Will I Need Planning Permission for Landscaping Plans?

When most of us thing about landscaping a garden we’re thinking of a bit of planting here, perhaps a deck or a terrace there. The thought of planning permission would probably never enter a gardener’s mind. But there are some circumstances when planning permission might be required.

Specialist Situations with Planning

First let’s talk quickly about the situations we won’t be discussing in this article. If your garden landscape plans include a garden building, you may well need planning permission but this is covered in detail in our sister site: AGardenBuilding.

There has also been a lot in the news recently about paving over front gardens, something that is now being frowned upon. Similarly this is covered on another sister site, DrivewayExpert. In this article we’ll be looking at the potential situations in an ordinary back garden that might need planning permission.

Different Rules in Different Areas

As with most articles that touch on planning permission we have to point out that the rules differ through the United Kingdom and the different regions too. The bodies that handle planning differ in the various constituent countries although England and Wales share the same overall authority.

You might also be in a Conservation Area or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In both cases efforts are made to ensure that planning rules are applied that protect the look and feel of an area, so rules will be specific to that area. Unfortunately the only way to find out the rules that operate in your area is to research them at your local planning office, or on their website.

Having said that, there isn’t really a great deal that you can do when landscaping your garden that will attract the attention of planners or other authorities. The troublesome areas are usually to do with privacy, trees and boundaries.

Tree Preservation Orders

Trees are under blanket preservation orders in many local authority areas. This means that you will have to prove a good reason for taking a tree down. It could be diseased or present a safety hazard. Often even if planners agree to the tree coming down they may insist a replacement is planted, perhaps a more manageable tree.

Even if that is not the case planners may be more amenable to your landscape plans if you can prove that you will be planting more trees than you are cutting down, particularly if the replacements are native to the region. Often the reason for wanting to remove a tree is that it is blocking the light coming into your home and making it too dark. Note that this is not usually a good enough reason on its own.

Privacy and Garden Landscapes

Contrary to popular belief planning law does not protect landowners’ privacy or views. But it does protect their light, so if you are planting anything that will overshadow a neighbour’s house you might get into sticky water. Be careful with terraces, raised decking and other level changes that might affect privacy.

Although planning law doesn’t protect privacy there may be clauses in your title deeds (or your neighbour’s), that do. So, make sure you check your paperwork. And it doesn’t hurt to discuss your plans with your neighbours and make sure they are unlikely to have any objections.

Boundaries, Fences and Hedges

Last but by no means least, boundary disputes are second only to noise in popularity as causes of dispute between neighbours. If new fences or walls are going up as part of your landscaping plans then in most areas they can be up to two metres high without requiring planning permission.

Hedges are less restricted because their height changes as they grow and are pruned. But the government took action a few years ago because of the sudden proliferation of Leylandii hedges. The concept of an ‘action height’ has been introduced, the idea being that any hedge that grows over the action height for a property should be lopped.

The action height differs from property to property but the government has a link to a spreadsheet on the Prime Minister’s website that can be used to calculate it. The minimum action height is two metres, but Leylandii can grow to over ten times that height in a few short years.

Check to be on the Safe Side

The main advice to anyone thinking of embarking on a major landscaping project, with changes of levels, fencing or anything else that could be a little contentious, is to check with the planning office first. They would much rather talk to you and advise you beforehand than get involved in messy legislation and court cases after the event.