.
He cites a meeting last August between the hospital trust, Watford Borough Council, Kier and architects to discuss health campus design.
Mr Green said the hospital trust is looking at what it wants to do at all its sites in its clinical strategy, so does not know yet.
Mr Justice Ouseley asks where West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust will get the money to redevelop and expand the hospital, noting that it is in deficit.
Mr Green said the health campus is not designed to raise money for the trust so funding for redevelopment must come from the NHS.
Mr Justice Ouseley asked if Mr Pickles should not have been made aware there were no defined plans for new hospital facilities.
Mr Green said there will also be houses on Farm Terrace land and the hospital is still involved with the health campus even though plans are not finalised.
He added that even though the number of houses in the health campus has gone up (to 750) it doesn't mean it's more profitable. The value of the land has gone down since last year which means scheme is actually less profitable now.
Interesting nugget - the scheme's overall profit was projected to be around £36m last year.
Mr Green said the heart of the plot-holders' case is whether Eric Pickles was "misled" over viability of health campus without Farm Terrace.
He said the council's application made it clear that its figures underpinning the viability claim were from the council and trust's perspective.
Mr Green said: "As far as the council is concerned this is a project of marginal viability" and added Eric Pickles was not 'misled' over figures. It was clear they represented the council's share of the health campus, he claimed.
Mr Green now addressing comments made by Mayor Dorothy Thornhill that health campus would go ahead with or without the Farm Terrace land.
He says what mayor meant was that if the land could not be used, the council would look at other ways to make scheme viable.
The judge, Mr Ouseley, asked Mr Green why the allotments were included in the health campus scheme in the first place.
Mr Green responds it was to give the scheme a "better layout" and improve its viability.
Mr Green says the Farm Terrace allotment-holders have been offered new plots at Holywell allotments in West Watford and Paddock Road, Oxhey.
He addressed the argument that the health campus is still profitable for developers Kier even if Farm Terrace is excluded.
He says Kier and Watford council are 50/50 partners in the health campus venture, which means if the council doesn't want to proceed it won't.
The judicial review is back from lunch and Mr Coppel has just finished speaking.
He said Mr Pickles was given a chance to reconsider Farm Terrace after the council released its finance information on the health campus.
However Mr Coppel said Mr Pickles declined, saying he has no power to reverse the decision.
The review is now hearing from barrister Robin Green, representing Watford Borough Council.
#FarmTerrace protest in full swing http://t.co/SybpMm9gwY— @Mike_WatfordObs 25 July 2014
Another #FarmTerrace plot holder, Gerry Barker, has brought his edging tool. May be an issue getting through security http://t.co/DK0M8CDWRF— @Mike_WatfordObs 25 July 2014
Plot-holder Sean Mills has brought some produced along fresh from #FarmTerrace. Can recommend the peas. http://t.co/3X9dwuHoNc— @Mike_WatfordObs 25 July 2014
#FarmTerrace supporters out in force for protest outside Royal Courts of Justice. Chanting 'save allotments' http://t.co/5Jpb3ReHko— @Mike_WatfordObs 25 July 2014
The judicial review has broken up for lunch. Watford Borough Council will speak after the break.
Mr Coppel concludes: "The Secretary of State got the facts wrong and the decision simply does not stack up."
Mr Coppel said taking developer Kier's returns into account the health campus makes around 18 per cent return even without Farm Terrace and is therefore viable.
Mr Coppel is now examining the Watford Borough Council application to Eric Pickles for permission to develop the Farm Terrace Allotments.
He read an extract where the council said the Farm Terrace site was identified as the most suitable place for hospital to expand.
Mr Coppel said this left Mr Pickles with a "misconception" about the likelihood of hospital expansion in the health campus scheme.
He challenged the council's argument that the health campus is not financially 'viable' without the land, reading part of accountant's report that said without Farm Terrace the health campus will make a £3.3m loss.
Mr Coppel said this report only takes into account what Watford Borough Council will make from health campus, but not what developer Kier makes.
He said the report argues the scheme needs to make between 15 and 20 per cent return to be financially viable.
Mr Coppel said there is 'great uncertainty' over plans to redevelop Watford General Hospital.
He pointed to the hospital trust's "huge and worsening budget deficit" and comments from trust bosses saying they are not in a position to rebuild Watford General.
Me Coppel says documents from Watford Council show that the hospital would have 'flexibility' to expand without building over Farm Terrace, and that the council failed to tell Eric Pickles that up to 20 per cent of allotment land would be used for a new Watford FC car park.
