What is the likelihood of a new hospital being built in Watford? This will be one of the main questions being examined today as the Farm Terrace Allotment holders take their fight to the High Court. 

The plot-holders are bringing the health campus regeneration scheme to judicial review over the decision to build over the more than 100-year-old site. 

One of the key elements of the case will be whether Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government had the correct "exceptional circumstances" he needed to sign off on the destruction of a used allotment site.

His Farm Terrace justification was that without the allotments land the health campus would not be financially "viable" and thus deprive the public of benefits such as "improved hospital facilities" as well as affordable housing and new green spaces.

However the barrister working for Farm Terrace plot-holders will argue Mr Pickles made his decision on incomplete evidence and that since the decision the facts on the ground surrounding the health campus (in particular the chance of new hospital) have changed markedly.

The plot holders are also arguing that the sums underpinning the health campus show that it can be done without using Farm Terrace (which was protected in previous schemes).

One problem for Eric Pickles is that since he gave permission to build on Farm Terrace for a second time in December, the facts on the ground have changed.

For a start the full extent of West Hertfordshire Hospital’s NHS Trust problems are becoming clear. This week it has emerged the trust will slide £120 million into the red over the next eight years unless it gets help from the Government.

The trust has also pushed back its clinical strategy - the plan which will lay the blueprint for any redevelopment of Watford General - until 2015. Frankly it does not look like trust is in a position to undertake the regeneration programme Watford General desperately needs.

Without a substantial hospital development the health campus is principally a 700-home housing estate.

Now, the need for new housing in Watford is pressing. But in this country you can’t just build on used allotments for housing. 

The fact the allotment-holders have forced the issue into the High Court is itself an impressive feat.
Over the last two years campaigners have harnessed social media with great effect to broaden the issue out far beyond Watford to tap into support from allotment-holders across the country. It has been this support that has helped them raise the funds to mount two legal challenges to the Farm Terrace decision.

The campaigners have also managed to turn the Farm Terrace issue into a test case as to exactly what "exceptional circumstances" are needed to concrete over an allotment site.

Back here in Watford, this High Court battle will represents the most forensic examination of what the health campus actually entails. For the people of the town it has always been about a desperately needed new hospital. This judicial review may shed some light on how close to, or indeed, far away we are from it.