Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Garden grabbing to end?

I woke this morning to the ranting of John Prescott and listened to his instant rewriting of history in which he put the blame for everything that had gone wrong under Labour on the "greedy Tory bankers in the City." So let us put aside the years of Labour's sucking up to rich greedy Labour bankers in the City, and concentrate on the issue at hand: garden grabbing.

This is the process by which domestic gardens are sold off to be developed for high density housing. It sometimes involves the demolition of the existing house though this is not always the case. Under the planning system, a domestic garden is regarded as a "brownfield" site - ie one that has already been developed so does not merit the sort of protection that can be applied to "greenfield" sites, those green open spaces near urban areas that have not previously been developed.

My own ward in Gateshead has seen a constant stream of applications to build on gardens or use small plots of land for housing development. Of those granted, some have been beneficial, others not so. Some I have supported, some I have opposed. The battles against these applications however are hindered by the classification of gardens as brownfield. What we need is some form of garden preservation system. Gardens are not being lost just to new housing. Many are disappearing under drives and concrete for patios. There are many areas that have changed their geography by unconscious stealth over the past 2 or 3 decades from being residential but with substantial garden areas to ones which are now substantially paved over. Front gardens in particular have changed in the 23 years I have been a councillor from being lawns to being car parks.

Over a period of time, the effect of this can be unintended but quite dramatic. All those hard surfaces mean that when it rains, there is a sudden surge of rainwater into a drainage system that can no longer cope, so we can get localised flooding. This can sometimes lead to sewers overflowing and damage to people's homes. With climate change often causing heavier bursts of rainfall, the water companies (and therefore each of us as customers) are having to invest more in upgrading the drainage and sewage systems. Secondly, natural watercourses are not replenished sufficiently. Many streams and rivers are drying up. This is damaging for the natural environment. Thirdly, with the ground denied its normal seepage of natural rainwater, it can lead in some areas to the ground drying out, which can lead to subsidence. If your house is build on such land, the bill for putting this right can be astronomical. Fourthly, garden spaces are now important wildlife havens and a significant loss of these green spaces will have a damaging effect on biodiversity.

It would be madness to stop the construction of high density housing in urban areas but the ever increasing demand for the development of green spaces in urban areas, particularly gardens, is something that has to be far better managed than has been the case until now. Hopefully the proposed change to the planning system, which will end the designation fo gardens as brownfield, will give a better degree of protection to the green spaces in our urban and suburban areas.

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