Rooftop gardens not only provide an oasis of calm in city and town centres, but will also more than pay for themselves
‘Terraces that are the height of good taste’
They are the ultimate refuge from the stresses of city life, create new outdoor entertaining space and can raise the value of a property by as much as a fifth. Little wonder, then, that rooftop gardens are now the most desirable form of outside space. Research by Chesterton Humberts estate agency has shown that homes featuring such terraces can command more than similar properties without any garden, even if these homes have an extra bedroom or more internal floor space.
If you’re considering creating your own oasis above the eaves, however, there are vital considerations to take into account. If the space overlooks other properties or you want to build substantial walls, for example, then planning permission is likely to be required, even if you are converting an existing flat roof.
Tony Woods, who runs the garden design and landscaping business Garden Club London, has just finished working on a new roof garden on top of John Lewis in Oxford Street, central London. Half of his business in London now comes from rooftop projects.
“The Great British public are protective of their castles,” says Woods, the Royal Horticultural Society’s young garden designer of the year 2013. “If people are overlooked they notice, and no matter how well neighbours get on they will pick up the phone to their local authority. Often with loft conversions with small roof terraces the council will stipulate that we have to put in screening so that the neighbours aren’t affected. “In many cases there are houses with one-storey extensions with a flat roof that are crying out to be roof terraces but councils stipulate that, for the privacy of others, they can’t be converted”.
If you live on a conservation area, it can be a real struggle to get permission, as the actor Sean Bean discovered after a long running battle with his neighbours in Belsize Park, north London, over his plan to build a roof terrace on his £4 million home. Local residents complained to Camden council that this would compromise their privacy and last month Bean lost an appeal.
It also emerged this week that Nick Leslau, the owner of Alton Towers, is being investigated by Camden council after it was alleged that work was being carried out on a £500,000 “horticultural theme park” roof garden in Primrose Hill. Leslau is accused of starting work on the project before obtaining planning consent. (Leslau’s wife, Maxine, denies any such work has started.)
Planning issues vary between regions and boroughs. The award-winning garden designer Charlotte Rowe, who is currently putting together a show garden to mark the centenary of the First World War at the Chelsea Flower Show, says:
“Kensington and Chelsea are very sniffy about anything that’s not plant material that is above the height of a standard balustrade.”
Roof terraces aren’t just for summer and fire features are a growing trend. “More people are asking for fireplaces and firepits that can be used as barbecues,” Rowe says. “There are no particular problems with putting a fire on a roof because you can often use the existing chimney or gas”.
Woods is also receiving more requests for these and says that there has been a surge in interest in external media systems. If you plan to install such items, however, you’ll need to consider the effect they may have on other properties. Woods says: “Outdoor televisions and speakers are very popular, but they’re not something that adds to good neighbor relationships.”
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Check your lease
If you live in a leasehold flat you may need to seek permission for the work. Rowe says: “People don’t realise that they can’t just stick a roof terrace on their house or flat unless the owner or managing agent or freeholder approves it.” Remember also that plans must be approved by a structural engineer.
Remember the structural work
A roof terrace is typically 30 per cent more expensive than creating a ground level garden – from £12,000 to £60,000. Steel beams will be required if the existing structure is not strong enough to take the weight. Rowe says: “There are structural issues and the expense of craning things in, such as trees and soil. It’s not just a question of putting a few pots up there.”
Think about the access
A road closure may be required if using a crane, says Woods. “You have to get all of your suppliers to deliver at the same time, which isn’t easy. Design with access in mind – hardwood flooring like balau only looks good laid in 4m lengths, and if you only have small lift or narrow staircase for access you can’t use it.”
The Times / Bricks and Mortar
May 16 2014