The practice of “garden grabbing”, where developers build homes or blocks of flats on back gardens, is dramatically changing the character of many suburban areas throughout the UK, leading to high levels of unsustainable development and increasing housing densities in areas previously characterised as leafy suburbs. Some figures suggest that over 180,000 buildings have been put on back gardens in the last five years.
Conservatives have been warning about such development, which often puts strain on local services and causes substantial environmental damage, for some time. We have pointed to two key factors driving “garden grabbing”, namely the fact that gardens are classified as brownfield land and the iniquitous government density targets that have the consequence of forcing the largest number of units onto the smallest space possible.
As a result of Conservative pressure, the Government announced a review to find the extent of the problem but its response to that review has been rather more woeful than normal, with some minor tinkering to guidance and a lecture to powerless local authorities to try harder. However, using Freedom of Information requests I discovered that many councils had submitted responses to the review which clearly stated that garden grabbing was a very serious problem in their area. Leeds City Council summed up the tone of many submissions stating: “Development on gardens is a significant issue for the City Council and deeply unpopular in local communities.”
So, at the end of a process that began with the Conservatives highlighting this important problem for communities, followed by a government review where local authorities confirmed that the problem was very real, gardens are still classed as brownfield land, councils are still forced to follow flawed rigid minimum Whitehall density targets and garden grabbing is as big a problem as ever.
However, a Conservatives government would reverse the classification of gardens as brownfield and abolish density targets allowing local communities to protect the character of the area they live in. This is in stark contrast to Labour who have turned a blind eye whilst thousands of back gardens have been concreted over and some communities changed forever.