Evaluating the site

planning the site

Once you have found a possible plot, it’s important that you run through your criteria for evaluating the site:

Compatibility with your lifestyle objectives
Try and stay-open-minded as you approach a plot, even where the plot is an obvious reject candidate. It is always worth taking the time to go through the positives and negatives of a plot once you are there on site. For each negative, try and be creative to transform the negative to a positive. If the plot size is small, would a basement be feasible? Would a second or third storey work for you? Could you purchase adjoining land or property, now or in the future?

Design Issues
Consider the following:

  • Boundaries of the plot
  • Plot orientation relative to the sun, views, prevailing wind etc
  • Land topography, flood risk
  • Ground conditions

Don’t be put off by a plot just because the Detailed Planning Permission for that site describes a house that you wouldn’t want to build. Even with DPP in place, you can submit an application for your preferred design without revoking the existing permission. If you stick to the same footprint and keep within the existing maximum height, you will increase your chances of approval.

Where permission has not been granted, consider:

  • possible objections from interested parties
  • why the plot is being sold without OP
  • the planning history of the plot
  • uses of adjoining land
  • future developments planned in the area that might impact on the proposed plot.

A major indication of whether you have a chance of gaining planning is the type of land:

Brownfield
A brownfield site is previously developed land and Councils look favourably on plans for these plots. As a result of both political and legislative pressure,

Greenfield
Greenfield is land that’s not been built on before. This could be open countryside, gaps in rural areas, the outskirts of villages or between existing houses. It’s not an easy task to gain planning permission to build on a greenfield site. If you want to create your own home in the “green belt”, your best bet is going for an extension or a buy-to-demolish project.

Designated areas
These areas include AONBs, National Parks and Conservation Areas. If you want to self-build in these type of areas, be aware that there are very strict controls. These can cover who can buy, what can be built and a limitation on normal permitted development rights.


Construction issues

  • Access for construction vehicles
  • Utility services, either existing or the proximity of connections
  • Groundworks issues eg removal of existing foundations, contaminated land
  • Legal issues eg conservation areas, boundary disputes, party walls
  • Potential restrictions eg presence of bats or protected species, listed buildings, restrictive covenants, tree preservation orders etc

Purchasing the Plot
Here are some golden rules for purchasing the plot:
1.If there is no planning permission, ensure your offer is subject to securing planning permission
Most sellers of land know that the value goes up if it has planning permission. If there is no planning permission, there needs to be a very good reason provided by the seller. Be aware that scams exist that attempt to exploit people looking for self-build plots and they usually involve the absence of planning permission. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

2.Don’t overpay
Ensure there is value in the land you’re buying.
Value of completed house = Price of land + Cost of Building + Profit margin
The value of the completed house cannot change. This means that if you overpay for the land, then you will have to reduce your profit margin. At worst, you will have to find savings in the cost of building. If you cannot balance this equation, the best thing is to walk away.

3.Understand overage

4.Don’t under-bid
Try and be realistic when you are bidding in an open auction or in sealed-bid auctions.

5.Pre-prepare your funding
You may come across a property that will be auctioned in a few days and you need to have your finances ready. Are you in a position to instantly pay a 10% deposit on the strike of the auctioneers gavel?

More tips on securing planning permission
Do not take on a plot of land that doesn’t at the very least come with outline planning permission. And since you don’t have to own the plot to apply – it’s well worth putting in an application before purchasing a plot. Similarly, even if your plot does come with permissions, pay attention to their expiration date, as they’ll need to be renewed three years after submission.

Tree Preservation Orders
These can cover relatively young trees in addition to the expected old gnarly oak tree. Examine your local council register to find the TPOs.

Road access
You will need to provide access for the emergency services and ensure adequate visibility when connecting to a public road.

Fitting in
Your proposed design will have to sit well with the surrounding buildings. obviously, your local Planning Office has the last say on this. If you don’t want to copy the look of your neighbours’ properties, be prepared to engage the services of a Planning Consultant. However, sometimes, it is best to just walk away and find a plot elsewhere.

Evaluate the site
Be aware of previous industrial usage and whether the site has a history of fly-tipping. This can cause serious issues – particularly if the land has become contaminated. You may be required to excavate, clean and/or properly dispose of any contaminated material. In addition, you may need to cleanse the surrounding area of hazardous chemicals – or fill it in with concrete.

Pre-existing foundations
This could be a warning sign that a previous developer discovered some issue that prevented them moving forward. They may just have ran out of funds for the project or your investigations may find
• drainage systems
• high water table
• root systems of nearby trees

If you’re looking to build on a slope with a particularly high gradient (over a ratio of about 1:25), expect to pay extra for the foundation work, as well as the potential logistical problems this can cause.

If your plot falls in a conservation area (or lies in close proximity to a listed building), you might benefit from very nice period properties as neighbours, but you may also be constrained in how you utilise the site. Being in a conservation area can entail restrictions on your development – from imposing the use of certain (and potentially quite expensive) materials to limiting your permitted development rights, which could curtail future extensions or outbuildings.

There’s a vast array of protected animal and plant life in the UK and if there’s any possibility of these being situated on – or near – your plot, your local authority will have to take this into account during when considering your planning permission.