Front gardens: permeable paving

Gardens can soak up rain, unlike paving, tarmac and concrete which are less porous and increase the amount of rainwater that runs off by as much as 50 percent. This additional water usually flows into street drains, which can’t always cope. The excess can then go back up people’s front drives to floods their homes. To avoid this problem, use permeable paving and keep hard surfaces to a minimum.

© RHS / Tim Sandall PUB0025182

Quick facts

  • Keep paving to a minimum
  • Non-permeable paving may require planning permission
  • Leave space for plants, including hedges and climbers
  • Allow driveways to drain into borders

Why use permeable paving?

Rain water has to go somewhere and, even if you are not flooded, it might be affecting your neighbours downhill. Where is not possible to keep garden space: keep paving to an absolute minimum and use a permeable paving material.

Permeable paving can help:

  • Reduce local flooding
  • Prevent problems with subsidence. Paving reduces or stops rainfall getting into the ground. This can cause the soil to shrink, especially if it is predominantly clay, which has consequences for structures built on it. Garden walls, paths and houses may develop severe cracks

There are many additional benefits of not paving over front gardens or keeping the paving to a minimum:

  • Leafy streets carry premium prices
  • Attractive front gardens have benefits for people too. The reduce particulate (dust) pollution and can improve health through the 'restoration' effect' of experiencing greenery.
  • Gardens provide screening and privacy, creating a green oasis for enjoyment
  • If vegetation is lost from our streets there is less to regulate urban temperatures. Hard surfaces absorb heat in the day and release it at night, making it hot and difficult to sleep. This is part of the ‘heat island effect’, which can also be responsible for poorer air quality and localised weather conditions, such as thunderstorms
  • Tending your garden at the front of the house gives neighbours the opportunity to meet and can help to build community spirit. See RHS Britain in Bloom and RHS It's Your Neighbourhood for inspiration

In addition, the research of Ealing Front Gardens Project offers 43 reasons not to pave.

Construction

The construction methods used to lay permeable paving are different from those used for traditional materials. The main difference is the hardcore foundation is formed of permeable materials too, ensuring the water can soak away.

For information on the construction methods used to lay permeable paving, see the booklet Guidance on the permeable surfacing of front gardens: additional ideas and practical tips for laying produced by the Environment Agency.

To find garden landscapers to do the work, see our Gardening Organisations page (see Garden Landscapers section). For advice on getting the right people to do the job, see our Hiring Contractors page.

Types of permeable paving

If you do choose to pave, go for permeable products that allow rainwater into the ground below. Here are just some of the materials available. However, do visit your local builders’ merchants or DIY store as you may find more options.

Gravel
Gravel is by far the cheapest permeable hard-landscaping option. It comes in many colours, depending on where it was quarried, and can be bought in bags or by the tonne. You can also buy recycled products, such as eco-aggregates, which include by-products of the ceramics industry.

Cost: Gravel and aggregate prices start at just £3.75 per sq m (inc delivery), and locally quarried materials are usually the most inexpensive.

Brick pavers
These bricks have the appearance of traditional block paving, but their interlocking shape ensures rainwater can penetrate the tiny gaps. They need to be installed correctly on to compacted aggregate so the water can drain away freely.

Cost: Priora pavers are available from Marshalls and cost from £16 per sq m. Aquaflow Permeable Paving is available from Formpave, from £18 per sq m.

This compares favourably with products of similar quality, such as Marshalls Tegula Pavers which cost about £16.50 per sq m.

Matrix pavers
Also known as cellular paving, these hexagonal cells are made from recycled plastic and hold an aggregate of your choice, such as resin-bonded gravel. They usually come in green, although other shades are available. Just lay them according to the manufacturers’ instructions, so that rainwater drains away thoroughly.

Cost: Try Hebden X-Grid from Ecopaver, which is priced at around £10 per sq m (excluding VAT and delivery).

Grass reinforcement
There is a range of products that can be used to reinforce grass. These make the surface suitable for driving vehicles over and prevent it turning into a muddy field. Grassguard from Marshalls is made from concrete (above), but there are tough plastic versions too, such as Netpave from Netlon.

Cost: Grassguard £22 per sq m; Netpave £16.50 per sq m (including delivery).

PLEASE NOTE: the prices are an approximate guide and may vary from area to area and between products.

Paving and the law

In England

  • You will not need planning permission if a new or replacement driveway uses permeable a surface, such as gravel, permeable concrete block paving or porous asphalt
  • You will also not need planning permission if a non-permeable surface directs the rainwater to a lawn or border to drain naturally
  • If the surface is to be covered with more than five square metres of an impermeable material with no border or lawns to drain into, planning permission will be needed for any driveway. This means a planning application to be made to your local council, and there is usually a fee payable (typically around £150)
  • In some areas of the country, known generally as ‘designated areas’, permitted development rights are more restricted. If you live in a Conservation Area, a World Heritage Site, a National Park, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or the Norfolk or Suffolk Broads, you will need to apply for planning permission for certain types of work which do not need an application in other areas

For more information, visit the government’s Planning Portal.

In Scotland

  • Similar measures apply. These, however, apply to paving of any size between the house and any street, not just front gardens.

In Wales

  • If you are intending to lay or replace a hard surface to the front of your house, you must use permeable or porous materials; alternatively surface water run-off from an impermeable hard surface, such as concrete, must be directed to a permeable or porous surface to the front of your home.
  • You can replace or repair a small area of up to 5 square metres of existing hard-surfacing without using permeable or porous materials. For example, to repair pot holes in a driveway, or replace paving slabs in an existing patio.
  • Significant works of embanking or terracing to support a hard surface might need a planning application.

For more information, visit the government’s Planning Portal and select the Welsh site option in the top right.

Additional drainage legislation

While the law mentioned above should be sufficient for most domestic driveways, contractors and those undertaking extensive or public projects should be aware that there is the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. This sets out the requirements of Sustainable Urban Drainage (SUDS): DEFRA: information on Flood and Water Management Act 2010

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