Select the best driveway material for your home, from crunchy gravel to smooth paving, with this in-depth guide
For any new-build or major renovation project, the exterior design and landscaping, including the driveway, are almost as crucial as the building itself. ‘Access and connection to highways are a core part of planning permission,’ says Charlie Luxton of Charlie Luxton Design. ‘The journey from driveway to front door to entrance hall is an important part of the story and your first impressions of the house.’
Do I need planning permission for a driveway?
If a driveway uses permeable paving, allowing water to drain through it, or if the water is directed to a lawn or border to drain away, planning permission is not usually necessary. To avoid the excess water from driveways adding to the pressure on the national drainage network, a Sustainable Drainage System (SUDS) compliant driveway should be installed. If you decide against one of these permeable systems and the area is larger than 5sqm, you will have to apply for planning permission. Check with your local authority as other restrictions may apply. For access across a footpath, you’ll need permission to drop the kerb.
When choosing a material, take time to research all the options. ‘Eighty per cent of the cost is made up of the bits you don’t see – the sub-base and ground preparation – and only 20 per cent on paving or other materials,’ says Anna Hampshire, head of domestic marketing at Marshalls (marshalls.co.uk). ‘An upgrade to the surface material could have less impact on the overall cost than you think, but a big impact on the finish and style.’ For a base, 100-150mm of hardcore is usually required. Factor in extra funds if a specialist installation or complex laying patterns are involved.
Go for gravel
Permeable to water and with a natural look, gravel has a lot to offer. It comes in colours from gold to grey, using various stones including tough granite. Traditional loose-laid gravel is usually put down in three or four layers, each rolled and left for a day to settle. It’s not the ideal choice for steep slopes or areas that get heavy snowfall. To keep gravel in place, you can fit a cellular plastic grid. ‘This allows you to drive over the gravel without compacting it and stops the stones moving when you turn on it,’ says Rob Pollard of RX Architects. It needs occasional raking and will have to be topped up from time to time.
A driveway in Cornwall created by Charlie Luxton Design. It has a strip of reclaimed granite setts to create a clear boundary and prevent gravel migration.
Set on resin-bound gravel
As a maintenance-free option with a smoother appearance, consider resin-bound gravel, which sets the stones in place. You won’t necessarily need a new base, as it can often be laid over asphalt and concrete. Self-binding gravel includes clay particles in the mix. Once compacted, the surface bonds together, forming both the base and surface level.
The circular design of this resin-bound driveway by Simon Orchard Garden Design in south London makes it wide enough for open car doors.
Hardwearing block paving and setts come in natural stone, clay or as more affordable concrete blocks. ‘Concrete is a great option for those looking for something low maintenance, it is easy to keep clean and products from quality manufacturers will be engineered to be durable and long-lasting,’ says Anna at Marshalls.
Rather than choosing online, it’s best to see actual samples of paving, but be aware that blocks will appear different when laid in quantity. Block paving and setts can be laid in various patterns, including random course, stretcher bond and herringbone, which is practical as the interlocked blocks won’t be shifted out of position when cars brake and turn. Cubes can be used to create decorative fan patterns.
To create a permeable drive, blocks should be laid on a free-draining base with wide joints around them filled in with fine aggregate. If you’d like a co-ordinated look, blocks can be laid for the driveway, pathways and steps. Make things more interesting by altering the size or laying pattern.
Developer Guy Phoenix included a sweeping drive and helipad in the design of a home in Nottinghamshire.
Flags and slabs
If you decide to go with natural stone flags, check that they are designed for driveways, as thinner versions may crack. The same applies to porcelain, and these tiles should be laid on a concrete slab or a specialist system to spread the load.
Concrete, tarmac and grass
Poured concrete can be stamped in various block and decorative effects. Be aware that it can crack in freezing conditions, unless fitted with control joints, which are visible, and that the colour and pattern can wear and fade. Tarmac, though not the most beautiful option, is practical, suitable for all weathers, and for sloping sites. Grass, the eco-friendly choice, can be grown through a protective grid of open cells, such as Marshall’s Grassguard system or Bodpave 85 permeable paving grids from Groundtrax.
StoneMaster concrete block paving from Bradstone is a realistic-looking substitute for natural granite.