Residential front fences

Local municipal Councils produce development control plans (DCPs) which act as background for their determinations about development in their local government areas.

These DCPs contain information about various matters, from floor space ratios to percentages of sites required to be ‘deep soil plantable’. They also contain planning and design guidelines about residential fencing – so as to ensure that private property boundary fences (facing both the street and other properties) don’t physically or visually overwhelm the streetscape or neighbour’s lots.

In my landscape architectural and heritage work, I’m very often talking clients away from their desire to create ‘fortified’ boundary walls around their properties. I discuss the many benefits of not enveloping a site with modern day bulwarks, getting clients to consider the streetscape as-a-whole and benefits to passers-by of being able to appreciate the exquisite garden they are just about to install. A ‘portcullised’ mindset can, however, be hard to dislodge.

Whilst Council control guidelines are pretty strict – for both the good of the physical and visual suburban environment – certain aspects of new developments do slip past those guidelines from time to time.

I saw a good example of this recently, on a property where a developer had knocked down a lovely cottage to build a much larger residence. In sync with the new over-sized house came what could only be described as fortifications facing the two streets which the property fronts.

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The subject fencing (as seen above) is c.2.5 metres high and totally overwhelms the abutting footpath and adjoining property. Alarmingly, the fence’s scale is actually quite in keeping with the massing of the residence, a house whose compliance with the local Council’s DCP on a range of matters is questionable. That’s another issue. The subject local Council’s DCP says that front fences should generally not exceed 1.2 metres in height and contains various other objectives, including avoiding adverse impacts. Clearly, controls regarding fencing were not rigorously applied to this development.

One contributing factor, which is common to many suburban areas of Sydney, is that most residential streets contain a total mishmash of fencing styles. It’s therefore very difficult for Councils to enforce a design typology unique to a certain locale.

A broader aspect worth mentioning, regarding front fences, is the topic of ‘good design’ – so often overlooked in fencing treatments. In the case of the property discussed above, the architecture of the front fence is left sorely wanting. A nearby fence of a new apartment complex (seen below) shows how a reasonably low front fence/wall, in a modernist style with articulation, can add an interesting visual element to the streetscape, whilst not being in conflict with the street or adjoining properties.

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