Gardens deserve better protection

As the very sensible Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA) reminds us powerfully in its policy statement on residential densities, survey after survey has stressed the importance of gardens and other easily accessible green space in people's assessment of their quality of life.

According to the TCPA, some 80 per cent of people who anticipate leaving their present home would prefer to move to a house with a garden. Some 75 per cent of single people want a garden. Meanwhile, people living in less densely occupied areas express greater satisfaction with their area - they see more community spirit, have more friends locally and have fewer complaints about their environment. The most common complaint about urban areas is insufficient green space.

Of course, horticulture professionals know this. But it is worth noting its central presence in a document written by planning professionals, if only because when exposed to real planning practice on the ground, we all could be forgiven for thinking that those very same professionals really don't get it.

The great garden-grab debate, which this week has been brought to an untimely close, is a case in point (news, p3). Since gardens were designated as brownfield land, their loss to new homes has risen dangerously, with campaigners estimating some 25 per cent of all new housing in south-east England is built on what was once someone's garden.

The Government's decision to veto an amendment to the new Planning Act that could have brought a swift end to this acceleration on the grounds that local authorities already have powers to prevent garden-grabbing, misses one crucial point: that such a key determinant of quality of life for the urban majority shouldn't be left to the vagaries of local planning decisions - especially as those decisions have already failed to protect green space.

When our newspapers were full of pictures of people in the UK's flood-hit regions being rescued from their flooded homes, ministers were forced to acknowledge the role of paved-over front gardens - and duly amended planning legislation. That they don't feel the same pressure now is no doubt once again to do with newspaper headlines - only this time concerning the housing collapse.

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