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Volume 476: debated on Tuesday 20 May 2008

7. What assessment she has made of the impact on the summer floods of 2007 of householders concreting over front gardens; and if she will bring forward proposals for planning permission to be sought prior to such alterations being carried out. (206427)

Two thirds of the homes that were flooded during last summer’s floods were flooded by the run-off from surface water. That is why the Government announced in February that, in future, people would need planning permission to pave over front gardens when the material used makes the surface impermeable.

The Minister will know that 5,500 householders have been unable to return home, and that about a quarter of them are still living in caravans. To what extent has he implemented the conclusion in the Pitt report that no householder or business owner should of right be able to add any impermeable surface to his property? Will he support the Land Use (Garden Protection) Bill, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), which will be presented to the House in due course?

The hon. Lady is right. Figures that I published today suggest that 5,500 householders are still not fully back in their own homes, and although the number living in caravans has fallen by some 1,000 over the last couple of months, it is still about 1,400. Progress has been made, but more needs to be done over the next few months.

As the hon. Lady said, one of the drainage recommendations in the Pitt report was that people should have to obtain planning permission if they wished to hard-pave their front gardens. We will implement that recommendation from October.

Before my hon. Friend goes down the planning consent route, will he acknowledge that a charge is incurred by local people who make planning applications for developments of this kind? Will he instead go down the building consent route, which would mean informing all contractors in the area that they must abide by the regulations laid down by their local authority on water containment?

The best approach to deal with the particular problem of increased run-off as a result of paved front gardens is the planning permission route. We are looking at whether, having implemented that in October this year, we should apply similar standards to non-domestic properties such as offices, industry and car parks. My hon. Friend may like to know that we will produce guidance on how householders can pave over their front gardens without using impermeable materials that will require planning permission.

The many thousands of houses that were tragically flooded last summer, partly because of the concreting over of front gardens, will not be helped in any shape, size or form by the prevention of that in the future, because the concrete that is there already will still be there unless the Government intend to make the measure retrospective. What is important is that gardens as a whole should be preserved—not just front gardens, but all gardens. Will the Government therefore ask the planning system to take a look at garden grabbing? We need to keep our gardens in our town areas. If we do that, that is where the water goes, so never mind setting up an army of spies to look into whether people are planning applications for their front gardens.

That is a matter for local authorities as local planning authorities, and they take such issues into account where they are relevant.