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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

Help prevent local flooding, improve the local environment and increase the value of your house

Help prevent local flooding, improve the local environment and increase the value of your house: that cant be a bad deal can it!

With the recent flash floods in London and the warnings from continental Europe of more to come, I thought now was a good time to return to my theme about the damage done by concreted gardens.

In a recent report, the Royal Horticultural Society warned that paving over our front gardens has a surprising impact on the wider environment. Hard-surfacing gardens can also cause flooding and increase local temperatures?

Gardens can soak up rain, while paving, tarmac and concrete are less porous and increase the amount of rainwater that runs off by as much as 50 per cent.

This additional water usually flows into street drains, which can’t always cope with the thousands of extra litres in a storm.  

RHS Principal Environmental Advisor, Rebecca Matthews Joyce, explains, “The water has to go somewhere and, even if you are not flooded, it might be affecting your neighbours downhill.”

The report continues with further warnings:

The other main environmental impacts are at local level. “If vegetation is lost from our streets there is less to regulate urban temperatures,” explains Rebecca. “Hard surfaces absorb heat in the day and release it at night, making it hot and difficult to sleep.” This is part of the ‘heat island effect’, which can also be responsible for poorer air quality and localised weather conditions, such as thunderstorms. Plus, higher temperatures mean that air conditioning units are more likely to be installed, which use extra energy and fossil fuels.

Attractive front gardens have benefits for people too. They provide screening and privacy, creating a green oasis for enjoyment. Tending your garden at the front of the house gives neighbours the opportunity to meet and can help to build community spirit. 

There are also financial incentives for keeping front gardens. London Assembly's Darren Johnson explains, “If lots of homeowners along a single street pave over their gardens, then the average house price can drop.” Leafy streets attract buyers and make the area more desirable. However, in contradiction, estate agents point out that in areas with controlled parking zones, off-street parking can actually add thousands to the asking price.

The other costly issue is subsidence. According to Neil Curling, Senior Subsidence Manager at Halifax Home Insurance, “Hard paving can cause severe subsidence as it reduces or stops rainfall getting into the ground.” This can cause the soil to shrink, especially if it is predominantly clay, which has consequences for structures built on it. Garden walls, paths and houses may develop severe cracks.

The Environment Agency is also worried about this issue, in their, Guidance on the permeable surfacing of front gardens, they say: 

Replacing grass and plant beds with concrete and asphalt surfaces means that water does not soak into the ground. This reduces the amount that reaches our natural underground aquifers. Some water that soaks into the ground will evaporate back into the air, causing a cooling effect around the house. This is lost if the garden is covered with hard impermeable surfaces and can cause local temperatures to rise (often referred to as the urban heat island effect).

While paving over one front garden might seem of little consequence, the effect is cumulative.

The worst culprit for paving over front gardens is London, with half of all front gardens paved over and a 36% increase over the last ten years. London also had the biggest decrease of plant cover in front gardens in the UK, with five times as many front gardens with no plants compared to ten years ago.

When the London Assembly examined aerial photographs of the capital, it found that 12 square miles of front gardens are now under paving. This is the equivalent of 22 Hyde Parks. “If this was a real park that had been lost, there would be a huge public outcry,” says Darren Johnson, chairman of the London Assembly’s environment committee.

Translated to the local level, the figures are still astounding. A typical Ladder garden is 70 square feet. In my road there are 130 houses: that means the total front garden area is 9,100 square feet. I think I'm right in saying that in my road, most of the gardens are concreted. But, let's be generous and say only 75% are. That means that the total area of concreted gardens is 6, 825 sq ft.  That's an area bigger that Fairlands Park. 

Translating that to the whole Ladder, would give a concreted area of about one-fifth of a square mile. For the whole of Harringay (neighbourhood), it's between a third and a half of a square mile.

Thinking of only environmental issues, what impact must that have?

Some people worry about what to replace the concrete with. Small stones or gravel provide a perfectly good surface for your bins to wheel alomg and stop the surface getting muddy in the winter. If you must have hard-standing, there plenty of man-made permeable surfaces.

Check-a-trade suggest the cost can be as low as £250:

A tradesperson will normally charge around £150 per day to remove a concrete patio, but they rarely work alone so you should allow another £100 per day for a labourer as well.

It should usually take no more than a day for two people to remove your concrete patio.

So, if you've been thinking about de-concreting your garden, now's a good time to crack on and get it done!


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RHS, Greening Grey Britain
Environment Agency - Guidance on the permeable surfacing of front gardens

Tags for Forum Posts: concreted front gardens, front gardens

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The benefits of ripping up the concrete and planting a garden are real. I removed concrete from the back and front gardens of my house and re-wilded it. Its now much cooler and pleasant. We have bees and birds and the air just seems nicer. 

Re the costs, you can do it yourself quite easily if you hire a jackhammer. But do also consider the cost of having the rubble removed responsibly. This can be several hundred pounds.

Thanks for sharing that experience, Ozbawn.

For the record, Check-a-trade estimate £100 for disposing of the detritus of a patio removal. 

It cost me £200 for the front garden concrete rubble after some shopping around. The key thing is to see their license and satisfy yourself they won't just dump it up the road.

We used hippo bags for our rubble, after a fun time with a hired concrete breaker.

We were going to replace concrete slabs with sandstone slabs due mainly to a failure in imagination, but then found out you need planning permission for a new non-permeable surface even if it's replacing an existing one. This got us reading about why, so now going with DIY gravel (been slow going though!)

If anyone needs any nice blue slate shingle that could be used to do probably two front gardens I'll have about a tonne (15m² at 40-50mm) in a week or two once I clear a section of my back garden of it! Cheap (or free if you can bag it up - I've had a bout of acute back pain). 

Unfortunately most front gardens are paved over to accommodate the numerous bins each household has to have. With more than 50% of the houses on the street where I live being multy occupancy there is little choice. 

Kathleen, whilst I understand why that might seem to be the case, allow me to respond with a couple of observations. 

On my mid-Ladder street, I'd say 100% of the concreting was done in the middle of the last century, well before the advent of the wheelie-bin. 

Even now, though, in the age of the awful wheelie-bin, a concrete surface is absolutely not necessary. The 'service' part of our front garden is gravel/small pebbles. It never floods and provides a perfectly good surface to wheel the bins across ( I can tell you that without doubt, because I wheel the bins to the edge of the path each week so that bin men don't pull then across the planted area). Unfortunately, the tiled front path was concreted over before I moved in. I eye it occasionally and ruminate. In fact I have a complete original Victorian path from Beresford Road, sitting in plastic sacks in my cellar. But it's been a bit of back-burner project. One day, Henry, one day.....

On my mid-Ladder street, I'd say 100% of the concreting was done in the middle of the last century, well before the advent of the wheelie-bin. 

That's interesting. I wonder what it was that led to that shift in the mid-20th century?

This is the sort of thing that a grassroots initiative could make a real difference with.

The front gardens in my road in N17 were already concreted over when we moved in 35 years ago - some of the front gardens had a narrow border along the wall which sported a privet hedge.The front strip is very narrow - when built c 1910 they did have railings (as apparently did Carlingford Road and those roads )but they went for war iron (though apparently a blind man near Turnpike Lane was allowed to keep his so that he would know it was his house!)

I think it was probably due to a number of factors. Firstly, it was the era when anything Victorian was being covered up or ripped out. Houses were being given a ‘modern’ look in an early flush of DIY enthusiasm. Also, it was at a time when all the tiled front paths were beginning to decay and very expensive to maintain. Perhaps as the front parts were concreted, people just did the whole garden.And, last, it’s possible that people did it because the neighbours were doing it. Who knows?

Barry Bucknell has a lot to answer for :-)



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