Building in suburban back gardens is not the only answer

CROYDON COMMENTARY: As residents in Old Coulsdon organise themselves to oppose more ‘back-garden’ developments in their village, LEWIS WHITE (right), offers some alternatives to unnecessary intensification

It is not unknown for local residents’ associations to be heavily influenced by people whose idea of lifestyle, planning and architectural design Nirvana is a nice little Terry and June-style bungalow in a quiet cul de sac, with neighbours who keep themselves to themselves.

One hopes that the Old Coulsdon Residents’ Association, OCRA, is not stuck in a 1950s “vision straitjacket”, because – as reported here by Inside Croydon – they do have a good point about intensification. They just need to work out for themselves what is a reasonable planning policy.

The bogeyman of “back garden developments” is used to frighten other residents, even if the ends of the back gardens are large and a long way from existing homes

I have seen in our area, and in nearby Tandridge and Reigate and Banstead, numerous well-designed “backland” developments, but also some really bad ones.

There is a good (no… I mean, really bad) example happening in Chipstead Valley Road, near where I live in Coulsdon, where a single new dwelling is being shoe-horned into the small space between the houses on the busy road and the adjacent street. It looks like a real imposition on the neighbours.

Target: this piece of an architect-designed estate near Coulsdon Court could make way for five terraced houses

Other examples, involving local-based developers who have become notorious for their close relationship with the council’s planning department, have also been reported on the pages of this website.

Good examples, however, can make very good use of land, creating decent homes where existing back gardens are huge, and sometimes hardly used or even semi-derelict.

The main alternative to this kind of intensification is building on the Green Belt. We do need enough industrial and commercial land to provide local jobs and to service Croydon and a fair share of the needs of wider London, so enough land of this kind needs to be kept– in the right places– and not all residentialised.

Looking at the Green Belt in Surrey, there are places, like Lingfield, which are bizarrely designated as Green Belt but are clearly suburban in nature, not countryside. They have big areas of small(ish) houses on enormous plots. If these were redeveloped, at a higher density, the local village would be more viable, able to support public transport links, and secure the future of shops, schools and pubs. Thriving even, with cappuccino outlets, tapas bars, nail bars and all the hallmarks of modern post-Brexit, post-covid (I hope) Britain.

Car park hell: too many blocks of nine flats have been allowed with ugly design and wasted parking space

There are still many suitable plots for “intensification”, but there are also sites where far too much development has been crammed in, resulting in frontages that are all paved for parking, maybe with a pathetic shred of designed greenery, like car-bay edging hedges which often get wiped out by cars driving over narrow and unprotected shrub beds.

Intrusive night-time lighting on such car-dominated street frontages with uplighters, downlighters and unshielded lights to mark the driveway entrances and access steps is also a growing problem that needs to be controlled before we are all dazzled when we are passing by, and sleep-deprived if we live nearby.

Inside Croydon has run several articles spotlighting monster builds clearly far too large and well out of scale with the host street and general neighbourhood.

The more intensive the design density, and the closer the development gets towards developing from one end of the frontage to the other, the less the space for trees, shrubs and grass.

With the usual concerns about Nimbys and NAAE (Not Anything Anywhere Ever) and other variations, I wish OCRA well with their campaign, and hope that their survey comes to some clear and intelligent conclusions.

Read more: Old Coulsdon village to fight against planning ‘intensification’

  • Lewis White is a retired landscape architect, with decades of experience working for local authorities in south London. He  lives in Coulsdon

Croydon Commentary is a platform for all our readers to offer their personal views about what matters to them in and around the borough. To submit an article for publication, just email us at, or post your comment to an Inside Croydon article that has caught your attention

Become a Patron!

