The NAS said: "The National Allotment Society is deeply disappointed at the decision by the Secretary of State, in May of this year, to approve the disposal of the historic Farm Terrace Allotments in Watford, despite the fact that not all of the policy criteria for disposal were met. The Society does not consider that exceptional circumstances apply in this case or that Watford Council has proved that the site is crucial to the viability of the Health Campus scheme. The Society will be offering substantial financial and moral support to the unstinting Farm Terrace campaigners in their challenge to the High Court against this decision made by the Secretary of State. The Society believes that the result of this challenge will have far wider significance than this particular case; we have already submitted a statement to the Court and requested permission to submit further detailed evidence.
"The Society find it most alarming that "exceptional circumstances" have been deemed to be proved in circumstances where no firm undertaking has been given as to what the land will be used for and the council itself has acknowledged that the development could go ahead without the allotments. Watford Council has argued that the allotments would provide readily developable land that could support important elements of their proposals. This could be argued by any council wanting to dispose of a site and we believe that allotment legislation should be strong enough to ensure that "exceptional circumstances" are truly exceptional and hope that any forthcoming judicial review will be part of a process that will help to clarify the term.
"Urban green space is vitally important to all citizens and this west Watford site lies adjacent to densely populated central Watford many of whose residents are in the 30 per cent most deprived in the country and 20 per cent most deprived in the region. A little imagination and flexibility would have enabled the council, a fifth of whose adult residents are classified as obese, to use the Health Campus scheme to address one of its health and wellbeing priorities around physical activity. We sincerely believe that this has been a lost opportunity for Watford Council to lead the way and incorporate an active and thriving allotment site and community into its development plans and provide a truly healthy environment. Instead they have chosen to run down the site, evict dedicated plot-holders and remove an important part of the cultural heritage of central and west Watford.
"We would like to applaud the efforts of the Farm Terrace campaigners who have done a great deal to raise the profile of allotments in the national consciousness. The support they have gathered through their vibrant campaign is indicative of the strength of feeling amongst the public about the importance of preserving our remaining sites.
Sara Jane Trebar, the Farm Terrace spokesperson said: "We are extremely pleased that the National Allotment Society have recognised the national significance of this case and have joined forces with us to challenge the government and Watford Borough Council at court later this year. Farm Terrace allotment holders are not just doing this for our sake but to help safeguard all plot-holders throughout England and Wales."
NAS added: "Allotments make a significant contribution to citizens’ Health and Well-being - offering opportunities for a healthy lifestyle, promoting social cohesion, supporting bio-diversity and are an important part of our national heritage. Although we acknowledge the need for more housing and appreciate that the Secretary of State sometimes has difficult decisions to make, we believe that allotment land, often a green oasis in highly built up areas such as Watford, should be protected against such pressures. The Society would like to see an end to this piecemeal approach to allotment protection, we call on councils and central government to look ahead and consider the real cost of a diminished future with few or no allotments as they dwindle away under short term economic considerations and work with us to find alternative solutions."