Comment: ‘we need greener cities, let council estate residents garden’

 (Phineas Harper)
(Phineas Harper)

With the Chelsea Flower Show next week and spring weather finally upon us, many of our thoughts are turning towards gardening.

But residents at the Vanbrugh Park Estate in Greenwich aren’t sprucing and pruning.

Instead they’re locked in a desperate battle to keep the ‘front gardens’ they have created on the asphalt outside their flats after the council demanded their removal, citing fire safety concerns.

Resident Phin Harper, who started an online petition to save these modest but important spaces, hopes a meeting with the council this week will save their pot plants, garden gnomes and benches from being dismantled after a year under threat.

 (Phineas Harper)
(Phineas Harper)

Since the pandemic we’ve all been aware of the importance of nature to our well-being.

Properties with gardens command premium prices; Knight Frank recently found that London flats with a garden were worth 12 per cent more than those without.

Thousands of people have moved to homes with private outside space over the past three years, often upping their housing budgets to do so.

But a garden should not be a luxury available only to those with the money or mobility to move. Nor need it be here — the spaces have been used for pot plants since the estate, designed by Barbican architects Chamberlin Powell and Bon, was built in the Sixties.

Having a sense of agency over where you live is important, too — witness the rampant Nimbyism that blocks housebuilding and closes pubs across London.

I’m not a fan of the legal letter brigade but equally, I don’t think private homeowners should be the only people able to exert influence over their homes and neighbourhoods.

Council tenants and leaseholders’ concerns are too often sidelined. With 3,300 signatures on their petition and counting, the Vanbrugh Park residents are refusing to be ignored. I hope they find a solution.