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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.

thebrownstreak69 4:20 pm 04 Nov 13

Very Busy said :

thebrownstreak69 said :

Is it best to buy your viburnum as immature plants? Can you grow it from seed?

(Disclaimer: I don’t know **** about gardening)

Immature plants are fine. You would have the resemblance of a good hedge after about 4 years in most situations if planted 1 metre apart. Not something you can propagate from seeds. It is possible to strike cuttings but probably not worth trying if you “know **** about gardening”.

Thankyou.

Very Busy 3:06 pm 04 Nov 13

thebrownstreak69 said :

Is it best to buy your viburnum as immature plants? Can you grow it from seed?

(Disclaimer: I don’t know **** about gardening)

Immature plants are fine. You would have the resemblance of a good hedge after about 4 years in most situations if planted 1 metre apart. Not something you can propagate from seeds. It is possible to strike cuttings but probably not worth trying if you “know **** about gardening”.

poetix 3:00 pm 04 Nov 13

Thumper said :

poetix said :

Thumper said :

….

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

Don’t you find that the Leyland Cypress tends to ‘travel all over the countryside’?

In a four wheel drive?

I’m running out to ask them if it’s cyprus or cypress before they disappear on another ‘adventure’.

GardeningGirl 2:57 pm 04 Nov 13

SheepGroper said :

. . As for front fences, over two decades ago when I asked ACTPLA they said they’ll act on a complaint but won’t actively go looking for breaches, given current funding levels I seriously doubt that they now have people scouring the suburbs looking for illegal fences.

I think that as long as you don’t have any neighbours that hate you enough to dob you in you’ll probably be ok especially if as you say what you propose is modest in comparison with your neighbourhood.

Which implies that there’s nothing terribly undesirable about front fences in most circumstances. Why keep an old rule that confuses people (even more confusing now when you see what’s apparently allowed in newer parts of Gungahlin) and which can be abused by someone with a grudge. If someone complains does ACTPLA go and look and decide based on whether the fence is causing any real problem or do they automatically have to apply the rule once a breach is drawn to their attention? This is an area where I reckon the government should restrict itself to matters like safety and necessary accessibility, and beyond that simplify it. I remember the 50% thing Holden Caulfield mentioned, does anyone really care if its 40% or 60%? Give me a neat fence rather than a front yard of dead lawn any day! If the gubmint wants to concern itself with people’s gardens get rid of big inappropriate trees planted too close to neighbours waterpipes. Oh but wait, once you’ve planted a totally inappropriate tree in the wrong position they have rules about protecting the trees. Unless they are beside the Molonglo River. Rules, shmules. I give up!

Very Busy 2:56 pm 04 Nov 13

SheepGroper said :

Very Busy said :

asses of nice white flowers

I’d like some of that!

Haha 🙂 @5 I’m blaming my mouse for that little slip up. As the pointer ran over the text towards the “submit” button it highlighted some of my text and automatically moved it and submitted it all in one action. WTF.

Genie 1:57 pm 04 Nov 13

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

Thumper 1:45 pm 04 Nov 13

Very Busy said :

Thumper said :

As Mr Caulfield suggests.

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 very cruel Thumper. Providing that sort of advice to unsuspecting novice gardeners, haha.

Photinia is totally unsuitable in most suburban situations. Yep, it will grow quickly but is practically impossible to keep under control unless you are onto it all the time with your hedge trimmers. It is smelly and messy. Avoid at all cost.

Pittosporum is not very dense and doesn’t like hard pruning. A bit temperamental too. Quite likely that after a few years one plant will just die, leaving a big hole in the hedge.

One of the best hedge plants is Vibernum Tinus. It’s reasonably quick growing but easy to keep under control once established. It is very dense and has masses of nice white flowers in season.

I’ve got cyprus. Takes a bit of work if you know what you’re doing, but looks great and is very dense 🙂

Thumper 1:41 pm 04 Nov 13

poetix said :

Thumper said :

….

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

Don’t you find that the Leyland Cypress tends to ‘travel all over the countryside’?

In a four wheel drive?

eatthatfrog 1:25 pm 04 Nov 13

ACTPLA have some great info that helped us when we having issues with our neighbour’s fence (or lack thereof) here and here.

Postalgeek 1:18 pm 04 Nov 13

SheepGroper said :

Very Busy said :

asses of nice white flowers

I’d like some of that!

There’s no accounting for some people’s tastes in floral perfumes.

breda 1:17 pm 04 Nov 13

I live in a old suburb, and there are some very substantial front fences (including a few Italianate ones with pillars and metal lacework) around my place that have been there for at least 15 years that I know of. My guess is that unless someone complains, the rules are not enforced. Since I suspect that most people think the rule is stupid, apparently no-one has.

As for hedges, there are several huge privet hedges near my place too. Privet is a noxious weed, and thanks to the birds I get dozens of the damn things coming up in my yard every year. But nothing has ever been done about it.

I think the horse has bolted re front fences. They would have to annoy hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people if they started rigorously enforcing this dopey law. It is dopey (IMO) because it effectively makes people’s front yards useless unless they go the trouble of growing a hedge. Keeping them under control and looking good is a lot of work. There is also the security aspect – lots of people don’t want the front of their house to be invisible because it makes life easy for burglars. Then there is sunlight – the houses across from me have high hedges and the front of their houses get practically no sun because of the orientation.

Anyway, the bottom line is – if you are on good terms with your neighbours and none of them are urban planning nazis, chances are you could put in a fence without any consequences. At worst, you might be asked to remove it.

thebrownstreak69 1:04 pm 04 Nov 13

Is it best to buy your viburnum as immature plants? Can you grow it from seed?

(Disclaimer: I don’t know **** about gardening)

poetix 12:47 pm 04 Nov 13

Thumper said :

….

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

Don’t you find that the Leyland Cypress tends to ‘travel all over the countryside’?

SheepGroper 12:35 pm 04 Nov 13

Very Busy said :

asses of nice white flowers

I’d like some of that!

My photinia hedge only requires pruning a few times a year when it’s getting really untidy so it suits this lazy gardener. Someone who demands ruled perfection in their hedges might find it too much work throughout the year. I do appreciate all the finches that nest inside it, it’s good habitat. The flowers trigger my hayfever but I’m happy to put up with it.

I went the way of “plant support” to keep out a dog who had a habit of wandering in, hoisting his arse up over a bush and crapping on top. I ran wire mesh around the front yard except for the driveway, either running it along the base of the hedging plants or planting climbers over it in open places. I started off with a taranaki gate to block off access and now I have a proper one that latches. No complaints or official interest for two decades.

As for front fences, over two decades ago when I asked ACTPLA they said they’ll act on a complaint but won’t actively go looking for breaches, given current funding levels I seriously doubt that they now have people scouring the suburbs looking for illegal fences.

I think that as long as you don’t have any neighbours that hate you enough to dob you in you’ll probably be ok especially if as you say what you propose is modest in comparison with your neighbourhood.

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