Garden Grabbing
Date of Article
Jun 11 2010

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The government has swiftly sought to satisfy an election pledge by supposedly heralding an end to ‘garden grabbing’ – consisting of additional development within the large gardens of existing houses - through a revision to government guidance on housing (PPS3). This was launched yesterday.

While a good headline, in reality, this power has always been within the discretion of local authorities and government Planning inspectors alike when considering the merits of controversial planning applications of this kind and their impact on any neighbourhood.

The main change in guidance is that garden land is no longer deemed to fall within the definition of ‘previously developed land’ (or brownfield land) which the previous government prioritised in terms of a location for new development. Despite being a priority, it was only one of many issues and not the sole reason why development (often unpopular with local residents) would have been granted permission.

I do not see the change having any major impact on the planning arguments being put forward for such sites, but will clearly provide residents with ammunition to seek to block such development proposals purely on a point of principle. This will provide Members of Planning Committees, and Planning Officers alike, with problems in terms of how to apply and interpret this change and the weight it should be given – I don’t see the change as going as far as the government and press seem to think. However, only time will tell.

Such infilling within existing towns and villages is often a much needed, and only, means of meeting housing needs when other options are not possible due to the lack of allocated land for development.

Of course, apparently tightening the rules in one area will by definition require relaxation elsewhere if future housing needs are to be met – even in a struggling economic context – unless housing supply is to be constrained altogether.

The consequence of such a change will be further increased pressure to develop Greenfield sites and extend existing urban areas beyond their present boundaries into open countryside.

While the rhetoric sounds good and may seek to satisfy one sector of the community (and electorate), I suggest the reality will not be as decisive. Even if it is, development has to be accommodated somewhere. As a consequence, all eyes to the green belt and open countryside which will bring its own problems, political pressures and impact upon another disgruntled section of society.

Combined with the governments intended radical reform of the planning system, introducing a more local emphasis and control to planning decisions, this could potentially hail a new era of ‘NIMBYISM’ which is just the start of all-embracing changes that will have ramifications for us all.

‘Tough decisions’ of government are clearly not limited to budgetary matters alone, but a quick and popularist approach to changing planning rules and regulations will have many consequences and needs to be considered with a cool head and through a comprehensive approach.