Mr Coppel said the health campus will go ahead if Farm Terrace is built on or not. He cites Mayor Dorothy Thornhill who said the council would 'crack on' with the health campus no matter the result of the Farm Terrace legal challenge.
Mr Coppel is now talking about the decision Secretary of State Eric Pickles made allowing Farm Terrace to be built on in the health campus, the crux of the case.
He said Mr Pickles's decision 'falls down' after any 'sensible analysis' of the conclusions he based it on.
10:59am Fri 25 Jul 14
So Dotty says that if the allotments stay, it closes the door on hospital development. This presupposes that the building scheme goes ahead as planned, in this economic climate, delivering housing and profits for the developers and that is all. So, therefore the primary motivation for this entire scheme is not health but profit. I think she's nailed her colours to the mast, there.
Robert Wakeling says his plot is a source of exercise for him and his wife and fresh veg for his friends and family.
Another plot holder, Massimo Trebar, says Farm Terrace is a 'historical, cultural and environmental gem'.
He also said that plot-holders have had to fight rhetoric about Farm Terrace being a choice of allotments or a hospital.
He added that the health campus plans have no proposals for new hospital.
Farm Terrace Allotments barrister Jason Coppel QC has opened by pointing out how many allotment holders have come to court for hearing - our reporter Mike Wright says the hearing room is packed out.
He described the case as not just about Farm Terrace but also a 'litmus test' for how much protection allotments have from developers.
Proceedings getting underway on #FarmTerrace judicial review hearing. Even more allotment supporters in court now. It's pretty packed out.— @Mike_WatfordObs 25 July 2014
Speaking in June 2012, Gerry Barker, chairman of West Watford and Oxhey Garden Society, said if the allotments were lost, tenants would lose years of hard work.
He said: "If you move the allotments and give someone an alternative site, it will take three years to get a response. Some people have very well established plants and trees. It is irreversible in that respect."
Here he is with Mary Reid, Malcolm Meerabux, Wendy Ballie, Virgine Jones and Peter Ballie.
Some more history, here is how were reported the news that the allotments were to be considered as part of the scheme due to the worsening economic climate, way back in 2012.
Tail end of another case is currently being dealt with in the court. #FarmTerrace judicial review should start shortly after.— @Mike_WatfordObs 25 July 2014
Watford’s elected mayor said preserving the Farm Terrace Allotments in the health campus scheme would mean "closing the door" on a future hospital development.
Dorothy Thornhill said the allotments were also needed to ensure the 750-home regeneration venture secured a good return for the town’s taxpayers.
She added: "Them (the Farm Terrace plot-holders) staying in place means the council does not get a return and that means problems for the Watford taxpayer."
For a complete timeline dating back to 1882, have a look at this graphic we published yesterday.
A quick history lesson while we wait for things to begin.
- Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State of Communities and Local Government, gave permission for the Health Campus to be built on the 100-year-old allotments in December.
- Plot-holders are challenging this permission, which would allow 750 homes, new businesses, and space for potential new hospital facilities, to be built behind Vicarage Road.
- They argue that the scheme could go ahead without using the allotment land.
- Mr Pickles said he had seen evidence that the health campus would not be "economically viable" without the allotment land.
- The allotment holders counter that the council’s evidence said the allotments would make the scheme "more viable" rather than being essential.
- The health campus master plan shows that up to 20 per cent of the allotment land would be used for a Watford FC car park.
Quite a large crowd gathered in court 19 public gallery for the #FarmTerrace hearing. Mostly pro-allotment.— @Mike_WatfordObs 25 July 2014
Complete with a scarecrow effigy of Secretary of State Eric Pickles #FarmTerrace http://t.co/LnTcp0Ce5I— @Mike_WatfordObs 25 July 2014
#FarmTerrace campaigners have taken over the entrance of the court with a very bright allotment-themed protest. http://t.co/jnihqhGj1Z— @Mike_WatfordObs 25 July 2014
Down at the Royal Courts of Justice for today's judicial review hearing on health campus & #FarmTerrace allotments http://t.co/hl9TUyoRcE— @Mike_WatfordObs 25 July 2014
#SaveFarmTerrace party bus! #AllotmentCourtCase #PeasfulProtest http://t.co/47snVHZNBh— @SaveFarmTerrace 25 July 2014
We will be posting live updates from the High Court this morning as the members of Save Farm Terrace launch a judicial review into the decision to use the site as part of the Watford Health Campus.