Reform of planning to stop cities of 'grey deserts'

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Radical reform of the planning system is needed to save Britain's cities from becoming "grey deserts" and deliver the kind of family homes with gardens that most people want to live in, according to a new report.

The report, by the Policy Exchange think-tank, warns that current planning laws encourage the development of high-density, high-rise housing in cities, while allowing parks, gardens and urban open spaces to be built over in the name of protecting the countryside.

One consequence, according to a poll carried out for the think-tank, is that 75 per cent of people believe that, despite rising incomes, a family home with a garden is now less affordable than it was 20 years ago.

The report, released yesterday and entitled Better Homes, Greener Cities, argues that evidence from the housing market proves that most families would prefer to live in spacious and green "suburban" surroundings. But planning laws discourage building on "greenfield" sites in the countryside, while concentrating ever more development on towns and cities.

"Development takes place on the kinds of green spaces people actually use and value - allotments, playing fields, parks and gardens - in order to save agricultural land," said the report. "British towns and cities are becoming grey deserts, with serious implications for the health and well-being of the 50 million Britons who live in urban and suburban areas."

The report proposed a new Social Cost Tariff of up to £500,000 a hectare to compensate local communities for the added burden of developments.