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Action urged over 'garden grabbers'

The government has vowed to combat ‘garden-grabbing’ by property developers – viewed as a problem in nearly half of the country

However, it has also warned councils that they are ‘tying their hands’ by not having clear policies in place to prevent homeowners from building in garden areas and has issued new guidance to encourage authorities to dust down their existing protection powers.

A survey by Kingston University found that 40 per cent of councils, 50 out of 127, said that ‘garden grabbing’ was an issue in their area, yet only seven had policies in place that prevented application appeals from going through following an initial rejection.

Housing minister John Healey said a defined local policy preventing inappropriate building in back gardens would reduce the likelihood of successful appeals by homeowners because planning officials would be obliged to uphold original decisions.

The report found that about one in four garden developments rejected by planners, 1,739 out of 6,892, were later granted permission on appeal, and that successful appeals were less likely if councils could base their case on clear local plans.

Healey said: ‘If those areas that have reported a problem don’t want to see developments on garden land, they are tying their own hands by not having a local plan in place. This evidence shows that planning inspectors will support local authorities in rejecting inappropriate buildings in gardens if there is a clear idea of what the area needs.’

A number of garden grabbing ‘hotspots’ were identified by the survey, where homeowners were more likely to take advantage of high property prices by extending developments into unused back garden space.

Councils in London, the South East and the West Midlands were most likely to report the impact of garden-grabbing.

Matt Thomson, Acting Director of Policy and Partnerships at the RTPI said: ‘Councils already have powers that they can use to stop development in back gardens through their local plans.  

‘Of course, some local authorities might prefer for development to take place on existing gardens rather than green-field land and that decision is rightly for the local council to take.

‘The fact that only 5 per cent of councils who think ‘garden grabbing’ is a problem actually have policies in place against garden development reinforces the need for more guidance and we’re glad that the Government has acted on this key issue which is of concern to many local people.’

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