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Mature Garden Suburb (back land) Developments

3 September 2007

I have been contacted by several of my constituents who have raised with me concerns about “back land” developments, or over-intensive housing (or other) developments that take up substantial tracts of land in existing back gardens, particularly in areas classed as “mature “suburbs. There are a number of such areas in Birmingham, and in my own constituency. The danger is that if such developments are not properly controlled via the planning mechanism, we can end up with the permanent loss of many valuable areas of green land in our suburbs.  Now that the Prime Minister has indicated the government’s intention to step up the building of affordable housing, it is more important than ever that our local authorities adopt policies that will allow the development of the housing that is so very badly needed, while also ensuring that the unique nature of our mature suburbs is protected.

This is, in essence, a non-party political issue upon which cross party agreement would normally be easily reached, so I am disappointed that the Conservative Party has sought to accrue political capital by opposing Government policy which in my view is entirely reasonable – the latest example being a Tory councillor suggesting our parks are at risk!

Planning Policy Statement 3 (PPS3) is a national planning policy first adopted in 1985 that now requires local authorities to set local standards, which should include the desirability of maintaining the character of particular areas. This being the case, whether an area of land is classified as greenfield or brownfield is not materially relevant, as the local policy should have the capacity to guard against inappropriate developments.

The definition of brownfield (which the Labour government has not altered), is  “previously developed land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure(excluding agricultural or forestry buildings), and associated fixed surface infrastructure.  This definition covers the curtilage of the development (defined as an area of land attached to the development).”

Notwithstanding this definition, the Government has issued planning guidance to local authorities that will allow them to set different targets for different kinds of brownfield land if they need to, so that for example they can concentrate development on available vacant or derelict land rather than residential land. Where they have alternative viable land available, they can then take stronger action to turn down development on residential garden land. The strong recommendation is that local authorities set clear policies in their development plan, rather than approaching the issue on an ad hoc, case by case basis.

Birmingham City Council has adopted a set of planning guidelines relating specifically to development in mature suburbs. The guidelines were adopted in draft form at the start of 2005, and I understand from the Council that these guidelines are about to undergo full public consultation, after which it is likely that they will be adopted formally as a supplementary planning document. 

Although I welcome this, I am rather disappointed at the slow progress that Birmingham has made in formally adopting the draft guidelines into practical planning policy. To my knowledge, the draft policy has been in existence since 2005, and has already received positive recognition at ward committees across the city.

I have made Birmingham City Council’s draft document available as a PDF file here.





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