The true extent of garden grabbing, where developers build homes on back gardens in the West Midlands, has been exposed, reports Political Editor Jon Walker
Residents are being pressurised to sell their homes for redevelopment, with the character and environment of surrounding properties severely affected, a Government inquiry has been told.
The character of neighbourhoods across the West Midlands are being damaged, local authorities have warned.
The extent of the “garden grabbing” problem in the region is exposed in council responses to a Government inquiry.
It follows a series of controversial developments. Residents in Solihull battled to block plans for 70 new homes set over 12 properties in Elmdon Lane, Marston Green.
But the scheme was only abandoned after the developer, Warwick-based Sandstone, went into administration.
The latest scheme is a re-submitted planning application to demolish 503-505 Streetsbrook Road and build 10 apartments. It has already been turned down twice by Solihull Council and rejected at an appeal. But planners have re-submitted the plans with a few amendments.
High-profile examples include Fowgay Hall, a 400-year-old historic building on the corner of Whitefields Road and Dingle Lane, in Solihull, which was bulldozed to make way for luxury apartments. Sutton Coldfield residents campaigned against plans to create a plot for 11 detached houses, garages and an access road in Edge Hill Road, Four Oaks.
However, Redditch-based developer Banner Homes was given the go-ahead by the city’s planning committee, because it planned to build the properties on gardens, which count as previously developed land, not green space.
Other developments which have been successful in recent years include the listed Victorian Highfield House in Hall Green, which was demolished to make way for by ten new dwellings in its garden. Now the concerns of local authorities have been revealed in responses to an official investigation by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Solihull Council said: “There have been numerous complaints from residents, some who have fallen under considerable pressure to sell and neighbours who see numerous planning applications submitted followed by appeals until planning permission is granted.”
The authority warned that garden grabbing led to “loss of biodiversity, gardens are often cleared of mature trees and hedges before planning applications are submitted”.
Lichfield Council said its attempts to protect the local environment were undermined by Government guidance.
It said in its response: “There is sometimes a conflict between protecting the character and grain of established built environments and the desire for a minimum indicative density of 30 dwellings per hectare set out in national guidance.”
And Wyre Forest council in Worcestershire warned: “It is also a high-profile issue for the district, particularly in the main towns of Kidderminster and Bewdley . . . The constraints/limited dimensions of garden plots often leads to pressure for tandem/backland development which can have an adverse impact for urban design and residential amenity and can erode heritage settings.”
The comments were published by the Conservatives, who used Freedom of Information requests to obtain copies of councils’ responses to the inquiry.
They have not yet been formally published because the Department for Communities and Local Government is still working on its report.
Garden grabbing can dramatically increase population density in an area, and place a strain on local services and transport links as well as changing the character of a neighbourhood.
But councils say they are powerless to refuse planning permission because gardens are defined as brownfield land, which means there is an automatic bias towards granting permission.
Sutton Coldfield MP Andrew Mitchell (Con) said: “This is an issue of critical importance in Sutton Coldfield.
“Over-development and treating suburban gardens as brownfield land was a catastrophic mistake by this government.”
A Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “Local authorities have the power to turn down applications for inappropriate housing development in back gardens and we expect them to use these powers.”