Gardens protected but clarity needed

Long overdue, but here at last - a reclassification of our gardens as green land, not brown, in planning policy introduced by the coalition Government's decentralisation minister and "garden grab" campaigner Ross Clark last week.

The move was welcomed by all concerned with protecting cherished green spaces that form a vital part of the green lungs of our towns and cities. It will at a stroke make it harder for developers to continue garden grabbing where local planning teams have failed to outlaw the practice.

A second measure introduced alongside the curbs could prove to have even more far-reaching consequences - the abolition of minimum housing densities. As any landscape architect knows, one of the biggest obstacles to the inclusion of acceptable amounts of soft landscaping in housing developments has been the requirement to meet a minimum density target of 30 "units" per acre.

The measure has exacerbated the squeezing out of soft landscaping despite the best intentions of designers, while filling our urban areas with undersized, overpriced flats instead of liveable family homes and gardens.

Taken together, these two relatively minor tweaks to the planning regime offer the promise of a return to greener schemes in our towns and cities. But there is a problem - and it is a very large one - namely the hiatus that is being created in the housing market thanks to changes in the development landscape at a time when landscapers and amenity growers can ill afford it.

That hiatus is being driven by a lack of clarity from the Government over when and how national housing targets will be replaced, concerns over the likely effectiveness of an incentive-based approach to development more open to challenges from the local community, the impact of impending public spending cuts and fresh worries over the prospects for recovery in the private residential market.

The country needs new housing developments and those who supply them and their infrastructure, as we report this week, need a clear framework within which to work - and they need it now.

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