Under its five-point plan, which it says will play a crucial part in the run up to elections next May, the party is pledging to:
(2) Encourage more family homes to be built instead of pokey flats, and remove Whitehall rules that are stopping new homes being built with sufficient parking and garden space.
(3) Give local communities a stronger say on where new homes are built, and abolish unelected regional assemblies. Oppose plans for compulsory purchase of gardens.
(4) Cancel plans for a council tax revaluation, abolish inspectors' powers of entry, and stop new taxes being levied on home improvements and gardens.
(5) Help more people get onto the first rung of the housing ladder by extending support for shared ownership schemes and new flexible forms of home ownership, as announced yesterday.
Under planning rules, the party said, gardens around homes are no longer classed as 'green space' and councils must follow 'rigid' Whitehall guidelines demanding that new developments cram in as many buildings as possible. As a result, suburban gardens were being ripped up and the plots replaced with blocks of flats without sufficient parking spaces, and damaging the biodiversity and sustainability of the local environment. The planning rules were making it more expensive to buy a family home, whilst pokey flats lay unwanted and unsold.
The Conservatives are releasing a briefing note produced by the independent House of Commons Library which they say confirms that 'the overall policy environment changed in respect of developing on gardens'. The note says that developers tend to win on appeal if councils try to block 'garden-grabbing' planning applications.
It reads: 'Clearly the 2000 PPG3 contains pressure to increase density of development, which reads back into greater pressure to develop urban gardens... combined with increased housing targets in the south of the country. Taken together, those factors have encouraged local planning authorities to approve planning applications for urban suites where houses have large gardens. There was enough in the guidance to justify developers appealing any refusal of this type of application with every chance of success. In other words, I do think that the overall policy environment changed in respect of developing on gardens.'
Caroline Spelman, shadow local government secretary, said: 'Across the country, there is growing concern about how John Prescott's planning rules are leadingto leafy gardens being dug up and replaced with soulless and ugly blocks of flats. The price of family homes is artificially inflated due to developers being forced to build flats.
'Local people are increasingly powerless to protect the character of their neighbourhood, and communities are suffering from the extra burden being placed on local infrastructure. These planning rules prevent the development of new homes that the public actually want - family homes with sufficient parking spaces and gardens for children to play in.
'Worse could be to come, with even harsher planning regulations on the way and the prospect of compulsory purchase of gardens for 'social' purposes. And if they're not going to build over your garden, Gordon Brown will tax it instead under his plans for a delayed, but still forthcoming, council tax revaluation.'
The party complains that planning rules on housing (PPG3) issued in 2000 classify gardens as 'brownfield' land and classify the whole space around a property as previously developed land, meaning that gardens around a house are not classed as green space.
PPG3 also introduced density targets for new housing of 30 - 50 dwellings per hectare. The Conservatives argued that the combination of the definition and the density requirements has resulted in a significant increase in inappropriate suburban and infill development that is out of keeping with the character of local neighbourhoods, and that councils are increasingly powerless to intervene to protect their locality.