Weather fronts

derbyroad©Geoff Wilkinson

Following the recent flooding across Redbridge, Bernice Butcher is keen to promote sensible use of our front gardens to reduce the flood risk, citing this good example on Derby Road, South Woodford. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson

Song lyrics have a habit of popping into my head, changing to fit my current preoccupations. So, ‘where have all the flowers gone?’ becomes ‘where have all the front gardens gone? Gone to driveways, every one’. Well, not quite true, but our front gardens are disappearing at an alarming rate. Oh, when will they ever learn?

The local deluge on 25 July, together with the recent announcement that the UK has the least biodiversity of any rich country, should be our wake-up call to stop concreting over surfaces.

Parking is at a premium these days and it must be very frustrating for residents when they can’t find a place to park near to their home. But do we really want to turn our leafy neighbourhood into a soulless concrete jungle, depriving birds, insects and other wildlife of their habitat and food source? And depriving ourselves of the well-being that we gain from nature? What’s the point of putting in planters and ‘parklets’ if we don’t retain the greenery we already have?

Because of the problem of flooding, you now need planning permission to build an impermeable hardstanding driveway over five square metres. This regulation seems weak, as it could enable driveways with minimal porosity and little or no greenery to go ahead unchecked. Extending the planning permission requirement to include all new driveways could help to encourage best practice.

As each front garden bites the dust (another song here), an on-street parking place also disappears with the dropped kerb. So, if you must have a new driveway, consider a creative compromise. The Environment Agency document Guidance on the Permeable Surfacing of Front Gardens illustrates a number of options, ranging from simple measures, such as having rain run off onto a border or lawn, to the use of porous asphalt and concrete, soakaways and permeable sub-bases. The same document also highlights the fact that drains in most urban areas were built many years ago and were not designed to cope with increased rainfall, even when unblocked! Paving front gardens adds to the problem. As the document explains, paving over one or two gardens may not seem to make a difference, but the combined effect of lots of people in a street doing this can increase the risk of flooding.

The photo here shows a front garden with a driveway in Derby Road. It’s a great example of what can be achieved. Rainwater from the drive runs into a soakaway, but crucially, the owners have made a conscious decision not to cover the whole garden. Instead, they have planted additional greenery; driveway and front garden in green harmony.

Let’s keep the floods at bay, preserving the character of our neighbourhood, keeping the birds and bees happy – maybe even re-wilding part of our existing drives. Let’s keep it green.

I’d rather be humming Sade’s Your Love is King than changing it to The Car is King!

To download the Environment Agency’s Guidance on the Permeable Surfacing of Front Gardens, visit swvg.co.uk/front