The Government recently announced changes to the planning system with the intention of reducing the infilling and development of existing back gardens, often referred to in the media as 'garden grabbing'. Most media coverage of the point included the familiar term 'greedy developers', without any adverse reference to those homeowners who cash in on their land.

In response to a Department for Communities and Local Government investigation from January, the Government has recently revised PPS3, its national Planning Policy Statement regarding housing, to provide that gardens will no longer be considered as 'previously-developed land' or 'brownfield' land. In addition, the Government has removed the national minimum density of 30 dwellings per hectare, giving local authorities more flexibility.

Comment on the changes has been predictable – residents' and environmental groups have welcomed the changes, the House Builders' Federation has called them unnecessary. Furthermore, if developers are to be severely restricted in developing back garden-type sites, it will increase the pressure on existing greenfield locations and settlement boundaries.

While it is still early to see the full effect of these changes, anecdotal evidence suggests that various local planning authorities throughout the South-East have started to refuse any applications for such developments, purely on the grounds of the changes to PPS3.

However, in the few cases so far where such refusals have been appealed, indications are that inspectors on appeal will look at each case on its merits – if the proposed development is in keeping with the locality and otherwise acceptable in planning terms, refusals are being overturned and permissions granted.

If that trend is confirmed, it appears that the changes to PPS3 will not actually have achieved anything - if a proposed development is acceptable in planning terms it will be approved, even if on appeal, as should always have been the case.