Save our front gardens

IMG_4833AT a recent Conservation Advisory Group MCHA chairman Jim Gowans successfully proposed a resolution urging the council to save front gardens, not just in conservation areas but throughout the City and to prevent them being turned into car parks.

Planning applications for hard-standings were made last year in Powis Grove and Victoria Street. The MCHA objected to both applications and while planning officers have turned them down an appeal has been lodged by the applicant in Powis Grove and Victoria Street has lodged a fresh application.

However, the council did grant itself permission (despite the Association’s objections) to allow the creation of a hard-standing in front of 20 Windlesham Road. Officially this road only adjoins the Montpelier and Clifton Hill Conservation Area. But the road with its elegant “arts and crafts” houses has been part of the area that the MCHA aims to protect since 1970.

This council-owned property has not only lost its garden to car parking but has also lost its beautiful original timber door and window frames. Concrete and plastic now dominate. So much for a commitment to heritage and the environment.

Under the planning rules front gardens cannot be protected as green spaces, although mature trees do have some limited protection in a conservation area and can be the subject of a tree preservation order. But the rules can do little to prevent an owner concreting over grass.

The main motive for concreting over a front garden is normally to provide hard standing for a vehicle. However in a conservation area the garden walls do have some limited protection. So although the council cannot prevent a garden being wrecked it can stop the wall being demolished to create a driveway. A substantial front garden in Cornwall Gardens, part of the Preston Park Conservation Area was lost earlier his year. The planning committee could not prevent the destruction of the shrubs and plantings, but it had the power to refuse permission to demolish the front wall. Regrettably it chose not to do so. Saving the original wall would have made the access for vehicles onto the hard-standing impractical and would indirectly have saved the garden.

Civic Voice, the national conservation charity, has shortlisted the saving of front gardens in urban and suburban areas for a major campaign next year. The MCHA is writing to Civic Voice to urge it to adopt this campaign.

Meanwhile, the London Borough of Brent has come up with an ingenious way of blocking the access to illegal hardstandings–where the council has not given permission for vehicles to cross over the pavement. It simply puts a row of bollards on the kerb, preventing vehicles from crossing the pavement.

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