High Court judge overturns Pickles' Watford allotment decision

A High Court judge has quashed a decision by the communities secretary to transfer the ownership of allotment land in Watford to make way for a mixed-use regeneration project.

Allotments: campaigners fighting to save Watford site from development
Allotments: campaigners fighting to save Watford site from development

On Friday, the judge quashed the decision, taken by Pickles last December, to transfer the ownership of allotments at Farm Terrace, Watford, to the Watford Health Campus Local Asset Backed Vehicle – albeit on what the judge described as a "narrow ground".

The decision means that the transfer has now been scrapped twice by the court, and that the secretary of state will have to consider the matter for a third time.

The Farm Terrace allotment holders – spearheaded by Andrew Moore, Massimo Trebar and Robert Wakeling – saw their claim as a "litmus test" for the protection of disappearing allotments across the country, as only four of 199 applications made to the secretary of state to transfer ownership of allotments, under the 1925 Allotments Act, have ever been refused.

Though the judge rejected multiple grounds of challenge put forward on behalf of the allotment holders, he upheld a claim that Pickles had been misled over the number of houses which the Health campus involved, which could have made a difference to his decision on whether the allotment land was necessary to make the scheme viable.

The 128 plots at the centre of this case are close to Watford Football Ground and Watford General Hospital, and the judge said that in December 2012 the council resolved to appropriate them for use as part of an evolving regeneration project known as the Watford Health Campus project.

The judge said that 60 of the 128 plots are currently cultivated by 48 allotments holders, down from 77 plots and 60 holders a year ago.

He said: "The events leading to this litigation, and the closure of the list to new allotment holders on this site, have reduced their numbers."

The judge asked himself whether an increase from 600 or 650 homes to 750, proposed prior to the secretary of state’s decision, was "material, in the sense that it could have affected the decision?"
"In my judgment, it was," he continued. "The fact that the housing figures were likely to be increased without the allotment site, by more than the housing envisaged on the allotment site, is significant and material."

He said that the secretary of state ought to have been made aware of it, so that he could make a decision on the point.

In response to the ruling, minister for communities Stephen Williams said: "This scheme has been supported by the local council, the local MP, Richard Harrington, and Watford’s elected mayor, and would deliver new NHS hospital facilities, significant regeneration, as well as replacement allotments.

"The department took the decision based on the evidence provided by the council at the time. The High Court has rejected the legal challenges, apart from one narrow point of law on the council not updating the department on a potential change to the regeneration plans.

"There is no suggestion that this was the fault of the department. It is now up to the council whether they wish to put forward the application for reconsideration."

Moore v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Case Number: CO/1173/2014

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