Landscapers sceptical over building push

Government vows to tear up planning regulations and guarantee £10bn of housebuilding fail to convince industry leaders.

The government is proposing planning reforms that will affect the green belt - image: SG Photography
The government is proposing planning reforms that will affect the green belt - image: SG Photography

Government plans to tear up planning rules and guarantee £10bn of housebuilding to kick-start construction have failed to convince landscape professionals that they will see much new work from the initiatives, while many say they will simply threaten green spaces further.

The Economy Bill will set out measures including more planning reforms that could make it easier to build on green belt land and allow people to build bigger home extensions. An Infrastructure Finance Bill will underwrite private investment for the building of hundreds of thousands of homes.

A Treasury representative said: "The legislation will be fast-tracked to ensure detailed discussions with commercial parties can be taken forward and guarantees awarded as soon as possible. Royal assent is expected by the end of October."

Landscape consultant Ian Phillips said it is curious that planning is being dictated by the Treasury, not the communities department, and dismaying that after controversy on the new planning policy framework that planning is yet again being changed.

"I've heard nothing to give me comfort as a landscape architect and someone interested in how planning protects and enhances landscape and good design. In fact, I fear for the green belt. The £10bn could help landscape but it depends on how it's made available. People cannot borrow money and house prices are not buoyant."

Landscape architect Noel Farrer of Farrer Huxley Associates said: "There is no evidence the green belt has reduced economic development in London. On the contrary, focusing on urban contexts has contributed to it being a leading world city. The dense city is the most effective model for economic growth. George Osborne should be putting green belts around all our cities."

Landscape Institute president Sue Illman added: "Digging up the green belt is lazy policy making. We have just witnessed how a significant brownfield site could be rapidly and fundamentally developed to deliver an Olympic Park and athletes' village that will act as a catalyst for wider development and private investment."

On the prospect that the measures could drive more work for landscapers, former BALI chairman Paul Cowell said while new housing should have a knock-on effect on landscaping, everything "is in the detail". He added: "When will it come through and what are the timescales? Likewise with planning changes - what will they be and where's the guidance?"

Palmstead sales manager Nick Coslett said: "Some construction activity does percolate to plant suppliers and new-build houses tend to produce a reasonable amount of landscaping work."

He added: "I welcome this and it would be nice to see the Government kick-start the construction sector because so many things feed off it but horticulture is the tail-end Charlie of construction and tends to pick up a few crumbs off the table. I don't think it's enough. Landscaping at the Olympics was worth £20m-£30m of £9bn so this is small beer to horticulture UK."

Gavin Jones managing director Martyn Mogford said: "None of us felt the recent notices are going to create much stimulation to affect domestic landscaping. We still feel people are holding back with concerns around the eurozone.

"It's good the Government is trying something but it really needs stronger leadership with stronger signals that could come from more spending on infrastructure, which would have a much greater knock-on effect and could be the signs people are waiting for."

James Coles & Sons (Nurseries) landscape architect David Keary said: "Relaxing legislation around affordable housing should help because the impetus will be on higher-value properties with a larger budget for planting.

"Relaxing planning for extensions won't help much because building out 6m may involve a little peripheral landscape to blend the extension into the domestic garden, but not much."

See for Malcolm Scott Consultants' 10 ways to work with the changes.

Larger home extensions - Ministers consult on relaxation of rules

Ministers are to consult on plans to let people build larger home extensions without permission in non-conservation areas.

This would double the permitted length of extensions to 8m for detached homes and 6m for others. The rule that extensions should not take up more than half the garden would be retained.

University of Sheffield senior landscape management lecturer Dr Ross Cameron said: "The loss of garden space is a concern for environmental policy makers. The more we concrete over these spaces the less chance of mitigating the effects of heavy rainfall. Building on gardens will also affect our contentment."

HTA policy manager Gary Scroby added: "This could have implications for the market. If you reduce the area of gardens you are reducing the market size for the garden industry."

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