4. FAQs

4.1. Surely building on small sites is more trouble than it’s worth?

There are lots of good reasons to build on small sites. They can improve the appearance of a messy or overgrown plot. They can add value for the owner or developer, and by enhancing their surroundings they add value to the whole neighbourhood. More people living in an area helps support local services such as shops, schools and public transport. And they help enable Lewisham to meet its housing requirements, including for affordable housing.

4.2. Affordable housing: isn’t that impossible on small sites?

Lewisham Council will be looking for affordable homes and strategies which keep build costs down, and the cost in use low, locking in affordability throughout the the development’s life. For example, avoiding lifts and minimising shared common parts, instead providing everyone with their own front door will reduce both build costs and keep service charges low on most schemes.

4.3. I’m thinking of extending my home. Is this the guide for me?

Lewisham Council has produced a separate Alterations and Extensions SPD which sets out how those who want to extend an existing property should go about it. This document is intended for the use of those who are looking to create one or more new homes on an existing site. However, if you are intending to extend your property to create an additional home, you should refer to both documents.

4.4. What are the main constraints on small sites development?

Size: Many planning application refusals for small sites are on the grounds of over-development, where applicants try to squeeze too much into a small plot in a way which is overbearing or which negatively affects the amenity of neighbours or of its own future inhabitants. There is no one-size-fits-all rule for what is appropriate on any given site, but a successful development is one which is appropriately scaled to its context.

Overlooking: The architecture of small sites will often need to work harder to protect and achieve privacy and outlook of neighbours and at the same time provide adequate privacy and outlook to the new residents, especially where several homes are proposed. Courtyard houses where the windows look into the centre of the plot might provide a solution in some cases. Elsewhere, angled windows and setbacks can help preserve privacy where outward facing windows are needed.

Shading: There are specific measures that can be done to ascertain the shape, or “envelope”, within which one is free to develop. This will depend on orientation, daylight and sunlight changes throughout the year and existing adjacent windows. The resultant envelope might sometimes lead one to propose something unusual: a tall skinny house or a ground-hugging triangular house might solve issues of overlooking or overshadowing. Small sites are often located on leftover plots or backland so constraints will vary considerably, and will often need careful design to overcome.

Access: Small sites always need to provide access to emergency vehicles, refuse collection and deliveries.

4.5. Should new development look the same as other buildings in the street?

Not necessarily, but it is worth starting by looking carefully at the context of where you plan to build. Photographing architecture of all styles in the immediate area might well capture the character of the area; some of the more common materials, entranceways, doors, window types, roof shapes, and landscaping which work well in the street. This context will have a certain massing, including the height of particular elements and set-backs from the pavement or garden walls. In planning new homes, proposals should demonstrate an understanding of this built context. The new architecture – whether on the street or set back in the block – should relate to, or reference, the features of the adjacent existing buildings; its massing and visual appearance either working as a sympathetic addition in the context or working as a counterpoint which adds positively to the identity of the neighbourhood.
This will be particularly important in Conservation Areas where their special character is usually comprised of a coherent design or repeated patterns of buildings, spaces or features.

4.6. What density will Lewisham planners accept?

There are no hard and fast rules about the capacity of small sites for homes. Each application will be considered on its merits, but clever, sensitive design will enable denser development particularly if the proposal has a good mix of sizes and tenures.

4.7. Can we remove some trees?

Occasionally smaller trees can be taken down and new ones planted within the site, but mature trees are almost always an asset to their neighbourhood and should be retained and built around. This also helps ensure that net positive biodiversity can be achieved.

4.8. Can garden space be shared?

Playstreets, yards and shared allotments and gardens will be welcomed within a new cluster of homes and adjacent lanes but private amenity will still be required at ground level, as balcony spaces or as roof terraces.

4.9. What about parking?

Small site developments in accessible locations should be planned to be car free; elsewhere they should only provide the minimum necessary parking. Cycle parking for residents and guests should be convenient to access and front-staged, as it is expected that over the coming years more forms of two wheel transport will come into regular use.

4.10. Should we have security gates?

Small sites development should not be gated. They should be treated as part of the streetscape and public realm. Where possible, sites should be made permeable, with through-routes for walking and cycling.