Petition causes politicians to clash over under-threat health campus allotments (From Watford Observer)
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Petition to save Farm Terrace allotments provokes angry clash between Watford politicians
A petition to save West Watford allotments from being concreted over in the health campus project provoked an angry clash between the borough's politicians.
Watford's elected mayor, Dorothy Thornhill, was again forced to defend the decision to allow developers to build on the century-old Farm Terrace site after the 1,243-signature petition was handed into the council tonight.
Earlier this year it emerged that the allotments would be built on after initially being protected in the scheme, which will see 600 new homes, new offices and a re-build of Watford General Hospital.
The allotments were sacrificed as council and health bosses said more land was needed to make the scheme economically viable for developers since the recession hit.
The debate started after 23-year-old Farm Terrace allotment-holder Jeni England handed in the petition and gave an impassioned speech to the councillors in defence of the site.
She said Farm Terrace was a unique green space that enabled its plot-holders to grow healthy and money-saving fruit and vegetables.
Miss England said members of the allotment supported the new hospital but did not accept it had to be lost and asked why other nearby sites could not also be used for the new homes.
She added that the council should be firm with the developers and tell them to work with plot-holders to ensure allotments are not concreted over.
Her speech was met with applause from Farm Terrace supporters in the public gallery and found support among opposition councillors.
Jagtar Singh Dhindsa, Labour deputy group leader, attacked the Liberal Democrat administration for painting his party as against the new hospital because it supported the allotments.
Addressing Mayor Thornhill, he said: "You said before about the Croxley Rail Link that you wanted to retain Watford Met station and in your words this would be the 'icing on the cake'.
"Well the icing in this case would be to get the hospital and the allotments."
He added people in West Watford especially needed the allotments as they did not have big gardens like residents in Nascot and Cassiobury in which to grow vegetables.
Matt Turmaine, a Labour councillor for Holywell, added his party was firmly in favour of the new hospital and that it was "cynical and shameful" to portray the heath campus as an either allotments or hospital situation.
Mayor Thornhill struck back by continuing the baking simile and saying the Labour group wanted just the icing and not the cake.
She referred to a letter from West Herts Hospitals Trust that said the allotment land was needed to "help the redevelopment of the hospital and make its delivery more certain".
The mayor said the Farm Terrace plot-holders would be given a new allotment site elsewhere in the town.
She added: "I am shocked to find a Labour group actively working against the improvement of a local hospital.
"It's disappointing that in supporting our hospital and seeking to build better homes and provide a decent neighbourhood we are accused on their website of "corporate greed".
"You are willing to put short-term opportunism before the long term health and wellbeing of our town."
Towards the end of her speech the mayor was interrupted by heckles of "shame" and shouts from the public gallery.