Thank you for all the great letters you have been sending Watford Borough Council in support of us! Please keep up the pressure! Here is a great letter sent last week -
Wednesday 28 August 2013
Dear Mayor Dorothy Thornhill
I am writing in response to recent events regarding Farm Terrace allotments and the national interest expressed in your council's desire to dispose of the site for development.
Allotments in this country are of great historical and social importance. It is possible to draw a direct line from the strip farming by peasants in the 12th century through the enclosure of the commons during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, to allotments as we know them today.
Allotments came into being as a result of three key concerns:
To alleviate poverty among the working poor "“ many who had left rural communities for the cities at the outset of the Industrial Revolution
The enclosure of the commons that culminated in the General Inclosure Act 1845. This effectively finalised the centuries old attacks on commoner rights to cultivate, graze, collect timber, and cut fuel from the commons.
To provide useful recreation during non-working hours (and keep them out of the pub!).
Allotments have often fallen in and out of fashion, but perhaps had their greatest heyday during WW1 and the Dig For Victory campaign of WW2 "“ indeed they were the domestic engine that helped prevent Britain starve during the Atlantic blockade by Axis powers.
In uncertain economic times there is a strong case for developing more allotments to serve population centres, not disposal. At the end of WW1 there were 1.5 million allotments "“ as of May 2011 it was reported there were approximately 152,000 allotments left.1 Meanwhile the UK relies on 68% EU imports to feed the population, while agricultural productivity continues to decline from its peak in the 1980's.2
The difficulty that faces many local authorities in the 21st Century is the competing demands placed upon it by government and the tax payer "“ obvious examples are housing, business and industry, healthcare provision, social care, and leisure. Such demands were never envisaged when allotment legislation was drafted. This however should not be detrimental to the existence of allotments when councils consider whether sites are "˜unnecessary or surplus to requirements', and nor should it lead one to neglect the varied positive contributions made by these havens of horticultural endeavour.
They provide access to fresh air and green spaces for urban populations, and are important educational assets for our communities (being a former teacher I'm sure you would recognise).
They're healthy as they offer the opportunity for exercise and are proven to help reduce the ravages of mental illnesses such Post Traumatic Stress Disorder3 and depression.
With continued development and expansion of our towns and cities allotments are vital areas for urban and suburban biodiversity. Trees are seen as the green lungs of a town or city, and it can be argued that allotments are the green nervous system for our communities.
Another thing to consider with allotments is that whilst it may seem a simple exercise for councils to move plot holders from one site to another it takes no account of the hard years of cultivation, sweat, failure and success. Plot holders are heavily invested in the soil they work. Not just materially but physically and spiritually.
What account do local authorities take of this? It becomes much more than an economic matter with developers dangling the carrot of investment. What about the moral investment in your citizens? What of the transaction of integrity?
Coalition government policy is inconsistent on the issue of allotments in the UK. On the one hand Eric Pickles has championed Community Assets and the Localism Bill handing more power to communities, yet his department has been responsible for a 97% approval of all allotment disposal requests. Then, in the face of a legal challenge he admits his department got it wrong and didn't follow its own policy framework.
"The Government recognise that allotments are valuable green spaces and community assets providing people with the opportunity to grow their own produce as part of the long-term promotion of environmental sustainability, health and well-being, community cohesion and social inclusion."
Andrew Stunnell MP, Liberal Democrat 20124
"People will be able to vote against excessive council tax rises, elect a mayor for their city, save a community treasure or take over running a local service. The days of tick box consultation processes are over, communities will be the ones making the planning decisions for their neighbourhood."
Eric Pickles MP 20125
In respect of allotments DCLG went further and produced the Space For Food Growing guide, published just over a year ago,6 actively encouraging more allotments and space for community food projects. Such support and recognition of the worth of the allotment movement nationally couldn't be more contrary to the course of action you seek.
- Armed Forces Charity
As leader of Liberal Democrat controlled Watford please take the time to reconsider the best interests of all your citizens and communities. Allotments enjoy a global heritage and yet are persistently under threat of development. The history of mankind can be found in the first human settlements when they began to till the earth. In this respect the instinct for provision is no different if you're a wheat farmer in Hertfordshire, a smallholder in Malakal, or a plot holder in Watford.
If I may, I finish with some further context to consider.
"Stop to consider how the so-called owners of the land got hold of it. They simply seized it by force, afterwards hiring lawyers to provide them with title-deeds. In the case of the enclosure of the common lands"¦..the land-grabbers did not even have the excuse of being foreign conquerors; they were quite frankly taking the heritage of their own countrymen, upon no sort of pretext except that they had the power to do so." George Orwell, 1944
Mr Andrew Maxwell
allotment holder and activist @digWinstanley
RECLAIM THE COMMONS