Landscape sector fears housing recovery delay from cancelled regional strategies

The Government's plans to abandon regional spatial strategies and devolve planning policy to a more local level could delay the housing recovery and do further damage to the amenity sector, industry figures fear.

Secretary of state for communities and local government Eric Pickles has written to local planning authorities stressing the administration's commitment to rapidly abolish regional strategies and return decision-making powers on housing and planning to councils.

British Association of Landscape Industries chair elect Paul Cowell said: "It will hamper the pick up of the house building market until firm policies have been put in place. Time and money has gone into the production of the regional spatial strategies and now there is the potential of nimbyism so there could be problems nationwide."

Amenity growers also warned that the changes would impact their businesses. Johnsons of Whixley director Andrew Richardson said: "For the last couple of years we have lived on Government funded schemes so it is a real concern that that type of work is going to disappear or fragment. The hope for the amenity sector and landscapers was that the commercial building sector would take off. It's a huge concern if that isn't going to happen or is going to be delayed because of these changes."

Last week, the HTA ornamentals committee discussed the changes. Coles Nurseries managing director James Coles said: "We want houses built now. This will take another 12-18 months to write and everything else will be put on the backburner. Business is tricky enough so we will just have to get on with things and see."

Palmstead Nurseries marketing manager Nick Coslett said: "It may mean they (developers) want to apply in places where they think there is a good market for them so it may encourage further South East development. It could be demand-led."

However, HTA director-general David Gwyther said the changes could ultimately be beneficial to horticulture industries. "Abandoning the spatial strategy hopefully will open the door to a more pragmatic approach," he suggested.

"It should provide opportunities for a more sensible approach to housing development with a strong green content to them, so putting right the habits of the past where developers didn't put in the planting they said there was going to be. We are well aware that 71 per cent of councils recognise that green planting didn't actually happen when it should have done."


Decentralisation minister Greg Clark said last week that councils would have the power to stop houses being built on residential land such as back gardens. He explained that local authorities had been "frustrated" at planning guidance that classified gardens as brownfield land, making it easier to build on them.

The changed Planning Policy Statement 3 lifted gardens out of that category, making it easier for councils to stop developers blitzing gardens where local people objected. The news was welcomed by the industry, keen on better protection for green space.

HTA director-general David Gwyther said: "We were terribly pleased to hear garden grabbing was going to be stopped. We don't subscribe to the notion that scrapping garden grabbing will send developers out to green belt sites. There is a huge amount of land available on brownfield sites without going onto greenfield. It's time the people who want to develop these sites paid for it."

British Association of Landscape Industries chair elect Paul Cowell said: "It's good that garden grabbing has been stopped. But they are going to have to look for other areas to build on so its going to cause a problem for local authorities. The coalition's mentality is localism. That's OK if your area has the team to assist in planning policies but if the local authority hasn't got a multidisciplinary team then it will cause delays."

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