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Guidance on the permeable surfacing of front gardens

From 1 October 2008 the permitted development rights that allow householders to pave their front garden with hardstanding without planning permission have changed in order to reduce the impact of this type of development on flooding and on pollution of watercourses.You will NOT need planning permission if a new or replacement driveway of any size uses permeable (or porous) surfacing, such as gravel.

If the surface to be covered is more than five square metres planning permission will be needed for laying traditional, impermeable (Concrete, tarmac etc.) driveways that do not provide for the water to run to a permeable area.

Applying for planning permission will require you to fill in an application form, draw plans (which have to be to scale) and pay a fee of £150. Planning applications for this type of householder development should normally be decided within 8 weeks after submission.

What is the problem with paving front gardens?

Serious flooding in 2007 affected the UK. This resulted in loss of life, disruption of peoples’ lives and caused damage estimated at about £3bn. In many cases the flooding happened because drains could not cope with the amount of rain water flowing to them. The effects of climate change mean that this kind of heavy rainfall event (and subsequent flooding) may occur more often in the future.

The drains in most urban areas were built many years ago and were not designed to cope with increased rainfall. Paving front gardens further adds to the problem. Although paving over one or two gardens may not seem to make a difference, the combined effect of lots of people in a street or area doing this can increase the risk of flooding. The harm caused by paving gardens is not limited to just flooding. Hard surfaces such as concrete and asphalt collect pollution (oil, petrol, brake dust etc) that is washed off into the drains. Many drains carry rainwater directly to streams or rivers where the pollution damages wildlife and the wider environment. In older areas the rainwater may go into the foul water sewer which normally takes household waste from bathrooms and kitchens to the sewage treatment works. These overflow into streams and rivers in heavy rainfall. As more water runs into foul sewers from paved areas there are more frequent overflows, passing untreated sewage into watercourses.

Replacing grass and plant beds with concrete and asphalt surfaces means that water does not soak into the ground. This reduces the amount that reaches our natural underground aquifers. Some water that soaks into the ground will evaporate back into the air, causing a cooling effect around the house. This is lost if the garden is covered with hard impermeable surfaces and can cause local temperatures to rise (often referred to as the urban heat island effect).

How can we prevent the problem?

You can provide paved areas in front of your house without adding to flood risk and pollution. You can use permeable surfaces that allow water to drain into them or by other methods such as rain gardens. Gravel (Permeable) driveways are often more attractive than an expanse of concrete, adding value to the property. These types of surfaces can also be better for the environment, cost considerably less and do not require a lot of maintenance.

Planted and gravel driveways

The Royal Horticultural Society has identified many simple ways that a green or gravel driveway can be created. These green solutions provide an attractive space that can be used to park cars.

This is the most simple type of construction. The driveway sub-base is covered by a weed membrane then the gravel is placed on top to a depth of 2 to 3 inches. Gravel with different shapes and colours is available to make the surface more decorative. A strip of block paving or asphalt at the entrance can make the edge into a neater line.

Reasons why opting for Gravel

Simple to construct and maintain. Cheap and easy to lay. Materials readily available. Easily integrated with planting to provide visual enhancement to driveway layout.

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