News story

New powers to prevent unwanted 'garden grabbing'

Councils and communities are being given immediate powers to prevent the destructive practice of ‘garden grabbing’ and to decide what types …

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Councils and communities are being given immediate powers to prevent the destructive practice of ‘garden grabbing’ and to decide what types of homes are suitable for their area, Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark announced today.

Over the last decade, many councils have been left frustrated at the increasing amount of inappropriate development on gardens which they have been unable to prevent. This is because planning guidance has classified gardens as ‘previously residential land’, in the same Brownfield category as derelict factories and disused railway sidings.

Recently published Government figures show that the proportion of new houses built on previously residential land such as gardens has risen dramatically, from one in ten to one in four between 1997 and 2008 - robbing communities of green breathing space, safe places for children to play and havens for urban wildlife.

Mr Clark is today unveiling plans to take gardens out of the Brownfield category, a simple step that will dramatically transform councils’ ability to prevent unwanted development on gardens where local people object and protect the character of their neighbourhoods.

From today Mr Clark will also scrap the minimum density target so town halls can work with the local community to decide what new homes are best for their area. The target has contributed to the lack of family sized homes and flats that local people need. Councils will be able decide what level of density is appropriate for their area, and work with developers to deliver the right mix of homes for the local community, encouraging more  family homes and affordable housing.

Greg Clark said:

For years the wishes of local people have been ignored as the character of neighbourhoods and gardens have been destroyed, robbing communities of vital green space.

It is ridiculous that gardens have until now been classified in the same group as derelict factories and disused railway sidings, forcing councils and communities to sit by and watch their neighbourhoods get swallowed up in a concrete jungle.  
“Today I am changing the classification of garden land so councils and communities no longer have their decisions constantly overruled, but have the power to work with industry to shape future development that is appropriate for their area.

This is just the start of wholesale reform I want to make to the planning system, so councils and communities are centre-stage in a reformed system that works for them, and is not just a tool of top-down policy.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps said:

The current system with its push for high density has resulted in developers building one or two bedroom executive flats, when the greatest need is often for affordable family homes. That’s why from today communities will be allowed to make their own decisions about what homes are needed in their area, and no longer be victims of a system designed to maximise profits and minimise choice.

Dr Ross Cameron, School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading added:

There are real benefits that gardens bring to our quality of life. Vegetation around buildings keeps us cool in summer and reduces our energy bills in winter, as well as protecting us from flooding.

Gardens are also great for our mental and physical wellbeing. They reduce our stress and keep us fit because we can work in the garden for hours without feeling we are doing exercise as a chore.

Research has demonstrated that gardening can improve self-esteem, communication skills, attention span and even educational performance. In essence, protecting gardens is important to improve quality of life, and particularly for people in cities.

Notes to editors

1. Proportion of new dwellings on previously residential land by local authority can be found at:

  1. Dr Simon Thornton Wood, Director of Science and Learning at the Royal Horticultural Society said:

We welcome any measure that protects the vital resource we know gardens to be. Gardens like parks, are the green lungs of cities, improving air quality, controlling air temperature and flood risk and providing a haven for wildlife. Beyond these very practical benefits of gardens we know that gardening is great for physical and mental health. That’s why we would like planning measures to go further than protecting existing gardens, to guarantee high quality green space and gardening opportunities in all new building developments, wherever they are.

Richard Bashford - Project Manager, RSPB said:

Gardens are mini nature reserves on our doorsteps and vital habitats for all sorts of wildlife. Many much loved species rely on green spaces like gardens, such as the song thrush and house sparrow, both of which have suffered massive declines in the last few years. House sparrow numbers have plummeted by over 60 per cent and we have lost almost 75 per cent of song thrushes. If more garden space is turned into buildings they will likely decline further and the wonder that children experience on the doorstep will dwindle.

We hope that the new measures will protect the habitats of species that have become synonymous with English gardens and demonstrate a rich eco system in our own back yards such as frogs, toads and bumble bees.

2. The whole of any housing plot, including any garden, has been classed as “Brownfield” or previously developed land, in the same category and derelict factories and disused railway sidings. The new Government recognises the concerns that some people have about the loss of gardens, and is amending Planning Policy Statement 3 (PPS3) to remove the classification of ‘previously developed land’. PPS3 can be viewed at:

3. Reclassifying garden land will enable councils to protect gardens from inappropriate development by rejecting planning applications for development that is objected to by the local community and spoils the character of neighbourhoods.

4. Recent Government figures for 2008 show that 80 per cent of homes were built on Brownfield land, up from 56 per cent in 1997. However, this incorporates development on previously residential land that includes gardens, which has risen from 11 per cent to 23 per cent between 1997 and 2008.

5. A study by Kingston University that started in May 2009 and gathered feedback from 127 councils found garden grabbing to be a problem in councils from different areas of the country. The study can be found at:

6. The density target that was first introduced in PPG3 in 2000 encouraged councils to build new houses at a density of 30-50 dph and seek greater intensity of development in city and town centres. PPG3 was revised in 2006 and the minimum density target reduced to 30 dph in PPS3.

7. New build statistics show the decline in the number of houses built has largely been for 4+ bed houses, with small declines in 2 and 3 bed houses. There has been a corresponding proportionate increase in 2 bed flats.

8. Councils will be able to use their discretion and work with the local community to deliver the right mix of affordable homes for their area so no one is priced out of the place where they live.

9. The reclassification of gardens will not prevent making extensions to their homes. What it will do is give councils the power to reject planning applications for entirely new dwellings on garden land that are objected to by local people and ruin the character of the area.


Keep up to date with the Department by following us on Twitter (external link).

Media enquiries

Visit our newsroom contacts page for media enquiry contact details.

Published 9 June 2010