If you’re thinking about getting planning permission for backland development, you’re not alone. Recent research suggests 2019 was a boom year for backland, infill developments and nearly a quarter of property investors and developers plan to spend more on building new homes in already developed areas.
Given the UK’s ongoing population growth,there is increasing demand for more homes, which is beginning to spread into rural landscape surrounding cities, towns and villages.
This need for new homes can be incorporated into areas which are already developed, a process usually known as intensification. Many homes have large garden plots at the rear or side of the property that aren’t always used to full potential and are often a wasted resource.
Homeowners can apply for permitted development rights and planning permission for backland development to intensify and enlarge their land and build new homes to meet the demands for more space.
Backland development is a term used for land which may not be visible from the usual roadways, such as behind a row of houses. Backland sites are usually a section of garden with road access at the rear or side of a property, or a plot of land in-between gardens with communal or a private access alley.
For some time this kind of site was included within the definition of ‘previously developed land’ and subject to requirements to meet minimum density targets. That led to a backlash against so-called ‘garden grabbing’ and ‘town cramming’, meaning these spaces took on a more protected status. But the pressure is on for increased levels of new housing, with guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) seeking to significantly boost the supply.
Garden space can be the ideal solution when you’re looking to self-build, as the plot usually already belongs to you. So you avoid the gruelling search to find a suitable site as well as stressful purchase processes. Essentially, you can maximise your ideal investment from the comfort of your own home.
The latest draft of the London Plan indicates that higher densities of development in suburban locations would help meet housing needs and that density matrixes (essentially defining high, medium and low-density areas) should be ditched in favour of a more flexible approach. To all intents and purposes, government planning policy then specifically excluded gardens in built-up areas from the definition of previously developed land, opening up the possibilities to develop existing plots.
Given these complexities, there is no short answer as to whether you can or can’t build in your garden, as you need to consider a lot of potential issues when working out whether it is feasible to build on your property. So what are the considerations?
Location is often the most important thing when it comes to owning property and this is particularly true for backland development.
However, your property needs to have direct access to the road, either by a boundary fence or through access via alleyway or access road, preferably with you being the owner of the access as well. This will simplify matters in terms of your planning application.
Your Local Planning Authority (LPA) will have set regulations and policies for getting planning permission for backland developments which you need to take on board to ensure the best chance at success. Planning policy is your best friend in this process, so work with the information the LPA provides. This will be more beneficial in the long run and will help your planning process go smoothly.
Access to the site for future residents and for emergency services, pedestrians, cyclists and cars is crucial. But this can obviously impact the local infrastructure leading to more cars parked on the street which is a concern for neighbours.
Overlooking, overshadowing, outlook, privacy and daylight and sunlight are the main planning considerations where neighbours are involved. Your neighbours are likely to object to your development if they believe your development will affect their lives and in some cases are justified.
Strictly speaking, you also need to be careful that your property is not in a restricted area, such as designated Green Belt land or conservation areas, as these areas have more policies that limit development than others.
By contrast, restrictions in terms of the type of developments and scale may be reduced significantly if your property is in one of the following areas:
These projects provide you with a set street scene. Using a corner plot segment of land like this has a good chance at gaining planning permission, and the similar example below. With ownership of the main property, the division of the site will be a tricky aspect to consider.
Land to the rear could be wasteland or underutilised grazing. It may not be attached to a specific property or could be owned by a property next to the site.
This is an example of a side plot that can be extended onto, making the most of the client’s unused garden space. In residential areas it’s important to respect the existing style of housing to increase the likelihood of planning permission.
The diagram below illustrates how an internal site on an estate may look, and this tends to be one of the more complex types. Blue lines indicates the shared access to the site which is pedestrian access only. The red alley is the only one accessible by car and is very narrow. Therefore this access may not provide adequate access for emergency services and LPA waste disposal services.
Garden plots mean you’ll be building close to other properties which you do not own so development should be in keeping with neighbouring properties and the surrounding area.
So in order to increase your chances of securing planning permission for your backland development, you’ll need to be considerate of your neighbours, taking into account the need to maintain their privacy, natural light requirements and outlook. You should avoid impacting on available parking spaces within the streets, by potentially including a purpose-built one, or causing harm to large mature trees unless you intend to replant more trees on-site.
There must of course be adequate sewerage provision and you’ll have to navigate local politics, which can be a challenge!
Here are the most important six planning considerations for your backland development:
It sounds obvious, but you must ensure that your development has enough space and if your project is running along the side of an existing property – which is a popular option – you need to consider the street scene outlook and the effects of your addition. Your development also needs to fit with the pattern of surrounding properties and you should avoid designs that looked cramped or shoehorned in, as these are often rejected.
This includes adequate, safe parking and an appropriate entrance in terms of fire safety and other aspects. This will be the case for all but the most centrally of located plots and some quiet cul-de-sacs. Noise and general disturbance can be an issue for neighbours so this must be mitigated by considered design from the beginning.
Privacy issues can be mitigated by intelligent design,adjusting room placement or using high-level glazing to adjust the line of views outside. For example, neighbours’ concerns about side garden developments can be addressed by having obscured bathrooms or non-habitable rooms facing them.
If your new development impacts on an existing outlook – particularly a wide open outlook – it can be considered a loss of amenity. You must understand the differences between an outlook and a view so you can work around it.
Trees, plants and wildlife are often part of an existing streetscape and their loss can be deemed unacceptable. Their removal prior to a development can be considered but this can often be a concern for neighbours and local councillors.
You need to have an ecological survey done if you think that your development might impact on protected species like newts, bats or other reptiles. Making sure that your development includes additional trees, plants and pollinator flowers can help win points with the Council during the planning stage.
Your new development will have to connect to the local drainage and sewerage system, and surface water must drain away to the soakaways. All this must be included in your planning application and if connecting to the public system isn’t an option, a private system must be factored in for an chance of success.
Waste bins are also an important aspect to consider, and many councils require details of allocated on site waste storage facilities.
Approval can often be influenced by preferences of a particular local authority, or your individual planner/architect, but you should ideally ensure your design and materials are in keeping with local surroundings.
However, interestingly, some councils prefer a contrast to the existing street whilst others prefer sympathetic design approaches, so deciding which route to take can be complex. Researching similar case studies in your area will help you work out the best concept.
The following design typologies are usually found in emerging city developments:
As previously mentioned, local involvement is key for any project.
Getting neighbours onside, particularly awkward and challenging ones, is key to getting any development through as they may well object and make your application process difficult. Their views can make or break your development if they research every legislative avenue or legal loophole in order to scupper your project.
However, ensuring your neighbours have insight into what you are hoping to achieve is important. As a golden rule, if you involve your neighbours from the outset and keep them engaged throughout the process so they’ll see you as friend rather than foe.
Garden plots have always been a rich source of development potential, whether at the rear, side or occasionally at the front of a property, but utilising these spaces has been subject to changing planning policies over the years.
So whilst it’s possible to get planning permission for backland developments, using our proven experience and expertise, from simple extensions as shown above, right up to ambitious multi-building projects like the one featured at the beginning will maximise your chances of success.
Whatever the scope of your project, we’ll work with you to ensure that your backland/infill development is feasible.