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Where can you fence to in Canberra?

By Emily Morris 1 April 2018 26

Reclaimed wood planks with water stains and nail holes.

Fences – or the lack of them – are a defining feature of Canberra’s suburbs. Are you considering building a fence? And when is a fence a fence, rather than a “free-standing structure” or a “courtyard wall”?

Here are some basic rules. And if you’re unsure about anything, contact the Department of Planning on 6207 1923 or click here.

The basics: Fencing Rules

As a general rule, boundary fences between neighbours are fine in the ACT. They’re regulated in a manner similar to other states and territories. (common sense rules like no taller than 2.3m; if its metal, no sharp edges allowed; mustn’t block the flow of surface water; etc. apply)

Where the ACT is different however is that front fences taller than 40cm are banned (hedges exempt). Territory planners have always wanted an open line of site on streets. If you want to build a front fence you need to apply for development approval, which you probably won’t get.

Having said that, there are some – SOME – loopholes.

These are:

  1. Corner blocks. Do you live on a street corner? If so, your property is more exposed and visible. As such, a privacy exemption might be made and you may be allowed to build some kind of fence. But you’ll have to apply.
  2. Courtyard walls”. And…. this is where things get slippery.

Courtyard walls are different to fences in the ACT. And plenty of developers have milked this exemption like the family cow.

For example, my block of flats in Turner has what I thought were front fences. Each of the units facing the street has what appears to be a fence.

Only it’s not a fence, apparently. Even though it looks walks and talks like a fence. As it turns out, it’s a courtyard wall.

I know what you’re thinking: what is a courtyard wall? And how is it not a fence?

Well, here’s the jist. Courtyard walls tend to sit back from the property’s front boundary. They tend to be in high-density areas, like newly developed flats.

When applying to build a courtyard wall— and you have to apply — your application is assessed on a case by case basis. Each block is unique and approval will depend on its precinct code.

Again, when considering your application the government is mostly looking at privacy concerns and sometimes noise.

(If you’re interested, the full exemption details are here. The nitty gritty is on pages 20-22 of the ACT Planning guide.)

Who does fencing in the ACT?

Well, you can do it yourself. Like everything, this is the cheaper option. If you want to build a fence just drop into Bunnings.

What’s Your opinion?


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26 Responses to
Where can you fence to in Canberra?
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MsCheeky 2:45 pm 05 Nov 13

There is Woppadingo’s advice to just go ahead and if you do, you know it’s always easier to seek forgiveness than permission, 😉

But NO, NO, NO! Do not plant cypress leylandii. They are monsters completely unsuited to urban landscaping. They grow at the rate of about one metre a year, and can do that for 40 years. They also suck everything from the soil. They are such a problem in the UK, that the High Hedges Act was enacted specifically to deal with them. They are used as ‘spite hedges’, say where a neighbour has been unsuccessful in objecting against a development. A little googling will show some fine examples.

woppadingo 1:49 pm 05 Nov 13

The simplest advice I can give would be ‘DONT TELL THEM”
Just go ahead and do it. Your neighbours dont have the same hangups about front fences as the mouth breathers do. So dont worry about them dobbing you in.

Thumper 8:30 am 05 Nov 13

JC said :

Thumper said :

As Mr Caulfield suggests.

Plant a hedge. Of course, once it starts growing you could always build a fence behind it, so that the hedge completely covers it in the future.

Best hedging plants in Canberra seem to be Photinia, Pittosporum or Leyland Cyprus, (although the latter needs some care to form a hedge)

That’s what someone in Macgregor has kinda done (on the corner of Osburne Drive and Clubbe Street). Though in their case they build the fence out of colourbond, then must of been told to take it down, so what they have done is removed the panels, but left the frames and are have now planted around the outside. I reckon once the hedge covers the frame the panels will go back in.

Ironically this place is on a corner block, my understanding is on corner block it is ok to build a fence from the rear boundary along the side boundary line to level with the front of the house. In the case of the house I am talking about if they had of stopped the side fence (facing Osburn Drive) in line with the house it would have meet the regs.

Ha.. Yep. I’ve seen that place. It’s yellow with a photinia hedge, well, not really a hedge yet…

miz 10:15 pm 04 Nov 13

You can sometimes get viburnum tinus (sometimes called ‘Laurestinus’) as tube stock – usually around $3 ea. They are a little slow growing, but this is actually good thing as they only need a prune once a year. They cope with frost, drought, shade and full sun, so you don’t get that patchy look under trees. As an added bonus they get pretty magenta-tinged buds that open into white flower clusters. AND, they are fire resistant (as I found out when an adjacent neighbour’s wood fence burned down).
In comparison, cypress hedges are pretty high maintenance and are considered a fire hazard (see Dr Google). Photinia flowers truly stink and attract flies – yuck. Pittos grow sparsely in the shade.

JC 6:12 pm 04 Nov 13

Genie said :

I live in a battleaxe property and want to enclose my front yard.

I can only build a pool fence to 1.5m high, and it has to be covered by either a hedge or mesh etc.

However I can’t build a solid fence.

Bizarre rules

I am confused. If you have a battleaxe how do you have a front yard?

JC 6:08 pm 04 Nov 13

Thumper said :

As Mr Caulfield suggests.

Plant a hedge. Of course, once it starts growing you could always build a fence behind it, so that the hedge completely covers it in the future.

Best hedging plants in Canberra seem to be Photinia, Pittosporum or Leyland Cyprus, (although the latter needs some care to form a hedge)

That’s what someone in Macgregor has kinda done (on the corner of Osburne Drive and Clubbe Street). Though in their case they build the fence out of colourbond, then must of been told to take it down, so what they have done is removed the panels, but left the frames and are have now planted around the outside. I reckon once the hedge covers the frame the panels will go back in.

Ironically this place is on a corner block, my understanding is on corner block it is ok to build a fence from the rear boundary along the side boundary line to level with the front of the house. In the case of the house I am talking about if they had of stopped the side fence (facing Osburn Drive) in line with the house it would have meet the regs.

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