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Westminster Column 16 June 2010

Many in Sutton will be delighted with last week’s announcement that the Government will now introduce legislation to help councils and local communities stop unwanted development and ‘garden grabbing’. This has been a crucial issue in Sutton for all the years I have been the town’s MP.

And it will be a huge win for Sutton Coldfield where planning regulations introduced by Labour’s John Prescott in 2000 have seen a dramatic increase in development on private gardens and of intensive ‘densification’ and ‘infill’ in our community, allowing developers to rob our town of green breathing space.

The lack of affordable housing of all types is a major issue in this country, but garden grab developments, which rarely exceed the size threshold at which affordable dwellings have to be provided, do very little to meet this need. In fact, their impact on neighbourhoods can be profoundly negative – destroying green space, reducing biodiversity, degrading architectural character and placing strain on local infrastructure.

And local planning authorities have frequently found themselves powerless to stop garden grab developments. This was a consequence of the previous Government’s planning rules, which classified private gardens as ‘brownfield’ land, meaning they had the same status in planning as industrial wasteland. In addition, Labour’s one-size-fits-all Whitehall density targets required development at 30 dwellings per hectare, preventing councils from ensuring the right level for individual local neighbourhoods. This has allowed developers to overturn planning rejections on appeal, undermining the ability of councils to act in the best interests of their communities.

On Thursday of last week, our new Government delivered on my Election pledge to my constituents in Sutton to restore common sense, introducing new planning guidelines that have immediate effect. They remove gardens from the definition of brownfield land and scrap the Whitehall-set density target.

This will give councils real power and discretion to determine the appropriate level of development for each part of their local authority area, allowing high density building if they wish, and ensuring that more family homes with gardens can be built in new developments.

At the same time the Government has maintained Green Belt protection, assisted by the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies which now gives councils the discretion on how to plan and shape the future of their community. These progressive and permissive changes are another step in decentralising power and protecting the local environment.They are welcome changes and a promise of more common sense legislation to come.

It would be quite wrong of me not to thank all those in Sutton who have campaigned with me to achieve this change for our town. To Hon. Alderman David Roy, and all our town’s hardworking Councillors, to many of Sutton’s energetic organisations, forums and community groups and especially to the Sutton Coldfield Civic Society whose efforts and guardianship of all that is best in Sutton’s built environment is widely acknowledged, I say a huge thank you on behalf of our town.

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