Reader Stephen Young says giving up your car is one way to improve your health, wealth, and happiness. And without a car, you won’t need a driveway. Young proposes that the government pay you to sod it.
The climate is changing, and rainfall is becoming more unpredictable. When it rains, it tends to be more intense. This puts a great strain on surface drainage systems. Normally, a proportion of rainfall infiltrates into the ground, but in urban areas, properties and roads mean more paving and less natural drainage. The Pitt Review’s study of the UK’s disastrous floods of 2007, published by the UK government in June 2008, officially recognised that paving over front and rear gardens with impermeable surfaces increased the risk of floods. In autumn 2008 the UK law will be amended, removing householder’s automatic rights to eliminate permeable surfaces by converting them to car parking spaces. If this sounds trivial, it isn’t. A report in 2005 showed that around 2/3 of London’s front gardens had been partially or wholly covered in hard surfacing. Not so surprising since, at the moment, the economic incentives point towards paving over your garden to make more car parking: that way, you’ll save the fees charged by many local councils for on-street parking.
Government should give grants (eg, up to £500) as an incentive to householders to re-instate their front gardens, removing the paved-over car parking spaces that many have become, and putting back the permeable surfaces (ie, soil, shrubs and grass). Not only would this improve drainage and reduce flood risk, it will provide wildlife havens, absorb more solar heat, enhance the townscape, reduce the number of pavement crossovers thus making pavements safer for pedestrians, and provide additional wind barriers. Providing such grants may sound expensive. But the cost of the UK floods of 2007 has been put at £3billion by the Association of British Insurers, which assess the average cost of a flood to be £20,000 per property. This is in addition to other substantial costs, which are met by central government, local public bodies, businesses and private individuals.
In this context, a grant per household of a few hundred pounds is a bargain – it gives us back our gardens, reduces the economic consequences of floods, and makes life better for all of us by improving the townscape.
*Here in the U.S., the paper currency is still green.