Monday, 29 March 2010

Criticism of garden 'car-parking' two days running in Daily Telegraph shocker

A good letter on Urban Greenery in the 28th March edition from an Anthony Rodriguez in Staines, Middlesex.

He lamented the loss of street trees to bad town planning and fears over subsidence and went on the say that 'It is also wrong that so many urban gardens have vanished under concrete and paving, especially in Greater London ........ These trends despoil the visual environment and make a mockery of the efforts to reduce flooding and climate change'.


An article entitled 'Birds take refuge in gardens to survive cruel winter' , reporting on the results of the latest RSPB 'Big Garden Birdwatch', ended with the news that 'Since 1979, when the survey started, sparrows, starlings, blackbirds and robins have all seen a decline, in part due to habitat loss through development such as concreting gardens to create parking spaces.'

So can we look forward to this august publication championing the right of other species not just to exist, albeit in ever-dwindling numbers, but to thrive, instead of bleating about 'hard-pressed motorists' every time there's a (much-needed) increase in fossil fuel prices?


Thursday, 25 March 2010

Haringey Council asks residents not to pave gardens

Haringey London Borough Council has recently published its Biodiversity Action Plan, which is ahead of some others I could mention in terms on specific plans and the apparent strength of written intent to implement them:

In pursuit of a self-proclaimed 'Greenest Borough' strategy, the Gardens Habitat Action Plan states that the objective is to (inter alia):

- highlight and protect the overall resource for wildlife provided by gardens (public and private) and housing estate land.
- improve individual gardens and housing estate land as habitat for a range of local wildlife.


- identify and protect the garden resource within Haringey by 2015

There is an intention to:

- Produce a report on the change in the amount, type (e.g. paving/lawn) and distribution of private gardens over time within Haringey.

There will be initiatives to encourage residents to garden in a wildlife-friendly way.

The objective of '4.2 Produce and implement wildlife friendly management plans for housing estates (2 per annum)' looks particularly interesting.

And, although local Councils currently have little legal power to prevent loss of gardens to car-parking and the like, at least Haringey has bitten the bullet insofar as it can, and explicitly says:

How You Can Help
• If you are lucky enough to have a garden don’t pave over it!

(Their exclamation mark, not mine).

Credit to Haringey for this.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Goodbye to green - collateral damage and 'verge-grabbing'

I wrote to Bexley Council recently, inquiring about the status of verge protection legislation, and lamenting the damage I have seen locally and the fact that the Council appears to do nothing about it, not even appealing to the public to desist in its own public magazine. The Council's Enviro-crime Unit state that is illegal to park a vehicle on or drive over [a] verge and footway to gain access to a property without a properly constructed vehicular crossing. I was invited to report incidences of the same. In a letter below the following pictures, which show the extent of some of this damage, I explain why I am reluctant to do so. My worry - the likelihood of 'verge-grabbing' (sanctioned or otherwise) as the 'easy way out' - being illustrated in the final photograph.

Reply to Enviro-crimes Unit, 15/2/2010.

Belated thanks for your very prompt and helpful reply to my inquiry.

I could easily report numerous examples of driving over verges and
footways, but am reluctant to do so until I have determined what the
Council's longer term action would be in such cases.

The cynic in me fears that it might take the 'easy' option and simply
encourage or allow such residents to widen driveways, resulting in
permanent loss of yet more verge. Enough was lost hereabouts some years
ago when the already dropped kerbs and entranceways were widened.
According to a workman I challenged at the time, this was allegedly
necessitated by 'EU legislation'.

I have noticed two recent, local examples of people concreting over a
corner of the verge where they were previously driving over it, without
any notices being put up allowing public objection. I will inquire as to
whether these actions were approved, or done on a 'freelance' basis, since
I think it important to determine whether the Council desires to protect
public amenity over a minor 'inconvenience' to private car owners - or

Yours sincerely, Chris Rose.

