How to plan and design a driveway

Ensure your home makes a great first impression with a driveway that’s both stylish and practical. Follow our comprehensive guide to planning yours

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Your driveway is the first thing people see when they approach your home, so it’s a vital part of creating a good first impression when you're transforming your home's exterior

Not only can a new-look drive add kerb appeal, but it can also add value to your home. Certain materials, such as loose gravel, which crunches underfoot, can also improve security – both for your property and vehicles.

How much will a new driveway cost?

The price of a new drive varies greatly depending on the size of the area, the amount of preparation work needed, and material chosen. Andrew Gill, of Brett Paving, says when calculating the cost of high-end materials, you must factor in the labour needed to install it.

Groundwork should cost around £20 per square metre, with the cost for surfaces range from £4 per square metre for gravel, to £54 per square metre for resin-bound paving.

Resin bound driveway by David James Architects

Resin-bound driveway and contemporary self-build designed by David James Architects

(Image: © David James Architects)

How big should the driveway be?

There are rules and regs defining the minimum size of a front garden to incorporate a driveway, but for it to work practically, it needs to be a minimum of 3m wide to allow for an average-sized car, wider if you are parking more cars and turning.

Which material to use for your driveway?

Your driveway materials should echo your home’s exterior and any walls in your front garden; all this will also affect the material's colour, with darker shades suiting both contemporary and traditional properties and being practical for hiding oil spills. 

Mixing and matching complementary materials will add interest to your front garden's design, especially if your house has an understated facade. If your home's exterior is detail-packed, choose a plainer finish.

Drainage considerations will affect your material choice, as will ease of replacement – blocks and paving being simpler and cheaper to replace if damaged than poured surfaces. 

There are many driveway surface and paving materials to choose from depending on how you want your drive to look and function. Here are the key types:

Loose materials

Gravel or pebbles are a good-value and ecologically friendly option, as they retain rainwater rather than sending it into the drains. Gravel also acts as a security feature because you can hear when people are approaching your home. But it will require regular maintenance, such as replacing and sweeping the gravel that’s gone astray, and is not suitable for a sloping site.

Water-permeable, it comes in a range of colours and sizes, and is best used with a cellular grid (see below) to keep it in place. For larger driveways, laying angular gravel in three or four layers, each one rolled and given a day to settle, will minimise the gravel's movement. 

Use a grid from Marshalls to secure gravel drives

Using a Drivegrid system holds and stabilises gravel driveways, while a Geotextile layer helps prevent weed growth. From £504 for an 11.76 per m system pack with aggregate, from Marshalls

Block paving

Usually made from moulded concrete blocks, clay bricks or natural stone, paving can be permeable to allow water to drain away. It's worth checking whether the paving needs sealing as this will add to cost and may change its appearance; find out too if it is truly slip-resistant. 

Using paving allows you to be creative with your design – shades of terracotta and grey being the most popular. ‘Block paving is both durable and easy to maintain,’ says Emma Stone, at Marshalls. However, bear in mind that having paving patterns laid will add to your costs.

Hardwearing concrete blocks are available in a range of colours, textures and finishes, but can fade; durable clay blocks also come in range of colours and won't fade; natural stone is durable, too, but if you're on a budget, look at Indian sandstone. 

Find out how to block pave a driveway in our easy-to-follow guide.

Bradstone block-paved driveway

This grey Stonemaster driveway looks contemporary and can also be used for a rear patio. It costs £40 to £45 per m2, Bradstone

Concrete and asphalt

These may not be the prettiest options, but they are low cost, durable and low maintenance. You can find permeable concrete and asphalt, which allow water to drain away. They also make ideal bases for more attractive top layers, such as resin-bound paving. Both materials can fade and stain and cracks can open up in them due to tree roots or freezing weather. Both are suitable for sloping sites and can look very contemporary in the right setting.

Resin-bound gravel

This is a single-stone layer, created by applying a film of resin onto the surface, and scattering clean, dry aggregate on top – meaning it is quite rough and there may be some loose stone. Newer products are permeable; it's suitable for slopes; is available in different colours and textures; and even can be laid over existing asphalt and concrete. 

