In the House of Commons today (Tuesday 26th January), Michael Fabricant asked Housing Minister John Healey whether planning guidance can be tightened to empower local councils to stop gardens being developed for housing.
He asked the Minister:
"Does the Minister accept that many local councils feel that planning policy statement 3 is just not working when it comes to garden grabbing? Is he aware that councils such as Lichfield find that the city is changing shape simply by virtue of the fact that lovely open areas and big gardens are being redeveloped? What changes can he make to PPS3 to stop this unhelpful practice?"
But the Minister replied:
"I do not accept that and, more importantly, the independent research from Kingston university that I published on Tuesday last week did not accept it. I will send the hon. Gentleman a copy of the report, because it confirms that the problem is not widespread or national, and that local authorities already have the power to take steps to prevent development on garden land, if they choose. They are also able to reinforce their position if the matter goes to appeal."
At that, Caroline Spelman, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government weighed in with:
"The Minister is simply in denial about how his policies give a green light for garden grabbing. Does he agree with the assertion that
"national planning policy guidance has made it difficult to resist development proposals on garden land, even where there is a detrimental impact on local character, and that this imbalance needs to be rectified"?
They are not my words, but those of the Secretary of State’s own council."
John Healey replied: "I know that the hon. Lady and some of her hon. Friends have pressed this case very hard over the past couple of years, but the research and the facts do not bear out her assertion or her concerns. This is a problem in some areas, but they are clearly in the minority. It is also clear, as the report confirms, that councils have the powers to deal with such matters where they present a problem for neighbours and are unwelcome in the local area."
Mrs. Spelman: "Why cannot Ministers just admit that the blight of garden grabbing is the fault of this Labour Government? The Government, not councils, made gardens count as brown field for planning purposes. Is it not time for change-time councils had proper powers to protect neighbourhoods from inappropriate developments?"
John Healey: "The hon. Lady is wrong again. The definition she takes issue with was set in 1985 and has not been changed since. It was reconfirmed in one of the Conservative Government’s Green Papers and in planning guidance in 1988, and again in 1992. That is not the problem. The problem, I am afraid to say, is councils that have the powers but will not accept the responsibility of taking the decisions to protect local people and defending those decisions on appeal. If they had proper local plans in place, their hand would be strengthened in doing so. The hon. Lady would do better to address her concerns to her own councils, which are falling far short of what local residents expect of them."
But Michael Fabricant now says: "Despite the assertions of the Minister, I am told by Lichfield District Council that they do not have the discretion they would like to turn down inappropriate planning applications. The main problem is that gardens are designated as ‘brown field sites’ ripe for development. But a brown field site is supposed to be a disused industrial site or similar. Not a green garden. The law does need to be changed or Lichfield and similar towns and cities will lose their character over time."