Boundaries: open plan

Jon Maynard Boundaries Ltd, Boundary Demarcation and Disputes, Rights of Way, Expert Witness, Chartered Land Surveyor


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Boundaries of open plan front gardens;
Shared driveways and parking

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Making the boundary visible
Driveways and parking
Shared driveways
Boundary Definitions: Where is the boundary of my open plan front garden?


For a number of decades, planning authorities have required that an open plan layout is imposed on front gardens in residential developments. The thinking, presumably, is that the urban landscape that benefits from an open plan layout is more pleasant to behold than one where the view is interrupted by the fences or hedges that surround every front garden.

Developers have moved away from regimented rows of houses in favour of more sweeping, flowing arrangements of buildings and roads. Again, the thinking, presumably, is that the urban landscape that benefits from such flowing lines is more pleasant to behold than a landscape filled with straight lines. The old rectangular plot is giving way to a many sided, less regular shaped plot.

When these two phenomena are combined in a single development, as they usually are, then the physical expression on the ground of property boundaries is lost. There is a proverb that states "Good fences make good neighbours." Perhaps it should be expressed as: good fences make for good neighbour relations. The fence provides a line across the land surface that warns neighbouring landowners that they cannot behave the same way on one side of the fence (their neighbour's land) as they do on the other side (their own land).



Boundary Definitions: Where is the boundary of my open plan front garden? I have always, and certainly for more than twelve years, mowed my front grass right up to the edge of my neighbour's driveway. I say that all of this grass is mine, but he claims that the three feet of grass nearest to his driveway belongs to him. Which of us is right?

Your neighbour is almsot certainly basing his claim on the position of the boundary shown on the transfer plan (or the conveyance plan) for his property. This boundary is almost certainly in the same position as the boundary shown on the transfer plan (or the conveyance plan) for your own property. Your neighbour is therefore the paper title owner to the three feet of lawn that you are claiming as yours.

The only basis for your claim to ownership of this three feet of grass lawn is presumably adverse possession on account of your cultivation of the lawn over a long period of time. Cultivation is an appropriate act of ownership. Unfortunately, in order to demonstrate adverse possession you must also demonstrate factual possession of the land. In order to do this you must enclose the land so as to exclude both the world at large and the rightful owner in particular. The covenant that makes your front garden open plan, which will certainly be included in your transfer deed (or conveyance), prevents you from enclosing your front garden and thus prevents you from demonstrating factual possession of part of your neighbour's front garden.

Your neighbour is correct because it is impossible to adversely possess a part of your neighbour's open plan front garden.


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Making the boundary visible

There are things you can do to render a boundary visible even in an open plan front garden. First you should check your deeds (conveyance or transfer) to see what any covenant says about limits on the erecting of fences or growing of shrubs: what height limits apply and whether there is a distance from the road frontage beyond which these restrictions do not apply.

Also, visit the planning department of your district council to ask whether they have a view as to what you can and cannot do in your particular front garden.

If it is not permissible for you to erect a 1.8 m high fence, or even a 1.0 m high fence, along the side of your front garden, you might still be permitted to use an ormanmental fence of low posts and chain, or to plant a miniature hedge. If nothing else is permitted then you can at least sink a line of edging stones into the turf: these are the stones that are more often used as an edge to a tarmac driveway. They are usually 25 mm wide, 150 mm deep, and 2.4 m long, and can just as easily be sunk into grass lawn, flush to the surface, to make a permanent, 25 mm wide, "white" line across the grass. At least it identifies the boundary, even if it lacks the barrier qualities of a wooden fence.


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Driveways and parking

Sometimes, a developer can make an open plan front garden area .... well, just too open.

In the drawing at right, the developer had laid a continuous surface of brick paviours across three properties to serve both as hard standing and driveway, the driveway to double as a private right of way. There was no visible distinction between the driveway (i.e. the right of way) and the hard standing (i.e. private parking) areas.

No. 18 enjoyed a private right of way across both Nos. 19 and 20. The owner of No. 18 objected to the owner of No. 19 that No. 19 was parking too many cars on the driveway and claimed that as a result No. 19 was obstructing No. 18's right of way.
Inspection of the title deeds revealed that No. 18's private right of way across No. 19's and No. 20's land was much more limited in extent than the owner of No. 18 had realised. It was in fact limited to the area hatched red on the drawing at right.

No. 19's parked cars were not in fact obstructing No. 20's right of way. If anything, No. 18 was trespassing on No. 19's private land every time their cars strayed outside of the red hatched area.

The situation between the neighbours might not have arisen if only the developer had had enough foresight to differentiate between driveway and hard standing, perhaps by using a different colour paviour for the right of way than was used for the hard standing, or by indicating the edge of the driveway by changing the pattern in which the paviours were laid.


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Shared driveways

So called "shared driveways" can occur in open plan front gardens or they can be retro-fitted to older housing. Examples of the latter occur in 1930's houses where two neighbours have made an agreement with each other that enables each to build a garage in his rear garden. Each of the two houses has a side access way that is too narrow to allow passage of a car, but if the fence between the two properties is removed then there is enough space to for a car to pass between the two houses on its way to the rear garden.

The principle of a shared drive is the same whether it was purpose built on an open plan front garden development or retro-fitted to 1930's houses, as in the diagram at right.

No. 31 owns that part of the shared driveway that is hatched blue and enjoys a right of way over that part of the shared driveway that is hatched green. The owners of 31, appreciating that the blue hatched land is burdened with a right of way in favour of No. 33, have parked the blue car completely off the shared drive so as not to obstruct No. 33's right of way.

The owners of No. 33 have parked their green car entirely on their own land, but are oblivious to the fact that they have obstructed No. 31's right of way. The green car at No. 33 should not have been parked there.

Neither neighbour has a right to store anything (such as dustbins, stocks of gardening or building materials, tool stores, etc) on the shared driveway as this would obstruct their neighbour's right of way.


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