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How to destroy a street

24th November 2011

By Rob Cowan

Someone once said: ‘Urban design is 75 per cent parking, 15 per cent working out where to put the bins, and 10 per cent everything else.’ It was me, so it must be true.

Few things are more disfiguring of the street scene than the front gardens of terraced houses being used for car parking, with the boundary to the street – a wall, fence or hedge – being removed. When a few gardens become parking places in this way the domestic character of the street, and the distinction between public and private space, are eroded. The familiar relationship between the houses and the street is destroyed. The amount of freely available parking space is reduced too: the stretch of street in front of the emparked garden no longer provides any public parking space. Soon all the parking pressure is on the frontages of those householders who have not converted their gardens. They will feel the pressure to convert their own front gardens if they want to park at all.

A recent item on a BBC radio property programme quoted an auctioneer from Savills. In outer London, he said, turning a front garden into off-street parking adds between five and 10 per cent to the value of the property. Let’s do the maths. If the house is worth £200,000, that’s £10-20,000. Assuming the cost of the work, plus the cost of planning permission, comes to a total of (say) £1,200, that’s between £8,800 and £18,800 extra value.

Those figures might work for the first few people in the street who sacrifice their gardens to parking. But what happens when a large proportion of the front gardens are converted to parking places? The street loses its domestic quality, the distinction between public and private space is eroded, and the relationship between the houses and the street is destroyed. The street becomes less attractive to housebuyers, and house prices fall. The initial increase in value is lost. Everyone loses.

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