Beat­ing over­look­ing is­sues

It’s a com­mon rea­son given by coun­cils for re­fus­ing plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tions, but how can you get around over­look­ing? Plan­ning ex­pert Mike Dade ex­plains the op­tions

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Avoid this com­mon rea­son for plan­ning re­fusal with Mike Dade’s ex­pert ad­vice on pre­vent­ing over­look­ing is­sues

When you’re look­ing to con­struct a new house (par­tic­u­larly on an in­fill or back­land plot), ex­tend or con­vert a build­ing, you must al­ways take into con­sid­er­a­tion the im­pact the new struc­ture will have on your neigh­bours’ pri­vacy. But some­times a de­gree of over­look­ing seems in­evitable, so what are the best ways to over­come this is­sue?

Pro­tect­ing pri­vacy

Over­look­ing neigh­bours is one of those plan­ning con­sid­er­a­tions that gets lumped un­der the gen­eral head­ing of ‘res­i­den­tial amenity’. Pri­vacy is some­thing coun­cils’ poli­cies aim to pro­tect, although the word­ing and level of de­tail varies a good deal be­tween dif­fer­ent au­thor­i­ties.

Views from win­dows, bal­conies and raised deck­ing or pa­tios into the liv­ing spa­ces of a neigh­bour­ing prop­erty, both in­side and out­side the house, are the main con­cerns. How­ever, there are no fixed stan­dards as to what is or isn’t an un­ac­cept­able im­pact, and much de­pends on the den­sity and pat­tern of hous­ing in the area, plus the de­gree of pri­vacy that the neigh­bour­ing houses cur­rently en­joy. For ex­am­ple, in close-knit ur­ban sit­u­a­tions, house­hold­ers tend to have much lower lev­els of pri­vacy than in the more spa­cious sub­urbs. As a gen­eral rule, front-fac­ing win­dows and gar­dens don’t have as much pri­vacy than the back, as they’re of­ten over­looked from the street any­way.

When you’re analysing the po­ten­tial suit­abil­ity of a plot or con­tem­plat­ing an ex­ten­sion, it’s vi­tal to take into ac­count the pri­vacy of neigh­bour­ing prop­er­ties. If they have win­dows that are fac­ing your plot, what rooms are they in? A liv­ing room, kitchen or bed­room is more sig­nif­i­cant in pri­vacy terms than a hall­way or land­ing, for in­stance. If you’re ex­tend­ing, are any win­dows that might be af­fected by the new struc­ture al­ready over­looked from your house any­way?

Out­side, a neigh­bour­ing pa­tio area, hot tub or swim­ming pool would be par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive to hav­ing views across from your house, un­less pri­vacy was al­ready com­pro­mised. For in­stance, with ter­raced and semi de­tached houses, there is al­ways a de­gree of over­look­ing of neigh­bour’s gar­dens from rear win­dows.

If you’re un­sure of the lay­out of next door’s house you might be able to get de­tails from the coun­cil’s plan­ning records. Al­ter­na­tively, a friendly visit to in­tro­duce your­self as a po­ten­tial new neigh­bour/to dis­cuss the ex­ten­sion you’re plan­ning might prove help­ful.

De­sign, lay­out & lev­els

Deal­ing with po­ten­tial over­look­ing starts with how you po­si­tion your new house on the plot. Be sen­si­tive to lev­els, as a raised view to­wards your neigh­bours is al­ways go­ing to be hard to mit­i­gate. Low­er­ing floor slabs and ceil­ing heights can help to pre­vent el­e­vated views. In ex­treme cases, a bun­ga­low may be the only way to de­velop the site with­out caus­ing un­ac­cept­able over­look­ing.

Leave as much space as you can from sen­si­tively po­si­tioned win­dows and con­sider how the shape of your house can be con­fig­ured to avoid sit­ing new win­dows where they might

cause over­look­ing. If your win­dows have to be fac­ing to­wards neigh­bours (par­tic­u­larly on the first floor) can you de­sign a lay­out in which it doesn’t mat­ter if these rooms don’t have a good view of the out­side? For in­stance, ob­scured glaz­ing wouldn’t be an is­sue in bath­rooms, hall­ways or land­ings. New bal­conies or roof ter­races needs par­tic­u­lar care – pri­vacy screens can pre­vent views, but need to be an in­te­gral part of the de­sign rather than an af­ter­thought tacked on when a prob­lem sur­faces.

