Infill and backland development sites for new build houses

Using infill and backland development sites to build new houses

You may have an unusually large garden or have your eye on an interesting site nearby that seems ripe for development with – hopefully – subsequent profit potential, but you’re not sure what to do next. In this blog post, we hope to inform, advise, and inspire you to take action to develop your plot of land.

How do I start developing my plot of land?

There is a difference between an infill development site and backland development, although both lie within an urban setting:

  • ‘Backland’ normally refers to the development of land that sits behind an established building line of existing housing or other development and is often land that is currently or formerly used as gardens.
  • ‘Infill’ development tends to be the development of a small gap within an otherwise built-up street frontage.

Local planning authorities (LPAs) can be reluctant to support backland development due to its impact on surrounding properties. However, high-quality architectural design such as this 3-bedroomed detached house by Ecclesall Design provides an outstanding example of successful and creative backland development as it minimises impact on neighbours whilst providing private and peaceful living accommodation for the new homeowners:

Infill and Backland Development

There is further information about the above project by clicking here: backland development.

Infill developments can be easier to achieve as the infrastructure such as drainage and other services are probably already in place and as long as the new development follows the existing building line it should ‘fit in’ nicely with the surrounding buildings, assuming it is designed sympathetically.

A couple of examples of infill development are below and a successful planning application can be achieved even in a conservation area as long as the design is of high quality and the correct planning guidelines are observed:


Above is a before (left image) and after (right image) example of infill development for an Ecclesall Design project in Sheffield. You can also see a close-up picture of a completed infill development site in Sheffield below, featuring another of our previous projects that achieved planning permission in a conservation area.


Vacant land and development planning

Many communities in England have significant vacant land within city, town or village limits which, for various reasons, has been passed over in the normal course of urbanisation. Infill or backland development, as we have indicated above, is the process of developing vacant or under-used parcels of land within existing urban areas that are already largely developed. This is a land source that has an important role in the future supply of housing across our towns and cities. Indeed, many local planning authorities include this type of development within the adopted local plans as part of their ‘windfall’ allowance.

The Sheffield Development Plan, for example, acknowledges that the scale of housing development within the area will be “largely defined by what can be accommodated at an appropriate density through infilling, windfall sites and development in district centres and other locations well served by public transport” – Policy CS 31 of the Core Strategy.

Even infill development within the Green Belt can be possible, subject to certain criteria. The UK Government’s National Planning Policy Framework 2021 states that a LPA should regard the construction of new buildings as inappropriate in the Green Belt with the exception of various examples that include:

  1. e) limited infilling in villages.
    g) limited infilling or the partial or complete redevelopment of previously developed land.

Both backland and infill development can present particular challenges, including:

  • Often small and restricted areas of land.
  • Sometimes fragmented ownership ie several neighbours need to get together to all share in the development opportunity.
  • Potential for existing environmental contamination such as remnants of previous buildings.
  • Possibly a history of refused planning applications or non-encouraging pre-application enquiries.
  • Higher capital costs due to tricky building conditions and access restrictions.
  • Over-optimistic spontaneous purchasing decisions such as impromptu auction bids.
  • More limited financing options.
  • A longer regulatory approval process as an LPA might refuse whereas the development is allowed on appeal.

These issues, real or perceived, can discourage some developers, particularly those without infill or backland development experience. However, these barriers are often surmountable especially with sound professional advice and the pressures on land in England – and the significant profits to be made if successful – mean that backland and infill development is becoming more prevalent.

A sustainable location is important and backland and infill sites are often within existing settlements where the principle of development is already established by local planning policies. Such sites are most likely in locations that have good public transport accessibility and proximity to existing services and facilities. From a locational perspective, such sites would be ideal for development.

There are however a number of other common issues associated with such development:

  • Context and character – Some locations such as conservation areas may have an established character or context that could be detrimentally affected by the introduction of backland or infill development. LPAs may have specific planning policies protecting certain areas or resisting development for this reason. However, even a proposed development in a conservation area or Green Belt site may be capable of receiving planning permission with the appropriate professional input.
  • Access – A suitable access to the nearest public highway road will need to be demonstrated that complies with highways standards. Depending on the character and size of the plot, provisions may also have to be made for refuse and emergency vehicle access.
  • Neighbours – Neighbouring residents are often concerned about the impact upon their personal amenity spaces in terms of overlooking, loss of light, noise and outlook. It would need to be demonstrated that any new development will not cause any issues and that key LPA planning distance guidelines can be achieved.
  • Space Standards – Most LPAs have set standards that include internal spaces, garden size and parking that will need to be met for the proposed dwelling/s in order to achieve planning permission.

Projects on backland and infill sites have environmental benefits because they can reduce development pressure on outlying areas. This will help to safeguard land outside of urban areas that provide important ecological functions and the reuse of previously developed sites can reduce the amount that people drive which improves air quality and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. These infill or backland developments can also lead to the clean-up and reuse of formerly economically viable but now abandoned sites, including on occasions those contaminated with hazardous substances.

Developers of all sizes are building infill and backland projects throughout the country and are doing so profitably. Developers have sought backland and infill projects as an opportunity to participate in flourishing markets including major urban cities and even villages benefiting from the working-from-home trend. Opportunities for infill and backland development exist in cities and towns throughout the country—infill and backland development is now a significant and growing share of residential construction in many metropolitan regions and with professional support can be a lucrative return for a professional developer as well as providing a much-needed opportunity for the single-family wishing for their own home.

Planning permission success

We hope that this brief blog post has given you inspiration for what can be achieved from backland or infill development. Ecclesall Design, in conjunction with our independent planning consultants, will give you an honest appraisal of what could be achieved on your land. Our unbeatable 100% success record in achieving planning permission for our clients is testimony to our integrity and professional expertise in these matters.

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