THE END OF GARDEN GRABBING

GOOD NEWS FOR GARDENERS, BAD NEWS FOR DEVELOPERS

There will be a mixed reaction to last week’s announcement that the practice of “Garden Grabbing” is to be stopped under new government proposals. For many, selling off a large area of garden to developers has proved to be a “nice little earner” with the phenomenon increasing dramatically in recent years. According to the Communities and Local Government Department, the number of houses being built on gardens rose from one in 10 to a quarter of new properties between 1997 and 2008. Town halls have struggled to stop the trend as gardens have been classified as “previously residential land”, making them brownfield sites in the same category as derelict factories and old railway sidings.

For those that were lucky enough to have a large garden or plot of land, the enticement of hard cash in exchange for a cabbage patch proved too tempting to resist in many cases. Simply having the planning permission granted would push the value of their property up so many house owners drew up plans, gained the required approvals and then sold up. They didn’t even have the inconvenience of getting the builders in.

Of course for every winner there were several losers, and these would often come in the form of neighbours whose properties were blighted by the developments. When your next door neighbours garden sprouts a row of terraced houses you’re not likely to be best pleased.

Other notable losers included the local wildlife. Falling numbers of inner city birds such as the song thrush and the house sparrow have been made worse by the development of their habitats. And who could argue that the quality of life of living in the city won’t be affected by smaller and smaller green spaces to the point where all that is left is made of concrete.

On the other side of the coin, there is the shortage of housing in the UK and especially the availability of “affordable housing”. The new rules, if they are brought in will stop the go-ahead of many legitimate projects that would have provided new homes for a housing market already in short supply. Given the choice, developers will often choose garden sites over other brownfield land (such as derelict industrial sites) due to the lower costs involved as there is normally little or no clean-up operation required first. So costs of development will probably now increase applying further upward pressure to long term house prices.

Time will tell what the true impact will be. The only thing we know for sure is that this brings a new, more literal meaning to the phrase, “Not in my back yard!”

George Hartshorn MNAEA is Head of Sales for Elizabeth Davenport Estate Agents.

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