Allotments in Court

October 2014
The Watford Allotments Case in the High Court

Did the allotment holders in Watford win a great victory over the developers who wanted to take away their allotments or was the victoy rather on the Pyrrhic side? A case in the High Court received a lot of very welcome publicity for the allotments cause when the judgment was handed down by Mr Justice Ouseley on 31 October 2014. A typical headline in the press was "Legal victory saves historic allotments from developers".But a close anyalysis of the 25-page Judgment reveals that the allotment holders lost the case on almost every point and won only on a single technicality.

The case was brought by three allotment holders and supported financially by many individual donations. Watford Council was in a contractual relationship with a developer for the redevelopment of a swathe of land next to the allotments. It was called the Watford Heath Campus Project. It was decided that the development would be even better if it took in some allotments land, too.

Allotment land is protected under section 8 of the Allotments Act 1925 and the Council and the Developer could only take these allotments away if they first obtained the consent of the Secretary of State. The Council duly applied for consent and enclosed 32 appendices with their application. (Either the Council was very thorough or the Council was very worried!) Their first application failed. It was quashed because the Secretary of State gave inadequate reasons for his permission. Watford tried again and the allotment holders took the Secretary of State to the High Court, As the Judge put it, in para 6 of his Judgment:

"The major challenge to the December 2013 decision alleges that the Secretary of State was not informed, or was inaccurately and inadequately informed, about matters which were material, indeed central, to a fair and rational decision to make an exception to his policy in granting consent under s8 of the 1925 Act. Alternatively he, or the officials briefing him, misunderstood those factors as a result of misleading and incomplete information supplied by the Council. This also led to a breach of the Claimants' legitimate expectations as to how the policy would be applied; there was no proportionate public interest justification for overriding the Claimants' legitimate expectations that the Secretary of State's policy would protect their allotment tenancies."

In the end, the Judge threw out nearly all of the allotment holders' challenges. But the holders scraped through on one single point. Somebody in Watford forgot to tell the DCLG that the scheme was evolving while the Secretary of State was considering their application. So, by the time the Secretary of State made his decision (to grant consent), the development scheme had changed and the Secretary of State was in effect reading the wrong version of the application. Bang. That was an Injustice, up with which the High Court would not put.
So, it was a well-deserved (if rather narrow) victory for the Allotment Holders and for English Justice - and Red faces all round for Watford Council and the DCLG.

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Meeting the Demand for Allotments

Allotments are back in demand and in some places, demand is exceeding supply. Where a local council is of the opinion that there is a demand for allotments, it has a duty to provide a sufficient number to persons resident in the parish (section 23 of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908). Of course, it is never as straightforward as that. What number of allotments is sufficient? How do you weigh up demand? Does it matter whether or not you think it is a passing trend or a long-term revival of interest? Sometimes it is helpful to talk through the options with a lawyer who understands local councils and understands allotments law.

What our clients say about our work in relation to Allotments:

"The Parish Council have asked me to thank you on their behalf for all your work in seeing this case to a successful conclusion. And I would like to add my own personal thanks for all your patience and help over what has been a very difficult and challenging time for me; it has been very much appreciated"
- A Parish Council Clerk at the end of a very wearing allotments dispute in which we had to take the plot-holder to the County Court for an eviction order.