GARDENS are quickly disappearing in Basildon as developers use the land for seven out of ten new homes.

New statistics reveal 72 per cent of new Basildon homes were built on former garden sites in 2005 - the highest rate for any district in the east of England.

This indicates soaring levels of a practice widely referred to as "garden grabbing" - where property developers snap-up family houses with gardens, knock them down and replace them with dense apartment blocks on the same plot.

The Government was forced to release the figures for Basildon and the rest of the country, in response to parliamentary questions tabled by Conservatives.

John Baron, Tory MP for Billericay, said: "We have a real problem with garden grabbing locally.

"It must be stopped because it's unfair on local residents and spoils neighbourhoods.

"The problem is Government planning rules class gardens as brownfield sites - just like a derelict factory or railway siding - which means planning applications will be looked at favourably."

Nationally, the number of homes being built on land that was previously a garden has risen by a third since 1997, but still stands far lower than Basildon at 20 per cent.

Mr Baron is supporting a Conservative campaign to stop garden grabbing.

He said: "A Conservative bill to close the planning loophole, that defines gardens as brownfield sites, is due shortly.

"This will give stronger protection to green spaces and allow communities to maintain the character of local neighbourhoods."