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West Watford allotments considered as part of Health Campus development
Allotment holders in West Watford vented their anger after learning their plots may be lost in the Health Campus development.
Watford’s elected mayor, Dorothy Thornhill face heated questioning from residents at a meeting last night as the council agreed to look at letting developers use Farm Terrace allotments as part of the £1bn scheme.
Allotment holders were sent letters last week saying their plots were now to be considered as part of the scheme after originally being protected due to the worsening economic climate.
The Health Campus project promises to redevelop the land around Watford General Hospital, with a new hospital as well as new homes and leisure facilities.
The move comes as Watford Borough Council is in crunch negotiations with two developers over which of them will get the final contract.
At a meeting of the council’s Liberal Democrat cabinet last night, which was well attended by allotment holders, councillors and the mayor voted to look at options including using all the Farm Terrace land, half or none of it.
Before the vote the mayor addressed the allotment holders, saying nothing had been decided over the Farm Terrace land and they would be fully consulted over any changes.
Dorothy Thornhill said: "At the moment as it is at a very early stage which may take years. I have done you the courtesy of telling you that things have changed from what you understand."
When pressed on why the allotments were now being considered for development, the mayor said she did not know the exact specifics.
However she told allotment holders her understanding was that the Farm Terrace land could be crucial to the whole Health Campus being a viable prospect for developers.
"My understanding is that it is in order to make the whole package stand up," said Mayor Thornhill.
"They are (the developers) taking a massive risk. I know we like to paint the developers as the bad guys."
In a report to the cabinet on the progress on the Health Campus officers said the tough economic climate had not helped the project by two tranches of funding totalling £13m had boosted the project.
Yet councillors were told the inclusion of the allotment site could be crucial for the viability of the scheme.
The report said: "Without the inclusion of some of the allotment site, delivery would be very much more difficult and the end result far less advantageous from the perspective of providing a new quarter for this area of West Watford.
"Viability would be impacted. As members are aware there are also pressures to provide other community assets such as a primary school.
"Utilising a significant portion of the allotments will greatly assist to develop a viable and better masterplan."
Following the meeting Watford Borough Council shed more light on why the allotments may need to be used in the Health Campus.
Among the reasons developers have given for why they may need the land are in case the hospital needs to be expanded beyond what it is currently planned.
Developers are also facing a more than £30m costs to clear the site of waste, build a bridge over the railway, level the land for building and put in flood prevention measures.
Therefore the companies vying for the Health Campus contract have said they may need the extra land to offset the mounting costs of the project.
The allotment land has also been mooted as a site for a new primary school.