Page last updated at 22:16 GMT, Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Government promises action to stop 'garden-grabbing'

Campaigners say garden-grabbing can destroy the quality of suburbs

The government has promised to act against "garden-grabbing" by property developers, after a report showed it was a problem in many parts of England.

Fifty of 127 councils who responded to a survey said building on previous green or empty land was a concern.

Housing minister John Healey said local authorities without proper plans were leaving an "open door" and promised guidelines on dealing with "hotspots".

The Tories said Labour was "in denial" about its role in causing the problem.

Garden-grabbing refers to the practice of building homes on open land attached to existing urban or suburban houses, which increases population density and, campaigners say, damages the character of an area.

As part of government-commissioned research, academics at Kingston University sent a survey to 363 planning authorities in England.


Of the 127 who responded, 50 said it was an issue in their areas. Of these, just seven had specific policies in place to deal with it.

Councils in London, the South East and the West Midlands were most likely to report the impact of garden-grabbing.

Mr Healey promised to strengthen policy advice from Whitehall, saying: "Councils are leaving an open door for inappropriate development if they do not have local plans in place, and the power to stop this lies in their hands.

"Councils already have the tools they need to deal with this issue and this evidence shows that when they have a local policy in place they can accurately judge the need for new homes on previously developed land, using their own discretion, and protect the essence of a neighbourhood.

Thanks to regulations issued by [former deputy prime minister] John Prescott, leafy gardens across the country are being dug up, and replaced with blocks of flats and high-density buildings
Caroline Spelman, Conservatives

"If those areas that have reported a problem don't want to see developments on garden land, they are tying their own hands by not having a local plan in place."

Mr Healey said the issue could "change the look and feel of a community" but said the survey indicated it was "not a problem in the large majority of areas".

"I am determined to keep it that way and to see tougher action in a small number of garden-grabbing hotspots."

'Not new'

But the Conservatives said the problem had arisen because of changes to planning policy drawn up by former deputy prime minister John Prescott in 2000, classifying gardens as brownfield, rather than greenfield, land.

Shadow communities secretary Caroline Spelman said: "Labour ministers are in denial that the problems of garden-grabbing stem from their own planning rules.

"Thanks to regulations issued by John Prescott, leafy gardens across the country are being dug up, and replaced with blocks of flats and high-density buildings that spell disaster for the local environment and local infrastructure."

For the Lib Dems, Sarah Teather said: "This tired Labour government has been stuck in power for so long it is now having to go back and fix its own mistakes.

"John Prescott effectively sold off precious green space across the country and now that half of it has already disappeared, Labour is belatedly stumbling into action."

The Department for Communities and Local Government said the definition of brownfield land had not changed since the 1980s, what had changed were the targets for developing brownfield sites.

"The principle that gardens are regarded as brownfield land is not new," a spokeswoman added.

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