Stop developers grabbing your garden!
England has seen a phenomenal rise in garden grabbing. What is it, and why has it left local communities disgruntled?
‘Nimbys’ - the Not In My Back Yard brigade - have suffered from a bad press in recent years, though the truth is that the relaxation of planning laws in the last decade have proved a real blight on the lives of homeowners.
A once idyllic setting of trees, birds and greenery is suddenly transformed into ugly, uniform brickwork - and that’s not counting the months of noise and air pollution from building projects. The resistance to new housing in back gardens can no longer be dismissed as a kneejerk reaction to change; residents are now justified in their concerns that the environment is being permanently plundered for a quick profit for developers and those selling gardens.
The scale of garden grabbing
Recent figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government show that the percentage of new homes built on previously residential land - including back gardens - has more than doubled to 25% since 1997.
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These new homes are also being built in desirable residential rural areas of England which include: South Buckinghamshire, the Chilterns and Sevenoaks and prime residential areas of London like Kensington & Chelsea, Wandsworth and Kingston-upon-Thames.
For instance in South Buckinghamshire, the number of new homes built on back gardens in 1997 was 43% compared to 72% in 2009. While in Kingston-upon-Thames the number of new homes built in 1997 was 9%, but has risen to an astonishing 50% in 2009.
However, the Government has shown signs of taking action against this practice.
In June of this year, Greg Clark, the Decentralisation Minister said that planning rules will be changed to give councils new powers to prevent unwanted "garden grabbing" by taking gardens out of the brownfield category, thus making it harder for builders to get planning permission.
Clark said: "For years local people were powerless to do anything about the blight of garden grabbing as the character of their neighbourhoods was destroyed and their wishes ignored. Building on gardens robs communities of green breathing space, safe places for children to play and havens for urban wildlife."
Clark said it was “ridiculous” that gardens were classified in the same group as derelict factories and disused railway sidings, and added that now the coalition government has changed the classification of garden land, councils and communities “will no longer have their decisions constantly overruled."
Will it make a difference?
These plans have been met with a mixed response by industry figures and environmental groups.
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For example, the British Property Federation (BPF) noted that encouraging more local consultation on, and support for, development is obviously a good thing, but warned that unless the planning changes are implemented sensibly, there is a risk of the supply of new homes being choked off.
I think the BPF raises a valid point: if planning is restricted by these proposals by the coalition government, where will these new homes be built?
On the other hand, Dr Simon Thornton Wood, director of science and learning at the Royal Horticultural Society agrees wholeheartedly with the coalition government's proposals: "We welcome any measure that protects the vital resource we know gardens to be. Gardens like parks, are the green lungs of cities, improving air quality, controlling air temperature and flood risk and providing a haven for wildlife.”
What can you do?
Despite these steps from the coalition government, it will take months and even years for these measures to filter down to local communities and neighbourhoods. So what can you do if you are about to become a victim of “garden grabbing”?
The Environmental Law Foundation (ELF) and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has recently issued a joint guide entitled: “How to challenge bad developments in court.” Some of the points are listed below:
- Seek legal expertise.
- Establish whether you have a case.
- Act promptly.
- Encourage other interested parties, like your neighbours, to get involved.
- Carefully consider whether the risks involved, especially costs, are worth the potential benefits.
The ELF and the CPRE recommend that once you know that building work may start on land near to you whether it is in your back garden or in an adjacent back garden, contact your local environmental group or one of the statutory agencies, for example the Environment Agency, English Heritage or Natural England.
Recent question on this topic
- Crissa asks:
You should also try to use the local media to gain public support for your arguments - this pressure could force a turnaround in the planning application process. You can also contact your local councillor to register your concerns or take it one step further you can contact your MP.
In addition to this, if you are buying a house or a flat, make sure that your solicitor has checked all current and ongoing planning applications.
There have been cases where environmental campaign groups and local communities have been successful in preventing building work going ahead: the CPRE’s Oxfordshire branch successfully applied to quash a regional planning policy calling for building on green belt land around Oxford; villagers in Cornwall formed a company and proved that the local council had not properly analysed the damage a proposed development would cause to the environment; in Redcar, local people won the right to designate land as a village green and thereby prevent the development of 300 houses.
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