Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Build on backgardens not greenfields

If one was to believe everything that comes out of Cowley Street you might be forgiven for thinking that the Government was about to build a tower block on your back lawn. Only the brave Libdems are willing to stand in the way of this rape of our green and pleasant land. Except its bollocks.

According to the hands off our backgardens campaign site "The Government’s current planning policies treat your back garden as a “brownfield site” - like an old industrial site - which means they are vulnerable to infill development." (my emphasis).

Now I have two problems with this campaign.

First its a misleading scare story, I can see argument in policy terms but the way the petition is worded is to be kind a little over the top. Your garden is not vulnerabinfillfil development unless you sell it to a developer. Now I will accept that with a close reading of the statement above one could argue that the statement is factually correct, but it has be a bloody close reading.

Second given the state of the housing market in the south east we need to build more homes somewhere (or a radical rebalencing of the economic landscape so as to drive up demand in the north and cool it in the south, not something that is likely to happen soon). So the real policy choice is where.

The market will push you towards virgin greenfields, its cheaper to build on, and people like to live close to the countryside and will pay a premium to do so. However, the people already living next to the countryside tend to dislike having their views spoilt by bulldozers (and they tend to live in marginal constituencies); and the more green amongst us dislike the thought of people having to drive miles to get to work or the shops.

In many areas there aren't large tracts of industrial land waiting to be recycled, and where there is it will often be uneconomical to bring it back into use (see the billions the Government is throwing at the Thames Gateway). So often the only choice the council will have is to push development towards voids within existing settlements, that may involve using some backgardens, if they don't want to see the local greenbelt built on and provide for local housing need.

This isn't an argument for widespread building on backgardens, but that sometimes it will be the lesser of two evils. It certainly not something worth running a scare campaign on.

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