It’s often said that an Englishman’s home is his castle, but this isn’t exactly true. Although in most cases you have complete freedom over how you decorate your home and what you get up to within your own four walls, there are lots of different rules and regulations around building extensions and renovating. Many homeowners are under the impression that Building Control rules and Planning Permission laws only apply to the house itself, and are surprised to learn that in some cases they also apply to what you do in your garden.
Planning Permission and Fences
The first area of the garden where planning permission may come into force is around the subject of fences. If you wish to put up a fence more than 1 metre high next to a road, or 2 metres high elsewhere in the garden, you will need to apply for planning permission. This only applies in cases of new fences; if you already have a fence in the garden which is over 2 metres tall and you wish to replace it with an identical one, you will not need planning permission. There is separate legislation applying to listed buildings and conservation areas, so if this is relevant for your house or a neighbouring one, check with the council before putting your fence up. Similar rules apply to walls and gates, but if the wall concerned forms a boundary between you and your neighbour, Party Wall legislation comes into play too. Boundary disputes are one of the most common reasons of neighbours falling out and having to take legal action against each other, so before you start knocking walls or fences down to replace them with something else, have a chat with your neighbour to get their thoughts on the matter.
Garden Sheds and Planning Permission
Sheds, summer houses, sauna cabins, garden offices and other outbuildings in the garden are all classed as the same sort of thing under planning legislation. Small garden sheds and outbuildings which are less than 2.5 metres tall and which don’t cover more than half of your garden space can be put up without needing planning permission. If you are planning a shed or garden room which is bigger than that, which is in your front garden rather than out back, has a balcony or raised platform, or has two storeys needs to be approve first by the planners. Different rules apply to people living in or next to a listed building, in conservation areas or within the boundaries of National Parks.
Garden Buildings and Building Regulations
Once you’ve overcome the planning obstacles to your new garden shed or home office, then the next hurdle is Building Control. The Building Control department of your local council are only interested in garden buildings which are less than 15 square metres in size and which aren’t designed for sleeping in. If you are planning a building of a size between 15 and 30 square metres, there are rules regarding fire safety but you will not need building control approval. In other cases where the planned building is larger, or if you are planning to use it as a guest bedroom, you will have to make sure it is constructed to the standards laid out by Building Control. This does not apply to home offices, play rooms or any additional living space which does not have a bed, but if you are putting plumbing or electricity into your home office or garden room you will have to make sure that your electrician contractors are properly qualified and that their work is up to standard.
Decking and Planning Permission
We can blame the garden makeover shows of the late 1990s for our collective obsession with decking. Having a wooden platform somewhere in the garden gives you a flexible space for sitting out and where children can play, and decking is easy to maintain and keep clean. Decking is usually classed as “permitted development” meaning you can get someone in to build your decking without going through the planning process, but in some conditions planning permission may be required. If you want to install decking which is more than 30cm above the level of the ground or which covers more than 50% of the size of the garden when you take sheds into account, you will need planning permission.
Paving your Front Garden
Over the past few years we have had more severe flooding in the UK than ever before, and rules about paving over your front garden have been amended to try to minimise the risks. Most of the sudden flooding problems were caused by drains not being able to cope with water, and as water cannot flow through a hard paved surface into the ground as it can soak into a garden, the rules about paving have been tightened up. This applies in all areas, not just in areas which have experienced flooding. If you are replacing an existing driveway or paved area, you do not need panning permission. If you are wanting to pave an area with an impermeable surface like slabs or tar, you will need to go through the planning process. You can get around this requirement by looking at other sorts of surfaces which do allow water to get through. These permeable surfaces include gravel, stone chips, special clay block paving or porous asphalt. Speak to your local paving contractor who will be able to explain the features and benefits of the different options.
Retrospective Planning Permission and the Rules in Scotland and Northern Ireland
If you are not aware of the rules and put up a garden building which is too big or a fence which is too high, it is possible to apply for planning permission retrospectively, that is after the work has been done. This is a risky strategy though as you might be asked to remove the fence, decking or shed and return the garden to the way it was before if planning permission is refused. It’s also worth noting that the laws differ in Northern Ireland and Scotland to the law in England and Wales, so check with your local planning office before starting work.