Nighttime heatwaves worsen as half of London’s front gardens disappear

30 June 2015

London is expected to be in heatwave conditions between 1200 today and 0600 on Thursday according to the Met office (1). The capital’s hard surfaces, which include paved over front gardens, aggravate the effects by absorbing the heat and then releasing it at night (2). This can be especially dangerous for the young and the very old with chronic diseases. In light of a recent Royal Horticultural Society report showing that in London, compared to 10 years ago:

· Half of all front gardens have been paved or concreted over, a 36% increase

· Five times as many front gardens have no plants at all

Jenny Jones AM asked Boris Johnson at Mayor’s Question Time [in June 2015] (4,5) to back her call for an urgent review of “ineffective” and “inadequate” national front garden rules that are not preventing their disappearance under a layer of paving and concrete.

Jenny Jones AM said:

“At a time when we need our urban front gardens more than ever, to combat the effects of heatwaves, they are disappearing at an unprecedented rate. Instead of lawns, hedges and plants, our front gardens are being replaced by a creeping layer of barren grey paving, of concrete, bricks, gravel and tarmac. The more paving we have, the hotter it will get in the summers and the more difficult it is to sleep”

“Our ineffective front garden planning rules are oriented to tackling surface water flooding. They must be revised to give equal weight to protecting/creating wildlife habitats, reducing the urban heat island effect and reducing air pollution. This will put the environment first and the car last, not the other way around.”

Jenny has also urged the Mayor to set up a ‘Make your front garden fit for the challenges of the 21st Century’ website with all the practical information and advice homeowners need to maximise greenery, to de-pave and to lessen the adverse impacts of off-street parking. (5)

Editors Notes

Jenny is available for interview

1. Met office heat health watch alert warning that there is ‘an 80 % probability of heatwave conditions between 1200 on Tuesday and 0600 on Thursday in parts of England.’

2. ‘Heatwaves’ conditions take place when day time temperatures exceed 30 °C by day and 15 °C overnight if they last for at least two days and the night in between, and can be dangerous especially for the young and very old with chronic diseases. During the 2003 heatwave, there were 2,000 to 3,000 excess deaths [more than usual] in England.

3. RHS report ‘Why we all need Greening Grey Britain’ published

3. Known as the Heat Island Effect this can result in towns and cities remaining noticeably hotter than the surrounding countryside, particularly at night on calm, clear summer nights. The UHI can add 5-6°C to the night time temperatures experienced. During the summer heatwave of 2003, differences of up to 10°C between city and rural temperatures were measured in London. The GLA commissioned research into London’s UHI – ‘London’s Urban Heat Island: A Summary for Decision Makers’.


5. Jenny’s letter to Boris Johnson, dated 30th June 2015.

Dear Boris

Problems of paved over front gardens

We need front garden that help Londoners cope with heatwaves, surface water flooding and to reverse the loss of greenery needed for wildlife.

I welcome your acknowledgment that far too many front gardens are paved/concreted over, when I raised this issue with you at Mayor’s Question Time on the 17th June 2015. Furthermore, I also welcome your openness to consider further discussions about by my call for a review of Permitted Development Rights relating to front gardens and the setting up of a website to enable and inform homeowners and decision makers about far more beneficial environmental options when considering changes to their front gardens.

The Royal Horticultural Society’s report ‘Why we all need, Greening Grey Britain’ which I referred to, outlined the extent of this loss. Half of London’s front gardens now paved over, with five times as many having no plants at all compared to ten years ago. This profound loss represents a profound planning and policy failure with serious environmental and public health consequences.

Review of the General Permitted Development Order

After the 2007 floods, the Government in 2008 rightly changed planning laws [General Permitted Development, Class F] to incorporate the use of permeable materials, or to direct run off to porous areas or soak-ways, thus reducing the risks of surface water run-off and flooding. Over five square metres, planning permission is required for laying down traditional hard surfaced paving.

However, when half of London’s front gardens have disappeared under paving or concrete, a 36% increase over a ten year period, this highlights how ineffective and inadequate these are for creating the types front gardens that London increasingly needs to cope with heavy rainfall, heatwaves and reversing the loss habitat for wildlife.

My argument is that equal planning weight for protecting/creating wildlife habitats, reducing urban heat island effect and reducing air pollution (through vegetation trapping vehicle fumes) need to be central values and explicitly stated in these planning rules, alongside surface water flooding.

And by tipping the balance of planning rules in favour of front gardens dominated by rain gardens, open deep flower beds, lawns and green open spaces, with paving and other covered surfaced kept to a bare minimum, they will be far more consistent with climate adaptation in the urban context, and preventing and reversing the loss of natural habitats and wildlife species that depend on them.

Mayoral website – Make your front garden fit for the 21st century

What homeowners and decision makers need is clear, practical information about front garden design options when they are considering making changes. Where they can find easy information for big and small gardens, advice on de-paving or reducing hard surfaces and the range of trees and low maintenance plants, shrubs and hedges options that are most suitable for their garden.

When searching for ideas, what you find on council websites, with a few exceptions, are just the rules around front garden planning permission. To most, this planning jargon is incomprehensible and leaves you with more questions than answers. Or if they are lucky you will come across reports such as the RHS’s Greening Grey Britain report.

You as the Mayor of London have strategic responsibilities for tackling climate change with targets for increasing tree and vegetation cover across London. However, these high levels aims need to be converted into the practical measures that ordinary Londoners can take. And the GLA has a fundamental role in helping to enable this interaction with the general public.

With other public bodies and the help of organisations like the RHS, I strongly urge you to develop a Mayoral website dedicated to helping Londoners make their front gardens fit for the challenges of the 21st century with practical design solutions that maximise greenery and reduce the paving over and the impacts of off-street parking.

Jenny Jones

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb

Green Party Member of the London Assembly

Share this page