Beds, Herts & Bucks

Watford Health Campus debated by candidates for mayor

Artist impression of Watford Health Campus Image copyright Watford Borough Council
Image caption Watford Health Campus is expected to be built over 20 years in the town

Multi-million pound plans for a Watford Health Campus, which would provide the town with much-needed housing, have been championed by the first elected mayor for Watford Dorothy Thornhill.

But the west Watford scheme, which also includes building on 118-year-old allotments, has attracted major opposition and become a key issue in this year's mayoral election - due to be held on 22 May.

The proposals for the 30 hectare (74 acre) site between Vicarage Road, Willow Lane and Cardiff Road have been backed by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

But the Save Farm Terrace Allotment group has asked for a judicial review into a decision to allow land behind Watford Football Club to be developed.

Image copyright Sara Jane Trebar
Image caption The Farm Terrace allotments have been used by residents in west Watford since 1896

The site aims to provide a location for a possible hospital development, space for businesses to provide up to 1,600 local jobs, 750 new homes (including more affordable homes), improved public open space, a new road to the present nearby hospital and an area for shops.

It is being developed by the council and developers Kier.

Sitting mayor Mrs Thornhill, the Lib Dem candidate for mayor, said the health campus was vital for providing extra homes and a site for health facilities.

"Housing is a big concern. People can't afford to live in Watford like a lot of places in the south east. We need more concerted effort to build social housing. That's why 35% of the health campus is for social housing," she said.

"In Watford a one bedroom flat is £180,000. Young people can't afford the cost of the mortgage.

"Residents also worry about development of green field sites. That's why the brown field (urban land) health campus is so good for developing."

Image copyright Watford Borough Council
Image caption The majority of the health campus will be built on disused land around the hospital and the football club

Watford Borough councillor Jagtar Singh Dhindsa, Labour candidate for mayor, criticised the plans: "It's no longer a health campus. The Lib Dem Mayor has abandoned any idea that this 750 unit private housing development is anything more than a profit making joint venture.

"There is no hospital development as part of the campus in the current planning application. There is no funding in place for hospital modernisation.

"The government should fund the modernisation of the hospital. The last Labour government guaranteed funding but this was withdrawn by the Coalition in 2010."

He added that housing was a "massive issue locally. House prices are spiralling as the ripple effect of the London housing bubble hits Watford. I support sensitive development on brown field sites in Watford".

Linda Ann Topping, the Conservative candidate for mayor, said she welcomed the health campus development and the new homes.

"It is fantastic for Watford. We need to get it correctly funded. It is a key to the regeneration of Watford," she said.

Image copyright West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust
Image caption New facilities for Watford General Hospital are included in the health campus plan

She added it was vital to bring in a new health building as well as additional schools, parks, shops and housing. "I have been told by the mayor that the allotments are needed to fund the health campus scheme," she said.

"We need more affordable housing. Watford is a very successful town attracting businesses and jobs, which attracts people and families into the area. We need the houses in the health campus with all the infrastructure. The infrastructure must be in place."

Philip Cox, the UK Independence Party candidate for mayor, said: "Health campus is a misnomer. It's been sold to us as a new hospital but there is no new hospital. They are prevaricating over the plans.

"The site is made up of derelict land and allotments and the allotment holders are taking the council to court over it. It was said that the development of the allotments was for the greater good but that was when we thought there was going to be a new hospital.

"But now the hospital is not coming, I believe the allotment holders have a very good case.

"We would like to see the development paused while a review takes place. That review would look at the current situation."

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