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Watford politicians split over fate of health campus allotments
The Watford Health Campus became embroiled in a political row this week as borough councillors split over whether allotment land should be used in the project.
At a full Watford Borough Council meeting on Wednesday the opposition Labour party tabled a motion calling on the ruling Liberal Democrat group to protect the Farm Terrace Allotments.
However ruling Liberal Democrats rejected the idea, saying it would be tying their hands behind their back in the negotiations over the £1bn project.
The council is set to decide on a private developer to carry out the project, which will see a new hospital, hundreds of new homes and new businesses built on the land behind Vicarage Road .
Last month plot-holders were told the Farm Terrace Allotments, which were originally preserved in health campus, may need to be built on to make the scheme viable.
At the meeting Labour leader Nigel Bell said the allotments should be put above the profit margins of developers. He said: “Commercial developers are seeking to incorporate the Farm Terrace Allotments into the health campus project in order to gain greater financial profit for themselves.
The move provoked an angry response from the Liberal Democrats who accused Labour of playing politics with the £1bn scheme.
Liberal Democrat George Derbyshire said: “This motion is nothing more than a cynical attempt to use a localised issue to political advantage with complete disregard for the people of Watford.”
Other senior Liberal Demcrats accused Councillor Bell of “flip-flopping” saying he had not mentioned his concerns about the allotments when he first heard they may be used in the Health Campus at a private meeting.
Labour’s Asif Khan responded by saying the Liberal Democrats were “playing the man not the ball” with their attacks on Councillor Bell.
Extending the football analogy, Liberal Democrat cabinet member Derek Scudder compared Labour’s motion to tying the council’s hands behind its back in penalty shootout, when it came to negotiating the Health Campus.
Green Party councillors threw their weight behind the Labour motion, saying they opposed the loss of more green areas in the town.
Steve Rackett , the leader of the Green group, said he feared that green spaces had not been properly protected in the original health campus master plan.
He said: “I wasn’t satisfied this issue was being addressed and now that is coming home to roost.”
At end of the debate the Liberal Democrat elected mayor, Dorothy Thornhill, said the decision to allow the Farm Terrace Allotments to be used in the development had not been taken lightly.
She attack the Labour group saying: “Your knowledge of the project is appalling. I genuinely think you just don’t get it.”
In the end Labour, the Greens and an Independent voted in support of the motion, but it was defeated by the larger Liberal Democrat majority and a Conservative.