Radical new planning guidance aimed at controlling the amount of back-garden housing development taking place in Birmingham has been approved by the city council.
A document setting out the council's view of acceptable levels of house building - Guidelines to Control Residential Intensification in the Mature Suburbs - was described as ground-breaking by cabinet regeneration member Neville Summerfield.
He said the guidance would stop the "worst excesses" of the building industry by making sure that new development in future blended in with existing properties.
The new rules were framed in response to widespread concern about the growth of planning applications to squeeze new houses and flats into the typically large back gardens of Victorian and Edwardian properties in areas like Moseley, Sutton Coldfield and Edgbaston.
It remains unclear, though, how the new guidance will fit in with Government policy to maximise residential "infilling" in towns and cities.
In 1999, the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott decreed all back gardens to be formerly developed brownfield land - a decision that left councils with little option but to approve applications for new-build.
Since then, Government insistence that West Midlands' councils identify sites to build 420,000 new homes by 2026 has put further pressure on land in sought-after suburban areas, where developers can maximise profits.
Birmingham's new planning rules make the point that infilling can have positive effects, if it is carefully controlled. But the guidance adds that the practice can also have a significant impact on local distinctiveness "by the erosion of the unique character that makes these places special".
The guidance adds: "Some proposals have not been well received by local residents who object to town cramming and to the real or perceived threats to privacy, amenity and to the character of the neighbourhood that may be associated with such developments.
"It is essential that when these types of development take place they are appropriate in terms of design and in all other respects such that they make a positive contribution to the environment and community within which they are located.
"Good design should contribute positively to making places better for people and utilise opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area."
In future, developers will have to:n Include a design statement with planning applications which describe how the proposal will relate to the character of the site and the area.
* Make sure new buildings are in-keeping with other properties in the area and are of a high standard of design.
* Ensure that important landscape features, including trees, hedgerows and walls, are retained.
Councillor Summerfield (Con Brandwood) said the new guidance would put paid to developers who had "used and abused" the brownfield ranking of back gardens by squeezing unacceptable levels of new-build into small plots.
Coun Summerfield added: "Poorly drafted legislation by the Government has resulted in abuse of the planning system by unscrupulous developers.
"This new local planning guidance will ensure that residential developments take place in appropriate ways, so as not to detract from the local character that exists in different areas of our city.
"It will also help developers to bring forward sensitive, high quality proposals, while sending a clear warning to those who think that every plot of land should be available for building.
"The character of some of our finest suburbs is under threat. This report will stop the worst excesses of the industry."
Sutton Coldfield councillor Alan Rudge said his ward had been badly affected by infilling.
Coun Rudge (Con Sutton Vesey) added: "This guidance is long overdue. It is a sensible plan for a fair and practical approach to this very important matter."