The new coalition Government has made a pledge to change the rules on the classification of suburban gardens, giving councils greater power to turn down developers who want to build on them. Communities minister Greg Clark said that it was “ridiculous” that vital green space was being lost to the practice known as ‘garden-grabbing’.
Up until now, developers have found it relatively easy to target gardens for building projects because they were classed as previously residential land and therefore a brownfield site. “For years the wishes of local people have been ignored, as the character of neighbourhoods and gardens has been destroyed, robbing communities of vital green space”, said Mr Clark. “It is ridiculous that gardens have until now been classified in the same group as derelict factories and disused railway sidings, forcing councils and communities to sit by and watch their neighbourhoods get swallowed up in a concrete jungle.”
Part of the problem is the fact that gardens are invariably much cheaper and convenient for developers to build on than industrial wasteland. Government figures show that the proportion of new houses built on previously residential land such as gardens had risen from one in ten to one in four between 1997 and 2008. Although, the new measures are not intended to stop building on gardens completely, they will give local councils the power to stop “inappropriate development.”
The Royal Horticultural Society welcomed the statement of intent from the coalition. Dr Simon Thornton Wood, director of science and learning said that gardens had medical as well as environmental benefits: “Gardens, like parks, are the green lungs of cities, improving air quality, controlling air temperature and flood risk, and providing a haven for wildlife. Beyond these very practical benefits of gardens we know that gardening is great for physical and mental health. That's why we would like planning measures to go further than protecting existing gardens, to guarantee high-quality green space and gardening opportunities in all new building developments, wherever they are."
In January, the Labour Government had previously promised to deal with garden-grabbing hotspots. However, this seems to be in direct contradiction of its previous actions as former deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, who was in charge of housing policy in Tony Blair’s Government was interviewed for BBC Radio 4. He stated that there may have been “one or two examples” where residential gardens should not have been built on but he defended Labour’s policy of increasing housing density in city centres, saying that it had allowed more families to get on the property ladder. He also said that the new coalition Government’s policy was about protecting the interest of millionaires rather than the needs of ordinary families.