If anyone complains, will the Council protect public amenity, or give private motorists licence to annexe chunks of verge for their own convenience (having already paved over much, sometimes all of their front gardens for the sake of multiple car-parking)? Above - corner of verge recently concreted over in favour of a resident for whom a front garden was of no value and a one car's-width entranceway just wasn't enough.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

That told 'em - old verge protection notice spotted

I came across this heart-warming old notice in the January snow. Sadly, this particular bit of law was repealed back in the 1970s, according to Bexley Council's enviro-crimes unit, who told me that other, newer legislation does make it illegal to park a vehicle on or drive over verges to gain access to a property without a properly constructed vehicular crossing. They've said that if I report the location they'll have the sign removed. But I rather think that people should be reminded to show due respect to such public amenities, so have heavily cropped the picture to hide the location. See my postings on collateral damage to verges by people who've car-parked their front gardens for images of what happens when the law is not enforced.

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Letter: Sun Tel bemoans building on gardens, ignores huge losses to car parking

The 20th December Sunday Telegraph carried a large front page story entitled 'Thousands of gardens 'stolen' by developers'

and followed this up in an editorial which bemoaned the covering 'of areas that were once full of flowers and well-kept lawns with a rash of ugly buildings' and stating that 'Seldom can so much beauty have been destroyed, to so little point.'

There was no mention of the huge loss of garden space to car-parking , despite the negative consequences they highlighted being exactly the same. And one could argue that covering gardens to accomodate excessive numbers of cars is a rather more trivial reason than doing so to create more housing.

Consequently, I sent the following letter to the Sunday Telegraph on 31st December:

SIR - I was surprised to note that neither your article 'Gardens stolen by developers' (20th December) nor the letters on the subject (27th December) raised any concerns about the huge numbers and proportion of front gardens being smothered with paving so as to accomodate multiple car ownership. Nor do the supposedly 'garden-friendly' Conservatives. This is by far the greatest driver of garden loss in my neighbourhood. Walls and hedges are ripped out, and the grass verges driven over. Many gardens have been completely hard-surfaced, even where there is plenty of room to accomodate both cars and plants, and despite permeability legislation, there is still significant rainwater run-off. In my view this is lazy, unimaginative and contemptuous of the green and pleasant street scene which ought to be a prime attraction of suburbia.

Yours sincerely,
Chris Rose
(London Borough of Bexley)

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Wet and weak Labour policy doesn't stop the run-off

Labour's policy of requiring planning permission before being able to lay more than 5 sq m of 'impermeable surface' - including for car-parking (see post of 29/7/2009) - was really all about trying to cut run-off in the wake of disastrous floods. But it has also been (wrongly) cited as protecting gardens.

So does it even have the primary intended effect? As far as I can see there are no definitions for, or tests of, permeability. In practice both paving, and the material it is laid on, are heavily compacted with vibrating plate machines. In other cases solid, non-permeable, 'impressed' material is used to give the impression of paving, and a metal grille is placed where this meets the pavement zone. But that seems to me to be against the spirit of the law.

Here are some pictures of run-off (and drainage failure) from pretty flat sites, after just a short period of quite light rain.

Is this amount of paving really necessary ?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Goverment advisors call for greening the built environment

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, the government's advisor on architecture, urban design and public space has produced a very good document arguing that green infrastructure does not receive anything like the investment or management that goes into grey infrastructure, and that this should change dramatically.

The booklet, 'Grey to Green', downloadable here:

is designed to fuel a debate about whether the current imbalance is smart, given the dangers of climate change and the opportunities to improve public health. It also reveals the urgent need for more people, with the right skills, to manage the living landscape of our towns and cities.

According to CABE, 'Grey to Green' provides fresh ideas and evidence, showing how we could design and manage places in radically different ways that would produce a far more pleasant living environment, as well as being more 'future-proof'. Besides the critique of our present situation, it highlights some inspiring 'greening' schemes from around the UK. It will be of interest to anyone involved in greening the built environment, but above all to the people taking decisions about where to commit public money at a local and a national level.

Nature by-pass: this sort of increasingly grey and featureless facade, to much of our supposedly 'green and pleasant' suburbia, runs counter to the kind of future for cities that the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment is calling for.