Garden railings and gates – everything you need to know, including whether you need a building permit


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    Metal railings and gates are much more than just a practical safety feature. They determine the appearance of a back garden or, in particular, a front garden. The earliest designs date from the 15th century and were made from wrought iron. It is arguably still the preferred choice for most, although it is in the spotlight today with more modern alternatives like steel and aluminum.

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    If you are fortunate enough to live in a historic property, your original railings and gates are likely no longer there – have you ever wondered why?

    They were most likely melted down in the 1940s to aid the war effort. The sad truth, however, was that most were not used and were dumped at sea.

    With this in mind, restoring from originals or creating authentic replicas is becoming increasingly popular.

    Are you looking at it for yourself? Here is everything you need to know …

    Can original railings and gates be restored?

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    If you’re lucky enough to have original metal railings and gates, there are plenty of companies out there that specialize in personable restoration services. The offer ranges from basic cleaning to simple hinge, latch and assembly adjustments to

    a full renovation – it depends what is needed. If the railings or gates are too badly damaged to be restored, there are expert firms who can take molds from the originals and re-cast exact replicas from recycled metals.

    How high can garden railings and gates be?

    The height of your railings and gates should be paramount. Areas with a slope of more than 600 mm must be protected by railings with a minimum height of 1100 mm in order to comply with building regulations.

    In addition, a ball with a diameter of 100 mm must not be able to pass any gaps. This is to prevent small children or animals from being trapped or injured in the railings.

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    Do I need a building permit for railings and gates?

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    It depends on your requirements. Restrictions dictate that handrails must not be higher than one meter or any other location higher than two meters within three meters of a curb.

    Further restrictions may also apply if your house is a listed building or is in a nature reserve. Check with your local planning authority in advance to find out what restrictions may apply to you.

    What type of metal is best for gates and railings?


    Photo credit: Richard Gadsby

    Wrought iron

    Has the advantage over other metals when it comes to achieving a decorative finish. Robust and durable, it can last for years as long as it is properly protected. Constant contact with water and air can quickly lead to rust and deterioration. Regular maintenance is therefore required.


    A popular option for more contemporary designs. It’s inherently stronger than iron and has the added benefit of being inherently more corrosion and rust resistant, although a protective coating is still recommended. Galvanized, powder-coated or painted surfaces contribute to longevity.


    Also offers a modern look, similar to steel. It’s not that strong, but has the added benefit of being relatively maintenance-free. Once installed, you no longer have to worry about it rusting, cracking, peeling, or having to repaint. It is also easily recyclable.

    Gates and railings – what are my style options?

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    Georgian houses traditionally have railings and gates with simple spikes or pointed spikes, while Victorian houses tend to have more ornate designs – think ornate rail heads, twisted beams, and Gothic rosette details.

    Look around for inspiration in your area or look for old photos or records of your home to see if they have any original features that have since been removed.

    You can also check out your local junkyard. It may contain original metal end pieces, rail heads, or house numbers that you can incorporate into your design.

    Different surfaces also play a role in the overall look. A galvanized finish is perfect if you like it rustic. Alternatively, Sandtex offers a range of matt and gloss exterior colors (all with a 10 year guaranteed protection) for a smooth and sophisticated finish.

    Related: Pretty patio ideas that will inspire any garden space

    Is It Better To Be Custom Made?


    Photo credit: Lizzie Orme

    In short, yes. There are many companies out there that offer a completely bespoke service that includes assessing the layout, helping with the planning, manufacturing and installation of your railings and gates.

    Perhaps surprisingly, it is often the cheapest option too. Accurate measurements are essential for a smart and safe finish. Buying a generic size often results in expensive alterations that can also damage the protective coatings on the metal.

    What maintenance is required after installation?

    Rust is the number one enemy when it comes to exterior metalwork, mainly caused by chips in the finish and overgrown plants. Opt for hanging boxes and planters, and make sure the contents are regularly trimmed to avoid coming into direct contact with your railings.

    Regular cleaning, about once a year, means you will spot signs of rust early on. Use a steel brush to remove flaking layers and moss, then use a solution of sugar soap and hot water to wash off grease and dirt.

    What about security?

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    While decorative metal gates are attractive, intruders have the ability to access the lock through the bars. An electronic locking system makes access difficult, especially in connection with a manual lock. Additional security features include intercoms, security keyboards and electronic locking systems.

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    Go as high on dimensions as space and regulations allow. The higher the gate, the less likely an intruder will attempt to climb over it. As an additional deterrent, you should have pointed rail heads or end pieces on the railings or gates. Note, however, that these may not be suitable if you have young children or pets.

    If in doubt, ask the company you are buying them from. They can advise on which styles are most practical for you and, if it is a bespoke service, change the designs to make them more appropriate.

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