Sustainable Design > Rural Entrance Guide
Access considerations should be a key feature of rural dwelling design in terms of both safety and character.
A properly located and well-designed access is essential for the safety and convenience of all road users – those proceeding on the public road, including cyclists and pedestrians, as well as those using the access. Developments should not therefore be located and designed on the assumption that the car represents the only realistic means of access for the vast majority of people. The proximity of the proposed access to junctions, other existing accesses and the total number of accesses onto a given stretch of road are all relevant matters which will need to be taken into account.
The acceptability of access arrangements will normally be assessed against the following issues:
All planning applications must state the details of the development and its transport requirements. How do you get access onto the site? It is best if the site has or allows for the creation of a single track hedge lined laneway. Is there enough room to park and turn cars within the site?
In circumstances where an existing access is available to facilitate development proposals, the relevant governing body will generally expect the applicant to comply with the design standards set out in (TD 42/95) Geometric Design of Major /Minor Priority junctions in Northern Ireland, or in accordance with County Engineering standards in the Republic of Ireland.
Where an existing access is to be used, but is sub-standard, a condition requiring its improvement prior to the commencement of development will normally be imposed.
It is recommended that the architect or designer checks the implications of the sightline requirements for a proposed site before a site is acquired. Junction design is a key element of the overall design process for the majority of all development proposals. Safe road accesses are usually straightforward, containing no surprises for the driver. Before proceeding with any design proposal it is vital for the applicant or designer to take account of a wide range of factors including:
To enable drivers to safely cross or enter road traffic streams, they must be able to see and judge their approach speeds and available gaps in the road traffic. The required sight distances may differ for each individual road. Sightlines will be calculated on the basis of the speed limit of the road except where the speed of vehicles on the stretch of road appears to be in excess of that speed limit.
The “Clear Sight Triangle” is the term used for the area of unobstructed sight distance required at a junction. This is measured from a driver eye height of 1.05m to an object height of 1.15m. (Visibility within this triangle must be unobstructed). The “Clear Sight Triangle” is defined by its ‘x’ and ‘y’ distances. The ‘x’ distance is measured along the centre line of the minor road from the edge of the running carriageway of the priority road. The ‘y’ distance is measured along the near edge of the running carriageway of the priority road from the centre-line of the minor road. Where access is on the outside of a bend, and additional area will be necessary. Once provided, visibility splays must be retained and kept clear from any form of planting.
Further guidance on junction sightline requirements can be found within the National Road Authority’s Road Geometry Handbook, Geometric Design of Major /Minor Priority junctions (TD 42/95).
Applications for a new house, or extensions to existing houses (if planning permission is required) must meet these standards for sightlines at the access to the public road. This also applies to accesses that are remote from a proposed new house such as a long rural access lane. Gateways and entrances to lanes that have been in use for decades often have to be adjusted substantially to comply.
Sometimes meeting the required standards can prove difficult within your legal property boundaries. Alterations may be necessary that affect your neighbour’s boundary such as realignment of their boundary hedge or wall, removal of mature trees, or even the removal of a building. Any or all of these may be unacceptable to your neighbour and without their written consent your application will be refused.
Character is what makes a place unique or different from other areas. It is those features that are found in an area that are not found anywhere else that contribute to this. Factors to be considered include:
An assessment of character examines the overall aesthetic quality of what we see and can help to assess whether it is pleasing to look at or not. It identifies very special and attractive ingredients in the mix listed previously and signals when the aesthetic quality of some of these things is under threat.
Access arrangements can have a significant impact on roadside boundaries, field patterns and the rural landscape in general, so it is important that consideration be given at the outset of a project to more than just satisfying engineering standards. Steps should be taken to ensure minimal disruption to existing character and maximum integration of the scheme.
Every effort should be made to retain existing roadside boundaries wherever possible. New development should supplement and enhance roadside boundaries with indigenous planting and landscaping, consistent with that throughout the site / garden of the property.
The planting of a new hedgerow should take place between the months of October and March to ensure successful establishment. The new plants should be planted in a double, staggered row at 500mm (50cm) centres to ensure an appropriate thickness of hedging. Sufficient width should be allowed for the established hedge (2m). If possible, link the new hedge to an existing hedge to provide an effective wildlife corridor.
Pruning plants will aid their establishment, promote growth and ensure a good shape. Plants should be cut back to about half their height after planting. Any failures in the planting mix should be replaced the following planting season by the same species. New growth should be protected from weed competition until it is established. In certain circumstances young hedges may also need to be protected from livestock or even people. Fencing at least 1m away from the hedge on each side may be necessary until establishment has been reached.
Often clumsy treatments of traditional rural entrances can result in the “suburbanisation” of country roads. Design decisions should be informed by local character and traditions in terms of position, form, scale and materials to be used for boundary walls or gates.
Decisions regarding elements such as gates an pillars are an extension of the house design and can have a significant impact on the overall integration of the scheme. In general overly elaborate gates and pillars should be avoided, and the entrance treatment should be informed by local tradition and craftsmanship. The following issues will need to be considered:
Much of the character of country roads is lost by the removal of native hedges and mature trees along the length of visibility splays at access points to new houses, and the subsequent failure to reinstate these. The erection of new boundaries of open timber fencing, blockwork, imitation stone or brick walls (combined with excessively ornate gateposts, gates and/or railings) can all substantially undermine the signature rural character of the countryside and make it very difficult for the boundaries of a new house to blend in.
Avoid sites where features that cannot be removed easily, if at all, occur within the Envelope of Visibility either on your own or neighbouring property.
Fig 5.2 illustrates an existing rural laneway at the point where it meets the Public Road. This provides the only vehicular access to a proposed site further along the lane. There is no scope to create a new access point elsewhere along the remainder of the applicant’s road frontage.
On the applicants side of the lane the existing hedge and a freestanding electricity pole fall within the ‘Envelope of Visibility’. Although both of these can be repositioned to achieve clear visibility the position of the outbuilding and the fact that it cannot be moved will mean that this planning application will be refused.
Sometimes it is impossible to achieve sightlines anywhere at all along the road boundary of a proposed site. In an effort to resolve this entrances are moved further along the road beyond the actual property boundaries to a point where sight lines are achievable (often necessitating the additional purchase of a narrow strip of land from a neighbour).
The effect of this so-called ‘solution’ is that the entrance gateway and the initial length of the driveway has a very weak visual relationship to the position of the new house and its main site boundaries. The configuration of the driveway is convoluted and tortuous and such approaches will be discouraged.
Fig. 5.3 has a relatively short road frontage. It is situated at a bend in the road and it is not possible to achieve the required sightlines for a new access at any point along the site frontage.
In order to comply the new entrance gate would have to be moved well beyond the original site boundary.
Apart from having to buy more land to do this there is a visually weak relationship between the gateway/ first length of drive and the otherwise well sited house and its surrounding boundaries. A gateway in this position creates a driveway that is not integrated with the rest of the site. This approach should be avoided.