Clark - new powers to prevent unwanted 'garden grabbing'

Published: 9 June 2010

Councils and communities are being given immediate powers to prevent the destructive practice of 'garden grabbing' and to decide what types of homes are suitable for their area, Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark announced today.

Over the last decade, many councils have been left frustrated at the increasing amount of inappropriate development on gardens which they have been unable to prevent. This is because planning guidance has classified gardens as 'previously residential land', in the same Brownfield category as derelict factories and disused railway sidings.

Recently published Government figures show that the proportion of new houses built on previously residential land such as gardens has risen dramatically, from one in ten to one in four between 1997 and 2008 - robbing communities of green breathing space, safe places for children to play and havens for urban wildlife.

Mr Clark is today unveiling plans to take gardens out of the Brownfield category, a simple step that will dramatically transform councils' ability to prevent unwanted development on gardens where local people object and protect the character of their neighbourhoods.

From today Mr Clark will also scrap the minimum density target so town halls can work with the local community to decide what new homes are best for their area. The target has contributed to the lack of family sized homes and flats that local people need. Councils will be able decide what level of density is appropriate for their area, and work with developers to deliver the right mix of homes for the local community, encouraging more family homes and affordable housing.

Greg Clark said:

"For years the wishes of local people have been ignored as the character of neighbourhoods and gardens have been destroyed, robbing communities of vital green space.

"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.

"Today I am changing the classification of garden land so councils and communities no longer have their decisions constantly overruled, but have the power to work with industry to shape future development that is appropriate for their area.

"This is just the start of wholesale reform I want to make to the planning system, so councils and communities are centre-stage in a reformed system that works for them, and is not just a tool of top-down policy."

Housing Minister Grant Shapps said:

"The current system with its push for high density has resulted in developers building one or two bedroom executive flats, when the greatest need is often for affordable family homes. That's why from today communities will be allowed to make their own decisions about what homes are needed in their area, and no longer be victims of a system designed to maximise profits and minimise choice."

Dr Ross Cameron, School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading added:

"There are real benefits that gardens bring to our quality of life. Vegetation around buildings keeps us cool in summer and reduces our energy bills in winter, as well as protecting us from flooding.

"Gardens are also great for our mental and physical wellbeing. They reduce our stress and keep us fit because we can work in the garden for hours without feeling we are doing exercise as a chore.

"Research has demonstrated that gardening can improve self-esteem, communication skills, attention span and even educational performance. In essence, protecting gardens is important to improve quality of life, and particularly for people in cities."