Building on a garden plot

Garden plots have had a bad press in recent years, but they can make the perfect site for a self-build project. Beyond headlines about so-called ‘garden grabbers’ concreting over vast swathes of green urban spaces, building on garden plots could help address the current housing shortfall and enable developers to build their dream homes close to local amenities and services.

In recent years successive governments have relaxed the planning laws and given implicit support to developers making use of ‘previously developed land’, framing legislation in such a way that this term now also encompasses private gardens. This means that many more garden plots are becoming available, and these ‘infilling sites’ – filling in a gap in an already built-up environment – are relatively easy to get planning permission for.

Because they are already surrounded by buildings which create a template for the size and layout of a development, most planning departments will consider designs as long as they are in keeping with the neighbourhood’s appearance. Nevertheless there are a few things which need to be taken into consideration if you’re looking to build on a garden plot.

Key Considerations

The plot you are looking at must lie within a defined settlement boundary, so the first thing you need to do is consult your Local Development Framework map or Local Plan. Most councils recommend pre-application consultations before you get down to drawing up designs, to ensure that what is being planned will complement the surrounding area rather than detract from it. The scale and style of the building should not look out of place in the neighbourhood, so if the external appearance is a drastic departure from the housing around it, your plans are likely to be rejected.

You also need to ensure that both your self-build property and the property whose garden is being built on will have a reasonably sized outdoor space once the work is complete. In the most densely built-up areas this can be difficult, and there may be restrictions on how much floorspace or volume your new build can occupy.

Consideration must also be given to the privacy of neighbouring properties, to ensure they are not overlooked and don’t suffer a loss of privacy because of your new home. On a similar note, you will need to consider access to the property and check that neighbours won’t be too disturbed by the increase in traffic, particularly critical if your plot is situated in a back garden behind existing properties. Defining access early on will reduce the risk of future disputes over boundaries and noise disturbances or inconvenience.

Garden Plots: A Good Choice?

Garden plots have plenty of advantages, so despite the negative publicity they are well worth considering if you’re looking to self-build. Because the vast majority are situated in built-up areas, all mains services are generally easy to extend into your site compared to sites in more rural locations, while you’ll have ready access to local amenities.

Planning rules around garden plots can, however, be quite strict, with most local planning authorities preferring designs to remain in-keeping with existing properties. It’s usually worth consulting a designer or architect who knows the area well and can best advise on a plan which will meet council demands – the planning department may not want an identikit house, but they will probably expect something in a similar architectural style, which might not suit those looking to be a bit more creative.

Whatever you do, check that there is valid planning permission in place before you get too committed to purchasing your plot, and find out whether your ideas are viable. For many first-time self-builders looking to complete a one-off project, garden plots can be the ideal solution when you’re hunting for your perfect site.