The Campaign to Protect Rural England, whose Chief Executive is the former Labour MEP Shaun Spiers, has been running a prominent and dishonest campaign against the Government's plans to make the planning system less bureaucratic.
Less well known is that they have also opposed the Coalition Government giving councils new powers to tackle garden grabbing. They claimed the "Government could be risking environmental disaster" by protecting gardens and removing it from the definition of brownfield land. This is because of their inflexible view that any extra housing should be squashed into our cities.But garden grabbing is also a threat to villages.
Not all green groups share the CPRE's support for garden grabbing.
Dr Simon Thornton Wood, Director of Science and Learning at the Royal Horticultural Society said:
"We welcome any measure that protects the vital resource we know gardens to be. Gardens like parks, are the green lungs of cities, improving air quality, controlling air temperature and flood risk and providing a haven for wildlife. Beyond these very practical benefits of gardens we know that gardening is great for physical and mental health. That's why we would like planning measures to go further than protecting existing gardens, to guarantee high quality green space and gardening opportunities in all new building developments, wherever they are."
Richard Bashford – Project Manager, RSPB said:
"Gardens are mini nature reserves on our doorsteps and vital habitats for all sorts of wildlife. Many much loved species rely on green spaces like gardens, such as the song thrush and house sparrow, both of which have suffered massive declines in the last few years. House sparrow numbers have plummeted by over 60 per cent and we have lost almost 75 per cent of song thrushes. If more garden space is turned into buildings they will likely decline further and the wonder that children experience on the doorstep will dwindle.
"We hope that the new measures will protect the habitats of species that have become synonymous with English gardens and demonstrate a rich eco system in our own back yards such as frogs, toads and bumble bees."
Furthermore the CPRE are completely out of touch with their own local branches.
CPRE Kent welcomed the Coalition Government's plans to tackle garden grabbing: They say:
"Garden Grabbing has been a bane in West Kent in particular where gardens have been sold off and packed with houses and even apartment blocks."
CPRE Surrey said:
"One of the key planning policy changes affects gardens. Guidance to local councils has been revised so that gardens are no longer to be treated as brownfield land. This should end “garden grabbing” by developers and help preserve green spaces in Surrey’s towns."
CPRE Cheshire said:
"It is not only the large and destructive invasions of open countryside by major developments which CPRE is fighting. Domestic gardens are also threatened. The infilling of gardens can be supported to some extent on the grounds that it is at least providing new dwellings (though these are seldom affordable) without sacrificing open countryside.
"However, the wholesale targeting of all gardens large enough to contain an extra house could prove disastrous to our environment and to the character and variety of our housing stock. The more obvious planning barriers of poor access and too close a proximity to neighbours seem inadequate to stop the erosion.
"Developers seem quite happy to demolish a perfectly good or even admirable house to gain access to a rear plot which will hold at least two dwellings, or maybe a block of flats. We do not see this as a natural process of change and development to meet need; it is mainly fuelled by speculation for financial gain… They are of course handicapped by the [last] government's unfortunate inclusion of domestic gardens in the definition of 'previously developed land'."
CPRE Essex said:
"Here’s some good news for a change! At least, we hope so. Could the Coalition Government’s proposed reforms of the planning system be just what CPREssex campaigners wanted to hear? … This also applies to proposals to end 'garden grabbing'. These could safeguard the character of our villages and suburban areas from over dense flat developments"
CPRE Sussex said:
"In recent years there has been a proliferation in the practice of the emotionally charged issue of 'Garden grabbing or backland development' and Sussex has not escaped! This development tends to particularly affect suburban areas with high house prices and the end result is often upmarket rather than affordable homes. Complaints from the public include dismay at the [last] government’s definition of brownfield sites, alarm at the way planning authorities apply the rules and revulsion at the type and style of properties being built by developers."
Having lost his seat in 1999 it would seem that Shaun Spiers is unrepresentative of his own membership. The CPRE will naturally have a view on how much housing there should be, but why does it push the Socialist line that only subsidised "affordable" housing is a benefit – that market housing in some way doesn't count?
CPRE says it believes in "empowering communities" – but it ignores the views of it own branches. When it comes to lobbying the Government the messages pushed are those of the clique at their HQ in Southwark – not their membership in the countryside.