Let me tell you a story, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
Once upon a time a garden-loving people elected a man named John Major to run their country. Now he and his friends had certain ideas as to how to run this island of ours and I’m not here to demonise their policies. It would be presumptuous to think that I knew any better, an argument against which many of the public, particularly the Sun newspapers dedicated readership, will rail with vague tidal persistence, but one of them included an impetus for residential growth within the metropolitan areas of the country.
‘Fair play,’ we thought, ‘people need somewhere to live after all.’ Thus began the habit of selling our gardens and other green spaces to property developers on a piecemeal basis and, as many occupants of the South East in particular will have noticed over recent years, whole streets are having their tenants enticed or downright forced into selling sections of their gardens to make room for the next invasive avenue.
Not changing suit from its predecessors, the Labour party under Mr. Blair and Mr. Brown continued churning the vulnerable green belt of the nation’s capital, until horticulturalists found themselves caught with their metaphoric pants down. The obvious question being: ‘Where does it end?’ In the three years between ‘94 and ‘97 the national average for recycled residences, being new homes built on former residential sites, rose by 11%, the South East getting the worst of this glorified flower stomping nearly a decade later, with nearly a third of new homes built on similar sites betwixt ‘06 and ’09.
It is only after a national census indicated how far this agenda had flourished, that we began to question whether it might be entirely benign. Many current residents-particularly in the South East, and if you want to get really specific -London, have found their green spaces disappearing.
I hail from the Bromley area, and aside from a shyly muttered ‘Oh H.G. Wells was born there’, the thing we have going for us is our moniker as – ‘The Green borough’, our key fears then centred on the rapidity of this urban expansion. However, and this being our primary concern, it is not necessarily public spaces being reallocated to serve the public, but specifically, you guessed it: Gardens.
However, there is a ray of hope in all this terribly triumphant progression of ‘garden grabbing’, our knight all ivory armoured and shiny-like is named Greg Clark, the Coalition’s Communities Minister. His battle ground? ‘Brownfield’. Now you won’t find a slain dragon in a polyester suit with a seductive grin at Brownfield, because I refer not to a place, but rather a planning demographic. It is the category home of derelict factories, abandoned housing and vacant lots. Old Greg fought for and won the independence of privately owned gardens from this catalogue of the forgotten, and dispersed some of this once absolute power among local councils so that they may protect their local green spaces more effectively.
Fighting on the home front, local organisations and associations, perhaps perceived by many as the last bastions of the blue-rinse brigade, actually act as the last line of defence against over-development in the smaller outlying communities of London. In our own area the Hayes Village Association has been vehemently opposed to the over-development of local brown, and green, belt land with great success.
The argument stated by the previous Labour government in response reads as an accusation of the coalition folk at number 10. ‘Protecting the interests of millionaires’ they say, as opposed to those of the general public in desperate need of housing, but concerning the average property owner, the extinction of gardens holds much graver connotations. By trading off green space for the sake of practicality, we barter our own psychology too – without a private place to relax, one more esoteric than our rigid city-scape, the metropolis becomes oppressive and claustrophobic. This kind of sterile atmosphere has been frequently associated with depression, high blood pressure and subsequently unhealthy living.
On a global scale we must consider the ramifications such over-development would have on our ecosystem, particularly in light of the looming threat of global warming. Without self-sustaining green areas, the pollution already rampant within London would also be further exacerbated. Without accessible woodland, parks and fields, the wildlife of the cities would become refugees under the labourers boot. And, perhaps most importantly, children would have no mutual social environments outside of the corporate pens – Cinemas, shopping centres etc – that we have constructed, thus dampening their creativity and threatening the well-being of future generations.
by Josh Ellison