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Front garden paving desert

Last Thursday, April 10th, The London Paper, a give-away tabloid from the News International stable, ran an article under the headline “Block put on paving over front gardens”. The main thrust of the story involved supposed plans at DEFRA to force householders to appply for planning permission before they can pave over their gardens. The proposed change, to be introduced this Autumn, requires planning approval to be granted, at £875 a pop, for any paving that does not use permeable materials. The idea is that, by reducing the price differential between ‘normal’ paving and the stuff that lets rainwater through rather than sending it down into the drains or next-door’s basement, urban flooding will be reduced.

A spokesman from the Royal Horticultural Society said:

“It’s the first legislation that actually directly links to front gardens and gives proper protection.
“This sets it down and says we can protect front gardens, at least from being solidly concreted over.
Gravel is an alternative to concrete. “ There are plenty of gaps between the gravel and those allow the water through into the ground below”

The flaw in this argument is that there’s still nothing in the proposed legislation to prevent gardens having all their vegetation and soil being replaced by hard landscaping. It would have been interesting to hear what the RSPB or any other wildlife or conservation group have to say on the issue. Gardens are the last remnants of the farmland that our suburbs were built on, and increasingly serve as refuges for the wildlife that intensive farming has driven out of the countryside. A garden without trees, shrubs, flowers, grass or bare earth is still a desert, whether it’s paved with tarmac, crazy paving or gravel.

Channel 4 property renta-guru Sarah Beeny portrays the move as a way for homeowners to recoup some of the value their property has lost recently:

“There’s no doubt a great- looking front garden makes your property more attractive and easier to sell.”

The irony is that it was the likes of Ms Beeny who kicked off the paving craze by emphasising the added value of a private parking space. It might have been true that the first one or two houses in a street gained a few grand by paving the front garden for parking, but once everyone did it properties actually lost value.

This is a classic example of addressing a complex problem by reducing it to a single issue, much as climate change has come to be seen as the only environmental problem in town. It’s true that replacing gardens with parking increases the amount of water permeating into the ground, but there’s a whole raft of other issues that make this trend a social and environmental disaster. It’s a scandal that the planning system has allowed major changes to ground surfaces to slip through the system as ‘permitted development’ for so long. It’s a double scandal that, now someone’s raised sufficient head of steam to do something about it, most of the issues are being fudged or ignored.

‘Future Water: The Government’s water strategy for England’ (DEFRA strategy document, February 2008)

‘Last rites for the front garden’

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Written by Pete Smith

April 17, 2008 at 11:13 am

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