Where your house would back on to an­other, a sep­a­ra­tion dis­tance of around 21m be­tween rear win­dows is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered ad­e­quate – although coun­cils’ de­sign guides might set out a dif­fer­ent fig­ure. Note that such rule of thumb guide­lines tend to be aimed at the de­vel­op­ment of whole new es­tates rather than the sit­u­a­tion where a house is be­ing set amongst ex­ist­ing prop­er­ties.

Glaz­ing op­tions

If over­look­ing is likely from your win­dows, ob­scured glaz­ing (such as frosted glass), non- or lim­ited open­ing units can pro­vide so­lu­tions. This is fine in spa­ces like bath­rooms, but isn’t ideal ev­ery­where, for in­stance as a main bed­room win­dow. The coun­cil will as­sume that a fu­ture oc­cu­pier of your house would want some sort of out­look from their bed­room, and seek to re­move the ob­scured glaz­ing. That said, if your bed­room had a prin­ci­pal win­dow fac­ing to the rear and an­other to­wards the neigh­bours at the side, then ob­scured glaz­ing of the smaller one should be con­sid­ered ac­cept­able.

An al­ter­na­tive is to go for high level win­dows in rooms where you want day­light, but an out­look isn’t es­sen­tial. Rooflights can give plenty of nat­u­ral il­lu­mi­na­tion, along with an out­look of sky and po­ten­tially tree tops, but they’ll avoid cre­at­ing a view down into your neigh­bour’s gar­den. Dif­fer­ent coun­cil’s at­ti­tudes to high level bed­room win­dows varies, with some re­sist­ing on the ba­sis they don’t af­ford the oc­cu­pier suf­fi­cient amenity, even though they pro­tect the neigh­bours.

Plant­ing, fences & bunds

Over­look­ing can some­times be mit­i­gated by plant­ing or fenc­ing. At ground floor level, a 2m-high close­board fence along a flank bound­ary is likely to elim­i­nate the po­ten­tial for over­look­ing be­tween ground floor win­dows, and a well-kept hedge could have the same ef­fect. Although be aware that this could also cause loss of light or out­look to your neigh­bours, so take other ‘res­i­den­tial amenity’ is­sues into ac­count.

It’s some­times pos­si­ble to mit­i­gate higher level over­look­ing is­sues by means of tall hedges or tree plant­ing, but such mea­sures take a long time to prove ef­fec­tive, plus cov­er­age varies be­tween the sum­mer and win­ter. Coun­cils prob­a­bly won’t favour to­tal re­liance on trees or hedges as a means to elim­i­nate over­look­ing, but they can still be help­ful as part of a range of mea­sures. Fast grow­ing Ley­landii conifers can pro­duce an ef­fec­tive screen in a few years once set­tled, but plan­ners tend not to like them due to past prob­lems with such hedges get­ting out of con­trol. The same goes for earth bunds (banks) – although ef­fec­tive as screens they have a ten­dency to dry out and not sup­port planted trees or shrubs. A low bund might be ac­cept­able as a means to give new plant­ing a bit of a leg up in pro­vid­ing a screen quickly.


Fos­ter­ing good re­la­tion­ships with your neigh­bours is a help­ful part of any plan­ning process and avoid­ing ob­jec­tions from them will cer­tainly help to boost the prospects for your ap­pli­ca­tion. But don’t rely on hav­ing your neigh­bours pre­pared to write to the coun­cil say­ing they don’t mind be­ing over­looked – plan­ning of­fi­cers take a more ob­jec­tive view and con­sider if any fu­ture oc­cu­pier of the house in ques­tion would be happy.

If the im­pact on pri­vacy wasn’t great, and the is­sues in the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion finely bal­anced, then the sup­port of your neigh­bours could help to tip the de­ci­sion in your favour. Like­wise, any rel­a­tively mi­nor over­look­ing is­sues could be blown out of all pro­por­tion if your neigh­bours strongly ob­ject – par­tic­u­larly if they have friends at the coun­cil.

Top & inset:The plan­ning re­quire­ments for this self build home dic­tated that it needed to avoid over­look­ing neigh­bours, so the de­sign byD&M Homes fea­tures care­fully po­si­tioned glaz­ing, a stepped fa­cade at the front and a fence on the up­per storey ter­race at back of the house

Above & above right: Build It reader Chris De­syl­las brought Snug Ar­chi­tects on board to de­sign a re­place­ment dwelling that would not only look nicer, but also im­prove the previous prop­erty’s over­look­ing is­sues. All the win­dows at the side of this house fea­ture ob­scured glass and are much less in­tru­sive than those on the orig­i­nal prop­erty. At the back of the dwelling, fixed lou­vres help to pre­vent over­look­ing

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