If you’re thinking about getting planning permission for backland development, you’re not alone.
Recent research suggests 2019 will be a boom year for backland and infill developments – nearly a quarter of property investors and developers plan to spend more on building new homes in already-developed areas. Does this sound familiar?
Given the ongoing population growth in the UK, there is a pressing need for more homes, which is beginning to push out and spread into the rural landscape surrounding cities, towns and villages.
This need for new homes can, however, be easily incorporated into areas which are already developed, a process usually known as intensification. Many homes have a large garden plot at the back or at the side of the property that isn’t always used to its full potential and often can become a wasted resource, which is something that frustrates us.
Homeowners can intensify the use of their land using permitted development rights to enlarge their properties and get planning permission for backland development to build new homes to cope with the pressure and need for more space.
In this article, we will be looking closely at this concept, as well as how to design and build on already-developed areas such as towns and cities, and how you can help create additional homes right in your own garden!
Let’s jump right in…
Garden space can be the ideal solution when you’re looking to self-build, as the plot usually already belongs to you. You immediately avoid the gruelling search to find a suitable site, scope it out and the tiresome purchasing process. With this type of development, you can build your ideal investment from the comfort of your own home.
Best get started with it the definition. Backland development is a term used with land which may not be visible from the usual roadways, like for example behind a row of houses. Backland sites are usually a section of garden which has access to the road at the rear or side of a property or a plot of land in-between gardens with communal or 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. In fact, there are signs the tide is turning again.
For example, the latest draft of the London Plan indicates that higher densities of development in a suburban location 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.
Fact: Given these complexities, there is no short answer 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 is there to consider?
Everyone says that location is the most important thing when it comes to owning property, and for backland development… it sure is.
The only problem?
Your potential 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 simplifies things in terms of your planning application).
Let’s dig a little deeper…
Your LPA (Local Planning Authority) will have set regulations and policies for getting planning permission for backland developments, which you need to carefully read and 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.
Quite simply, planning considerations for backland development usually revolve around two points: access and neighbours.
Access can mean access to the site for future residents, access for emergency services, pedestrians, cyclists and cars etc. This can obviously impact the local infrastructure like leading to more cars parking on the street, which neighbours worry a lot about.
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 as they will believe this development will affect their lives and in some cases, they are right. However, we will discuss these issues later on.
Strictly speaking, you will also need to be careful that your property is not in a restricted area, such as in a designated Green Belt or a conservation area, as these areas have more policies that limit development than other areas.
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 segment of land like this has a good chance at gaining planning permission, and our example later on in the article is a site similar to this. With ownership of the main property, the division of the site will be a tricky aspect to consider.
This could be a wasteland or underutilised grazing. This 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 is important to respect the existing style of housing to get the best chance of planning permission.
This example illustrates how a site internal to an estate may look, and this tends to be one of the more complex types. The blue indicates shared access to the site which is pedestrian access only. The red alley is the only one accessible by car and is very narrow. The access may not provide adequate access for emergency services and LPA waste disposal services.
It’s almost a given for any garden plot build that you’ll be building close to other properties which you do not own, so plot developments like this will likely to have a better chance by being in keeping with other properties and the surrounding area.
Put it another way, in order to increase your chances to secure planning permission for your backland development, you will 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 (potentially by including a purpose-built one) or causing harm to large mature trees unless you intend to replant more trees on-site.
But here’s something really interesting…
There must be adequate sewerage provision and of course, you will have to navigate local politics, which can be the trickiest thing of all! With these basic tenets in mind, let’s go into some important things you need to know:
It sounds obvious, but you need to 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 outlook of the street scene 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 and safe parking and an entrance which is appropriate 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 thinking about mitigating this via design from the beginning is advisable.
Issues around maintaining privacy can be mitigated by intelligent design by adjusting room placement or using high-level glazing to adjust the line of views outside.
For example, neighbours’ concerns about a side-garden development can be mitigated by having obscured bathrooms or non-habitable rooms face them.
Another example might be that if your new development impacts on an existing outlook (particularly if it is a wide open outlook), it can be considered a loss of amenity. There are differences between an outlook and a view, however, so be sure to understand the difference and hence how you can work with it.
Trees and plants are often part of an existing streetscape and their loss can be seen as unacceptable. Their removal prior to a development can be considered, but you can still upset neighbours and, often, local councillors too.
Here’s the kicker: You should 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 of this has to be included in your planning application to have any hope of getting it through and if connecting to the public system isn’t an option, a private system must be factored in.
Let’s look at it in detail…
Waste bins are also an aspect to consider, and many councils require details of storage facilities in the site. Think I’m exaggerating?
Although there is always an element of the whims of the particular local authority (or even the individual planner/architect that you’re dealing with), in general you should try to stick to being in keeping with the local surroundings in terms of design and also materials used.
Obviously, some councils prefer a contrast to the existing street and others prefer sympathetic design approaches, so deciding which design route to take can be somewhat difficult. As such, looking to see if there are any case studies similar to what you want to create in your area will assist you in working out which the best path to follow is.
Below are some usual design typologies that we see emerging in city developments:
As previously mentioned, local involvement is key for any project.
Getting neighbours onside – particularly the nosey, awkward and busybody varieties – is a key part of getting any development through, as they are the people who may object and make your application process difficult. Their views really can make or break your development, so the last thing you want is them poring over planning rules and legislation, looking for every avenue of complaint or legal loophole in order to scupper your project. Make no mistake about it!
With this in mind, ensuring your neighbours have insight into what you are hoping to create is something to take into account. As a golden rule, involve your neighbours from the get-go and keep them engaged throughout the process so they see you as a friend rather than a foe.
Gardens have always been a rich source of plots, whether at the rear, side or (occasionally) in front of a property, but building in such spaces has been subject to the ebb and flow of planning policies over the years.
By now you’ll be wondering whether it is possible to get planning permission for backland development. The answer is: Yes!
To do this, however, you will need to make sure that you seek advice from a professional, such as an architect or planning consultant like us, with proven experience in the field, from more simple extensions like the white house above to ambitious multi-building projects like the one featured at the top of the page. We can work with you to make sure it’s wholly feasible to create a backland / infill development on your property.