TOPPING OUT - GERALD COLE

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Please Fence Me in

Five questions answered about fences and walls.

I’m not one to speak ill of neighbours (not in their hearing, anyway) but within griping distance of me is a house half hidden by a painted steel fence just over head height. 

Occasionally one panel slides noiselessly aside to allow a car to enter or leave. Entry is strictly by videophone to one side of the panel, next to a letterbox flap.

What intrigues me about the house is that it’s more or less identical to my own. That is, an unexceptional ex-local authority four-bedroom semi with just enough room out front to squeeze a car between pavement and front door. 

Walls and fences are not immediate priorities for most selfbuilders – but considering them early in your project can reap dividends and potentially save you a great deal of time, trouble and cash.

But our views on privacy and security clearly differ widely, mine veering more towards a knee-high front wall in crumbling brick and two excessively noisy dogs. 

Walls and fences are not immediate priorities for most selfbuilders. They’re often left to post-build landscaping. But considering them early in your project can reap dividends and potentially save you a great deal of time, trouble and cash.

Here, then, are answers to five questions that may, or may not, have occurred to you.

 

1 When should you start thinking about fencing? 

When you buy a plot you become instantly liable for injury or death suffered by anyone on that site, even if they’re there without your permission or knowledge. 

Site liability insurance will cover you financially. But if your site includes anything potentially dangerous – a derelict building you plan to demolish, a well, a deep pond – a wise precaution is to bar access with temporary fencing at least two metres high. Heras is the best known name for wire mesh fencing.

Once your build is underway, however, security fencing becomes a legal obligation under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, otherwise known as CDM.

At that point it becomes the responsibility of your contractor. But beware. If you act as your own project manager, hiring in trades as you go, you take on the contractor’s CDM responsibilities - including the security fencing.

Again, it should be at least two metres high, though for urban plots, timber hoarding up to three metres high is more common.

This not only deters trespassers and thieves but, hopefully, the complaints of your new neighbours who won’t have to view the muck and mess of your site.

 

2 Do existing fences establish boundaries? 

Not always. Title plans registered with the Land Registry in England and Wales and the Land Register in Scotland should show your plot boundary with a thin red line. Sometimes it has a ‘T’ mark with the tail extending into a property to show that it has responsibility for the boundary. A double ‘T’ mark indicates joint responsibility with a neighbour. But the boundary is an outline at best.

If you have any doubts, you can insist on a boundary agreement signed by the vendor and the neighbours, which can be added to the title deed.

Once that’s settled, it’s generally regarded as good manners to site the outer face of your fence on the boundary, facing your new neighbour. Support posts are placed on your side. This also makes maintenance and repairs easier.

Incidentally, if you decide your neighbour’s fence is an offence against good design, or it’s collapsing and they won’t, or can’t afford to, repair it, you can cover it up with your own fence, as long as it’s erected within your boundary.

 

3 What are the planning restraints on new walls or fencing? 

Generally speaking any fence, wall or gate fronting a road, footpath or public highway should be no higher than a metre. Otherwise the height limit is normally two metres, including trellis panels. A higher barrier would usually require planning permission.

This is also required where your plot is in a Conservation Area, part of the enclosed area around a listed building or you share a boundary with a listed building. 

 

4 Are there any constraints on building materials?

Not unless your wall or fence borders a public highway and you hope to deter burglars with a topping of barbed wire or broken glass. These can only be used at heights over 2.4m, which will need planning permission.

You’ll also need to display warning signs. Spiny or prickly plants, trained to grow up the barrier, can be just as effective. Otherwise, your choice of building material is up to you. Timber fencing remains a favourite thanks to its low cost, convenience, visual appeal and ease of maintenance. Costs rise significantly with masonry walling, though it’s hard to beat for endurance, low maintenance and acoustic insulation.

 

5 Is there is a legal obligation to erect a barrier?

Surprisingly there is no legal obligation, unless in very specific circumstances. These include: living next to a railway or a disused mine, where livestock can stray onto your property and because the deeds of your property require it.

But leaving things too late is unlikely to endear you to your new neighbours.