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Building in your garden: What is backlands planning permission?

A backlands plot is land at the back or side of an existing property. It is often part of a large garden and not visible from the roads surrounding it, but importantly is big enough to accommodate a new home.

Once known as 'garden grabbing' and heavily opposed by local authorities, in recent years this sort of infill development has become viewed as a more acceptable way to help meet housing needs by intensifying the density of houses in built up areas.

Such plots can offer an attractive opportunity for a self builder to create a new home on land they already own.

There are a few considerations and possible barriers to obtaining planning permission on a backlands plot, but a well rounded application that provides answers to the following questions has a higher chance of success.

Challenges of a backlands project

Access and neighbours are the main challenges for a backlands application, but not the only constraints to consider. Other considerations are around space, privacy and design.

In order to be planning friendly, your backlands plot needs to have direct access to the road, either by a boundary fence or through access via alleyway or access road. If you are the owner of the access then it will simplify matters in the planning application.

Neighbours are often against new developments like this, especially in a previously unoccupied space. However, objections aren’t always an obstruction if you can prove that all the planning policies have been adhered to and the development won’t considerably affect views or rights to light.

Space is fairly self-explanatory; the proposed home must have enough space around it in the plot to provide an area that doesn’t feel cramped or change the pattern of surrounding homes. Privacy is a part of this consideration around the plot location and distance to neighbouring properties.

Design is the key to unlocking backlands plots and a sensitive scheme will help you to avoid many of the challenges above. However with all the constraints mentioned, getting a design that works for both you and the planners is itself something of a challenge. Form and materials may be somewhat determined by the location, whether that is having to stick to a single storey house in order to avoid disrupting view or using a vernacular material to be in keeping with the area.

Site map for our North London application.


Local regulations and policies are unique to each planning authority so hiring an architect with specific experience of backlands planning applications as well as using a planning consultant is recommended. Their joint expertise will ensure that you are set up for success.

You don’t necessarily need a designer that has experience in the local area, just an understanding of backlands plots and their constraints.

Advice for backlands plots:

  • Hire an experienced designer.

  • As neighbours can be an obstacle, keep them in the loop from the start so you know what to expect and can avoid any contests, if possible. These can drag out your planning process.

  • Complete a planning pre-application to get advice and insights on the main challenges.

  • Ensure the build is a sustainable, future-proof home. Environmental benefits do still hold weight.

  • Prove that the development will improve the use of the land.

Planning in North London

In our latest backlands planning application and approval, the new dwelling was proposed to replace an unused tennis court on a site within a Conservation Area. As backlands plot applications can be contentious, we completed a pre-application process to gather insights about what might cause issues for the local authority.

A previous concept design for the scheme.

Planning pre-application advice is a key part of the process for a project where there has not been a home in the spot before or you want to establish some fundamental principles for the development of the site before developing your design too far. This stage can be slow but provides essential feedback from the local planning authority on the viability of the project and the likelihood of their support for your scheme. Learn more about pre-apps here, we do talk about this project in particular in that article.

Luckily for us, this site already had access from the road, with a gated entrance and wide pathway down the side of the existing home that was suitable for vehicles. The trees on and surrounding the plot conceal the majority of this new home from neighbouring properties, so it does not impact on any views for the neighbours nor affect their right to light.

Thinking about developing a backlands plot?

Call the studio on 020 3034 0720 or email to discover how we can help you get planning permission for your project.


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