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Volume 716: debated on Tuesday 19 January 2010


My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

During the passage of the Planning Act in November 2008, the Government committed to carry out a review to establish the nature and extent of development on garden land. We said that if the evidence confirmed a problem we would look at how best to remedy the situation, provided that any changes should not have the effect of undermining our policy objectives on housing.

I am today publishing the independent research and review carried out by Kingston University, and I can also announce changes I am making today to strengthen national policy advice, making it clearer that the powers to take the decisions on whether to grant applications for development on gardens rest firmly in the hands of local authorities.

The research finds that problems with inappropriate building on back gardens is not a widespread, national or growing problem, and that local authorities can deal successfully with unwanted applications for garden development through the development of specific local policies. The report also finds that the Planning Inspectorate supports around four out of five of the decisions made by local authorities on such land—especially where local policies are in place.

Based on the conclusions of this independent report, I believe a blanket ban on back garden development—which no local authority advocated—would be wrong, as these are precisely the types of decisions that are best taken locally within an effective planning system that is responsive to the specifics of an area.

However, I do recognise that more needs to be done to reinforce the current policy position and encourage local authorities to take seriously the concerns of communities if development on gardens is a particular concern. So I am today announcing that the Government are strengthening Planning Policy Statement 3 to make clear that there is no presumption that land that is previously developed is suitable for development, or that all of the curtilage should be developed.

This is an important development, as it reinforces the PPS3 message that local authorities are best placed to consider whether different types of land are suitable for housing. PPS3 retains a focus on brownfield land, where this is suitable for housing.

Local authorities need to be able to defend decisions on any planning application, whether for garden land or otherwise, based on established strong local policies. The report finds that a very small number of the authorities reviewed as part of the work had local policies on back garden development. I have therefore asked the Government’s chief planner to write to every local authority in England today to remind them about the issues they should take into account when considering the use of garden land for development and whether or not this is a local problem for their area.

I am also committed to collecting better data on the use of gardens for housing, and work is under way with Ordnance Survey to improve land use change statistics.

I have placed a copy of the report and the data received in the Library of the House.