Paving a Front Garden: Step by Step Guide

Paving over a front garden is a great way of getting the extra parking space that modern families need. Particularly in over-crowded suburban areas which were built before cars came within reach of ordinary people.

You can still pave over your front garden, it’s just a bit more admin and planning work than before. But the tide of opinion has swung against the idea of replacing a soft area of grass and plants with concrete or paving, for a number of reasons.

In this article we’ll explain the issues and help you to deal with them step-by-step. We won’t cover the actual building of the drive; that is a huge topic that will depend on the materials you decide to use and is covered by the construction pages of this site. We’ll give you links to other articles which will explain the various areas in more detail.

The Planning Changes – and Why

Whether the reasons for changing the planning laws with regard to front gardens are good or bad depends on your viewpoint.

They are:

  • Paving stores up the heat during the day and releases it at night, contributing to global warming.
  • Rain runs off into drains and sewers increasing flood risk
  • Insects, birds and small animals lose valuable environments when a front garden disappears

The upshot of this was that the government introduced new regulations in England to control the paving of front gardens – see our article on the subject here. Let’s go through those changes and see if they affect your plans.

Step 1 – Do you Need Planning Permission?

The rules introduced by the English government in October 2008 have not yet, at the time of writing, been introduced in Wales. But Scotland already had similar regulations in place, and in Northern Ireland there’s no requirement for planning unless the drive is over five square metres, in which case permeable or porous materials must be used.

In the case of the English regulations, which are expected to be copied in Wales eventually, the idea isn’t to persuade people to apply for planning permission but to persuade them NOT to. Essentially you now have to get planning permission if you want to put in a traditional hard-surfaced driveway down in your front garden with no drainage. As long as you use permeable paving or put a drainage system down you won’t have to do this.

How the planning inspectors are going to check this remains a mystery, but we must advise you to follow the rules. Incidentally the new rules apply if you are replacing a driveway as well as creating a new one.

Step 2 – Creating a Drainage System

The new regulations state that water must not run onto the public highway so unless your drive slopes away from the road, down to your property, you’ll need to excavate a channel at the border of your drive and the pavement or road. This should then be diverted into a channel that runs into a soakaway which allows the rain to return to the water table slowly and naturally.

The key phrase here is SuDS, which stands for sustainable drainage systems. These are drainage systems that can cope with normal (and all but the most extreme) conditions without having to dump water into the local drainage system.

A newer phrase in the paving world is a rain garden – basically designing the garden so that it acts as a soakaway in itself. This is a whole topic in its own right but essentially you divert surface water into gullies and channels on the surface which can be filled with gravel, left bare or planted up. The idea is to slow the water down so that it soaks naturally into the ground instead of straight into the drains.

A soakaway is similar but is a separate tank underground so it’s more effective but more expensive. You will need to calculate flow rates using average rainfalls to decide what you will need to keep your new driveway compliant.

Step 3 – Excavation and the Sub-base

Many people think the foundations for a driveway aren’t that important but getting this wrong can mean having to dig up and re-lay the driveway in very short order.

Depending on the ground conditions of your front garden and the materials you’ll be using for the surface, you will need to excavate far enough to cater for the sub-base and any drainage channels or pits.

If you’re going down the permeable or porous surface route you will need to lay down a porous sub-base, not the usual hard-core, as this won’t let water through slowly enough. Look for materials graded 4/20 or Type 3 sub-base materials – these will have larger grains that won’t settle as easily.

Step 4 – Permeable or Porous Materials

Material choice is important and even within the relatively restricted range of porous materials, there’s still a huge choice.

If you’ve decided to go for planning permission for a non-porous driveway surface, and have got it, then you can choose any surface you like and there are articles all over this site that cover the pros and cons of the hundreds of choices.

Here are some of the main categories of permeable or porous surface materials for a driveway:

  • Gravel – but larger grains which are resistant to packing
  • Some resin-bound loose surfaces
  • Specialist hard surfaces with holes in honeycomb-like patterns
  • Tarmac – but only if classed as ‘open graded’
  • Small stone or concrete blocks if laid with spacers to hold inter-block gaps open for drainage

Don’t forget you can use almost any other surface – but you MUST have an adequate drainage system in place or apply for planning permission. You can also find out more about permeable surfaces here.

There’s also another trick – treat the driveway as two paths, one for each set of vehicle tyres, and leave the space either side as grass or ground cover plants. You’ll be covering up less of your front garden and can easily resolve all the problems associated with paving it over.

Step 5 – Lay your Driveway

That’s it – the only thing to do now is getting on and finish the job. Whether you are doing it yourself or using a driveway contractor you’ll find lots of information on these pages so feel free to have a browse and take it all in.

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