There are several matters of concern for Dulwich residents which appear to be taking on a greater significance. Interestingly, they are all inter-related. The first is the problem of finding a parking space close to one's own house. The second is anxiety over the possibility of subsidence of one's home. The third is the threat of flooding caused by occasional, but increasingly more frequent, storms.
As Dulwich and East Dulwich are largely Victorian and Edwardian suburbs, the streets are often narrow, built at a time when the passing of two horse drawn delivery carts, unimpeded by the parking of other vehicles alongside the curb determined a road's maximum width. Narrow roads allowed landowners to build more dwellings on a site. A growing number of residents, exasperated over damage to their parked cars on Dulwich's now congested streets have resorted to turning their front gardens into a parking space. Those residents living in houses with either a narrow frontage, often coupled with a very short front garden cannot avail themselves of this solution.
Many front garden conversions are a great success, both aesthetically and ecologically. Others are not only a complete eyesore with every vestige of plant life eliminated, but they visually impair the appearance of the street itself. Such - treatment also has implications for neighbours. Property values are usually determined by location. If the location assumes an aesthetically poor appearance then inevitably property prices in that location will not be as high as a location where the aesthetics are good. One only has to look at the Bellenden Area Renewal Scheme to note the success the restoration of front garden walls and the replacement of railings and gates has made not only to the appearance of the area, but also to improvements in social behaviour and steeply rising property values.
Other problems are created for everybody by poorly thought-out conversions of front gardens into parking spaces. The first problem may arise for the actual house owner himself. All Dulwich houses are built on very deep clay which is susceptible to shrinkage and expansion depending on rainfall. Most Dulwich houses are built on a very shallow concrete raft of foundations which will be affected by the movement of the clay which might in some cases lead to subsidence. By fully paving front gardens, and by turning rear gardens into apparently labour saving paved areas, house owners are diverting the rainfall away from their houses and thus depriving the clay beneath of the water it requires to remain stable.
Not only that, but rainwater is carried away from the property altogether adding pressure on already possibly inadequate storm drains and thus creating the danger of flooding in some areas. Elsewhere in this issue of the Newsletter the issues are addressed in greater detail. It may well be that locally a code of practice should be drawn up or improved guide lines issued for hard-standings within Conservation Areas and the Dulwich Scheme of Management Area.
As the Newsletter was about to go to the printers, the Royal Horticultural Society published a report of its concern over the national loss of front gardens. It noted that 14% of London house-owners had paved over their front gardens.