Finding the right plot can be the hardest part of building your own home. It’s not often you’ll find an idyllic site, whether that’s a viable secluded plot with stunning views, or a chic city plot tucked away from a busy street. Not where you’re likely to get planning permission, at least.
Plots are relatively scarce in the UK, due partly to an abundance of protected areas compared to other European countries. Currently 90 per cent of land in England can’t be built on, though organisations such as the National Self Build Association (www.nasba.org.uk) are working to secure the release of more sites for self-builders.
It can take years to find a plot, especially if you’re particular about location, size and the amount of work you’re willing to take on. So be prepared to revise your goals if your search isn’t going well. Flexibility, combined with the ability to focus your time and energy on the hunt, will give you the best chance of success.
Location will have a huge influence on your hunt. In fact, some authorities may operate policies that could scupper your plans from the very start – in parts of the northwest, for example, there’s a moratorium on self-build. Elsewhere, some councils charge greater levies for the privilege than others. Similarly, plots in the southeast are rare and generally expensive, while remote areas of Scotland are rife with bargains. Be sure to investigate the area’s local plan to find out more about what kind of development is permissible.
Planning & budgets
Land is available with one of two types of planning consent in place – outline planning permission (OPP) or detailed planning permission (DPP). The former is consent in principal for development to occur, leaving some or all of the particulars to be established in a later application for DPP (you must apply for this within three years of OPP being given). Even if the plot you buy already has DPP in place, you can submit a new application for a different design without negating the existing permission – so you don’t necessarily have to stick to a plan that doesn’t suit you.
Your plot will be the biggest single purchase you make for your project. In the past, the final value of a self-build house could be roughly split into thirds – one third plot cost, one third build cost and the final third profit. But in areas where plots are rare and prices therefore higher, land may account for more like 50 per cent of the total value of the completed house – eating into that profit margin. In locations where plot prices are low you might expect a greater profit, or else pump more of your budget into the build phase.
Types of site
Brownfield The government intends to build 60 per cent of new housing on brownfield sites (previously developed land with a few exceptions, such as current agricultural or forestry use), so local councils should look favourably on plans for these plots. Services are likely to be already in place, too. However, you’ll need to apply for a change of use, and restrictions may be imposed on your designs, such as maintaining the previous building’s footprint. Brownfield sites are usually relatively affordable upfront, but you may need to factor in costs for a buy-to-demolish project.
Greenfield This term refers to land that’s not been built on before – whether it’s out in the open countryside, gaps in rural areas, on the outskirts of villages or between existing houses. It’s from this stock of fresh land that the remaining housing targets need to be met, so it’s not impossible to gain planning permission to build on a greenfield site. But when it comes to ‘green belt’, opportunities for an entirely new home are rare – you’re more likely to be granted permission for an extension or buy-to-demolish project.
Garden grabbing The coalition government has amended the definition of brownfield land to exclude domestic gardens. Nevertheless, Planning Policy Statement PPS3: Housing still advises that ‘options for accommodating new housing growth may include additional housing in established residential areas’. So, contrary to the media headlines, infilling and small scale development on gardens is likely to remain an important way of filling the UK’s housing need. And the good news is that one-off houses on reasonable sized plots are unlikely to be affected – so self builders contemplating this approach can breathe a sigh of relief!
Buy to demolish Popular because it’s usually cheaper than renovating an existing property in spite of the fact that demolition fees can run into £10,000s. You’re less likely to encounter hidden costs by knocking down and starting afresh, and VAT is reclaimable on new-builds but not refurbs. You’ll generate a lot of waste by demolishing an existing property, but you could sell on salvageable materials such as bricks or even re-use them yourself. You may only be allowed to build to the same height and footprint as the previous building.
Designated areas Selfbuilding in locations with special designations – such as conservation areas – is subject to strict controls. The bottom line is that you’re very unlikely to be granted planning permission for a new house, or even a demolish-and-rebuild, in these cases. Renovation opportunities are a better bet, but even then you’ll find that permitted development rights are often severely restricted.
Should I self build?
If you’re not sure starting from scratch is for you but you’re keen to get more space, there are still options. Why not look into whether your current property could be updated to meet your needs? A well-conceived extension can revitalise a property and revolutionise the way you live in it. Under permitted development rights, all sorts of changes can be made to revamp and outdated home – find out what you could achieve without having to apply for permission at www.planningportal.gov.uk