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Are gardens a waste of space?

June 22, 2010

Would you like your garden grabbed, boosting your property’s value by allowing the developers in to build a block of flats on your urban or suburban green plot?  If, on the other hand, your neighbour’s garden is built on will you object at the eyesore and loss of light?

If sustainability is the consideration, then maybe the financial or aesthetic implications should be put to one side as smaller houses in high density ease the pressure on out-of-town developments. 

Unfortunately, the end result is a loss of a garden.  As Garden Organic (a national charity opposed to the practice of garden grabbing) puts it, gardens are essential for health and future food security.  And The Daily Telegraph aired the views of an American expert on social trends, Joel Kotkin: in the name of the environment, a metropolitan liberal elite is forcing suburbanites to live in ever more cramped neighbourhoods.

The Government has recently jumped to the defence of gardens and is proposing removing them from the brownfield classification they share with industrial sites, while reminding local councils of their obligations when considering planning applications.

Some would point to an irony in the current arrangements whereby authorities often give the go-ahead to big, obtrusive developments while the single house project of the enterprising self-building individual – which is more likely to incorporate energy-saving features and a traditional, regionally-appropriate design – is turned down (and selfbuilders do not have the same financial clout to employ clever planning consultants as the big developers).

In a Guardian commentary, Alan Wenban-Smith, who coined the term ‘brownfield’ in the 70s, claimed that the Government’s initiative will lead to an accelerated loss of green fields: it is the constant replenishing of industrial sites and redundant gardens that keeps a city alive and vibrant – and prevents it creeping into its surrounding countryside.  Of course, an attractive grassy patch is not the same as the site of a demolished factory.   But one of the online comments on Mr Wenban-Smith’s article suggested that ‘large and dreary’ gardens which are ‘inefficient’ should be built on and so help to ease pressure on virgin land.

In the final analysis, a satisfactory solution could be to merely remind councils of the discretion they can exercise under their Local Plans.  They have the local knowledge, and ought to judge each application on its merits.

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