  • If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at
  • Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
  • Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as well as BBC London News and ITV London
  • ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: Croydon was named the country’s rottenest borough in 2020 in the annual round-up of civic cock-ups in Private Eye magazine – the fourth successive year that Inside Croydon has been the source for such award-winning nominations
  • Inside Croydon: 3million page views in 2020. Seen by 1.4million unique visitors

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
This entry was posted in Business, Coulsdon, Housing, Old Coulsdon, Old Coulsdon Residents' Association, Planning and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Building in suburban back gardens is not the only answer

  1. The alternative to building in back gardens is not building on green belt. Not correct.

  2. Lewis White says:

    Hi Sebastian, my considered feeling is that in existing suburban areas we need sensible renewal of the housing stock and best use of land. That means some intensification, but not so that we end up with what I term “bully boy developments” that dominate their contexts, and eliminate trees and green frontages. Not Town Cramming. But we do need good Town Planning

    As to the Green Belt, as a 65 + native of the Surrey Green Belt myself, I have been thinking for many decades about the whole topic of Green Belt, and about how to create settlements that “live” and hopefully, “thrive”. By this I mean places that meet the modern needs of living people , providing for a 3-dimensional social and community life as well as mere people storage in the form of “housing”.

    The need to my mind is not for slavish preservation of the status quo. It is the creation of attractive, viable and “living” settlements in the form of villages and towns, set in a high quality and well-managed rural landscape of farms, woods and natural areas. Villages need to evolve, not become moribund.

    In my view, many areas that are not really countryside (in and around places like Lingfield, Godstone,Oxted/ Hurst Green, Merstham and Banstead) have been designated as Green Belt, but should be re-designated as “Village Renewal and Growth” areas. The concept should be that people should be able to walk into the village centre along safe footpaths, and that the aim should be to have a crtical mass of population to enable the support of at least a few shops, a pub, church and ideally, a primary school. Pretty traditional aned contextual really, as I am not talking about tacking on massive new housing estates next to tiny villages. But , renewal, intensification, and some growth.

    Do we want villages to be fossilised,and stay exactly the same, probably losing shops and amenities? If so, they just end up as human storage areas for those who are there already or can afford to move in. Boring places. Lacking the vitality of the rural past where little tractors whizzed up and down the village streets and every village had shops, a pub or two and a post office.

    We need to put the “Country” back into “Town and Country Planning”. But the country needs to live, and that means, people need to truly live there, not merely exist.

    Suburbs and towns also need to evolve. Decent new buildings to replace time expired not very good buildings. Get greener in many cases, and have vitality.

    • Redefine green belt at your peril, Lewis. Once built upon, green belt can never be returned. It’s the lazy option that is the result of a huge amount of lobbying by developers.

      Your notion of a new village built in the green belt that’s allowed to evolve is a definition of sprawl, in my book.

      Areas around Lingfield, Godstone,Oxted/ Hurst Green, Merstham and Banstead are Green Belt and it’s for that reason we have Lingfield, Godstone,Oxted/ Hurst Green, Merstham and Banstead as we know and value them today.

      Lord Richard Rogers had it absolutely right 25 years ago in his Government report, ‘Towards a new Renaissance’ – here, he argued for new ways of developing brown field sites and at the same time, the protection of and the celebration of green belt.

      I can’t agree with much of what you say, Lewis.

  3. miapawz says:

    We do need new homes but they can be built well not the 9 flat disasters. Build 4 flats with garden and garage and storage. Or two small houses. But someone needs to end the 9 flat exploitation developments. As they are not homes, they are just money spinners for developers. Homes have gardens and garages and private space.

    The greenbelt needs to be kept for the most part as it is a lung for London but some development could be mananged if we did something with the railway….. instead of cutting services have more suburban services and towns like Guildford Camberley, Crawley and Andover and Horsham etc. Could support development of houses. But with all development is the need for more schools, doctors, hospitals and transport. None of what Mayor Khan or Croydon has done has provided any of that: how many more surgeries have we had with SPD2? none.

    Perhaps we should accept that not everyone can live in the South or London. We need to make living elswwhere profitable and attractive. England is not a big place but there is space. The obsession with building over London and it’s green belt seems unending.

Leave a Reply