Resin-bound drive from Sureset

This Barley Beach natural aggregate resin-bound paving costs approx £50 to £55, Sureset

Self-binding gravel is another alternative to loose gravel. It looks natural, is permeable and can be used on gentle slopes – plus it's very affordable.

Grass is ideal if your home is a country idyll that would be spoilt by hard landscaping. Plus, it's an eco-friendly, permeable material. However, you can't just drive over a conventional lawn - you'll need to use a sub-base (try Marshalls’ Grassguard Permeable Paving). 

Can I create a drive if I don’t already have one?

You won’t need planning permission if a new or replacement driveway of any size uses a permeable or porous surface that allows water to drain through, such as gravel, permeable concrete block paving or porous asphalt; or if the rainwater is directed to a lawn or border to drain naturally.

If the surface to be covered is more than five square metres, then planning permission will be needed unless the surface is Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) compliant. 

If you need a drop kerb (crossover) installing to access your new drive, then you will need to apply for planning permission from your local authority. This because the kerb may also need strengthening to protect any services buried underground, such as water pipes. The labour and materials for this are supplied by contractors hired by your local council. Once you have had the kerb dropped and the new driveway installed, the council will come to check that water is being drained effectively.

Block paving by Stonemarket in driveway

Stone-look driveway setts are more affordable than the real thing. These Vienna setts come in five complementary sizes, have a patented base and come with the right amount of ready-mixed jointing compound to reduce laying time. Templeton driveway setts, from around £80m², Stonemarket

(Image: © Stonemarket)

What do I need to know about drainage and driveways?

The importance of good drainage is reflected in the growing number of permeable driveway products becoming available. ‘Permeable surfaces allow water to quickly pass down into the sub base, where it must be stored, channelled or slowly released, which helps to prevent flooding,’ says Andrew Gill, from Brett.

Water cannot be allowed to drain into the main carriageway or the drain in the road; instead, it must drain into a flowerbed, soakaway or into the drains of the property itself. If possible, remove a 20cm strip either side of your drive, and fill it with decorative stone, allowing good natural drainage.

‘You could use gravel or direct water from an impermeable surface to a grassed area, which can absorb the water,’ adds Emma Stone, from Marshalls. ‘Or use permeable block paving, porous asphalt or concrete.’

Designing the driveway

Straight or curved?

When considering the driveway's shape, you may actually be very limited. A small front garden may have space for nothing more than the car itself – in which case, all the design work will go into material choices and landscaping. 

For a slightly larger garden, a half-moon-shaped driveway with gates to enter and exit will give you more space for parking, and allow for softening planting at the edges. 

For larger front gardens, long, straight driveways will look smart and formal, especially if lined either side with clipped topiary. For a country home, a curved driveway, lined with cottage garden plants, will look more natural. 

Limiting the parking space

Assuming you have room to choose, pick a parking area away from the front door and the main living room window. Ideally, you don't want the car looming through the windows when your inside, nor blocking access to the front door. Limiting where cars can drive in and park will also give your more room for planting, creating a finish that's sympathetic to your home's exterior.

Driveway with planting by Stonemarket

Permeable paving allows rainwater to pass through the blocks into the sub-base to drain away naturally into the garden. Rio Permeapave, from around £58m², Stonemarket

(Image: © Stonemarket)

Access on foot

Consider your driveway as part of your front garden's design, not separate to it. But don't just design in nice pathways without thinking how practical they are: how will you quickly get from the front gate to the front door (without having to squeeze past a car); is it easy to move from the car to the house without having to journey around the garden's borders to arrive at the front door; and will you need to get to a garage or the road from the car?

Softening the driveway's impact 

If you've chosen the right material for your driveway, this should be a piece of cake. Plain driveways can be given more character with edgings (bricks, kerbs, stones, setts, and treated timber), while well thought-out borders soften the landscaping's harder edges and, of course, provide drainage opportunities. 

Lighting the driveway

This is something to include early on in planning when you're choosing materials. For a subtle scheme that won't bother the neighbours and will show off planting, choose uplighters; posts or lights set into walls are handy for lighting up the driveway's entrance (and may help you avoid the odd scrape); drive-over lights are contemporary and subtle. Whichever you go for, lights with motion-sensors will be more energy-efficient than those left perpetually illuminated.

More on transforming your home's exterior: