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Principle: To ensure public and private spaces are clearly defined so that conflicts are minimised.

Demarcation between public and private space

All development should front onto and have access from the street or public space. This will create a 'public front' to the development. Dead frontages should be avoided. This includes buildings that present their backs to public space and boundaries between public and private space marked by fences and blank walls. Dead frontages will not only reduce opportunities for overlooking but will also provide opportunities for graffiti and antisocial behaviour.

illustration showing public and private space

Positive aspect: clear distinction between the private and public side of the scheme.

Negative aspect: Blank side walls produce a dead frontage.

Private space should be located to the rear of all types of development and should adjoin onto other private space. Back gardens in particular should back onto other gardens and should avoid adjoining public space, to minimise opportunities for crime.  Rear fencing should be up to 1.8m high to avoid an offender ‘plot hopping’ and escaping along a run of properties.

Dwellings fronting on to the street, Hitchin

A footpath between back gardens creates an enclosed and unappealing space.

Buffer zones/defining defensive space

Ideally dwellings should have front gardens or else a small area to provide a 'stand-off' or buffer zone between the dwelling and the public realm. This buffer zone can be of varying depths and gives a clear indication of where members of the public are welcome and strengthens personal control over private space. A buffer zone can be defined by the use of walls, hedges, railings, fences, etc. This will be particularly important on the edge of developments or where development adjoins open space.

illustration showing buffer zones

Shrubbery provides a subtle distinction between the private and public space.

Railings provide a stronger edge to the buffer zone.

Residential development

Central courtyards, surrounded by buildings, should be clearly defined and designed as private space. This can be achieved by the use of different boundary treatments, entrance/exit gate or barrier system, the use of narrow entrances and/or CCTV. The courtyard should not be a through route for vehicles and pedestrians and should have one entrance and exit.

illustration showing ideal residential development

In the case of flats, communal front and rear entrances to internal communal areas need to be appropriately 'protected', for example with the use of voice and vision CCTV and door access release mechanisms.

Commercial/industrial development

In the case of commercial and nonresidential development there should be a clear distinction between the public front of the building and the private back. Ideally the public front area should cover the main public entrances, visitor parking, etc, while the private back may include staff parking, storage and service yards.

 illustration showing ideal commercial/industrial development

For commercial and non-residential development it may be appropriate to reinforce the distinction between public and private areas through the use of different boundary treatments, surface materials and planting. Open plan designs may therefore not always be suitable.


  1. Does the development scheme show a clear and understandable demarcation of public and private space?
  2. Have appropriate boundary treatments/buffer zones been used to distinguish private space and the public realm?
  3. Have back gardens been designed to back onto other private back gardens?
  4. Does all public space serve a purpose and support an appropriate level of legitimate activity?