Cllr Simon Fawthrop is a councillor for Petts Wood & Knoll Ward in Bromley.
Sadiq Khan shows all the signs of being a desperate Mayor of London. Having failed to meet his own housing targets he is scrabbling about looking for an easy option to help him build more houses. So what has he decided in his London Plan? Khan wants to remove protection afforded to gardens introduced by Boris Johnson. This is the same protection backed up by the National Planning Policy Framework. He mistakenly thinks that this will bring forward thousands of small sites, to help him meet his targets.
In addition just to add to his lack of foresight, he also wishes to remove any parking requirements for developments within 800m of a transport hub or town centre. This is on the flawed basis that anyone who lives next to a transport hub will use public transport. Just for the record Khan resides within 800m of two transport hubs Streatham and Streatham Common railway stations, which makes his own garden a prime target for increased housing development.
So why have I applied for planning permission to build flats in Khan’s own backyard?
The first reason is that I have lived in a very modest semi in West Wickham for just over 20 years. When I first moved here, I marvelled at the biodiversity I could find in outside my back door; frogs, toads, newts, hedgehogs, slow worms, dragonflies and stag beetles were regular visitors to my garden. Now I haven’t seen any of these for at least 5 years. It is always hard to pinpoint this loss of diversity on any one particular change, but the most obvious visible change around me has been the increase in development within the area. I am fortunate that I still see orange tip butterflies and pipistrelle bats, but I do wonder for how much longer.
At this point I can visualise many of your readers shouting NIMBY, NIMBY, NIMBY at the screen.
Surely the NIMBY is Khan who was none too pleased when he discovered I had submitted a planning application to Wandsworth Council to literally build three flats in the back garden of his home. Khan could of course get very rich off the back of this planning application, but his response to me wasn’t enthusiastic for the scheme which he is proposing to impose across the whole of Greater London. Hypocrisy on Khan’s behalf is a word that comes to mind. I also doubt whether Khan would sell his land to me in any event. If he did Khan could take the money from this scheme and retire from politics, which will be much better all round for Greater London.
A free for all in planning sounds like a great idea, remove the state from the planning process and let people get on with their lives. The problem is that such an approach, whilst right in principle, in an extreme example would see Stonehenge flattened to be replace with something more modern, or might see rubbish dumps placed next to very nice houses. Even a light touch planner will recognise that to ensure that such events do not occur there has to be some form of democratic oversight to control irresponsible development.
The second reason is that Khan’s top down, one size fits all policy is just plain lazy. It assumes that everywhere is the same and should be treated the same. I am very fortunate to have been elected to represent the Petts Wood & Knoll Ward on the London Borough of Bromley. For anyone who wants to visit the Ward, you will be impressed by the general layout and design of the area. Petts Wood is an exceptional example of an interwar garden suburb, complete with heritage assets and Conservation areas, the North London equivalent is its famous counterpart Hampstead Garden Suburb, that is why locally is has been designated as an Area of Special Residential Character. Introducing this particular daft policy, along with the scrapping of the density matrix could lead to inexorable harm and loss of this area, which has predominantly very large rear gardens, usually of the order of about 170 feet in length. The possibility of flat blocks in rear gardens would completely undermine the principles behind setting up this garden suburb. So by applying to build in Khan’s garden highlights how ridiculous his proposed policy is.
The third reason is the impact that removing gardens has not only on biodiversity but on the environment as a whole. The London Wildlife Trust estimated that 500 gardens, or parts of gardens, are being lost a year due to housing development alone. This is equivalent to six hectares a year, with the average development losing 200 sqm of garden land. This has an impact on environmental areas such as; air quality, water run-off and flooding, but also there is an impact on the London chalk aquifer, which is used to store and extract water for our supplies, particularly when reservoirs are low. If water runs off into drains, sewers and rivers, then the aquifer is, and water supplies are at risk as for the whole of the Greater London.
The final reason for putting in this application is to highlight that Khan’s ideas for running greater London are basically 18th century in their outlook. He is an 18th Century Mayor in a 21st Century City. An analogue Mayor in a digital age. Let’s look at his proposals; Building on gardens without any consideration to the environment or the long term effects, isn’t that what they did in the 18th Century? Being obsessed with building more infrastructure like Cross Rail 2 and HS2, it is all based on 18th Century technology. Trains are 18th Century technology and roads date back much much further. The future is based on a digital world of fibre, satellites and cloud services and the city needs to be transformed accordingly.
A Mayor for the 21st century would be investing in our digital infrastructure at a fraction of the cost; he would be reducing dependency on the state run transport services and invest in the people of the capital rather than pandering to his union paymasters on the latest transport project. A Conservative Mayor could easily arrange for more houses to be built and quickly if that is what’s required. It could be done by looking at the huge number of existing surface car parks across the Capital, both private and public; these could be expanded to double the available car parking and compliment it with a top layer of housing as well. To do this needs a Mayor with a real vision for the future of the London, a Mayor who is not anti-car and not anti-aspiration and against personal freedom. One thing we can all agree on is the current incumbent Sadiq Khan is not fit to be London Mayor.
That is also why I have applied to build on Khan’s back garden.