Whether you’re keen to buy a particular piece of land or you’re eyeing up your own garden’s potential as a development opportunity, there’s a lot to consider before you can decide whether you’ve found the right site.
To help you make a smart, well-informed choice, I’ve put together a checklist that covers most of the scenarios self-builders are likely to encounter. Armed with this guide, you can be confident you won’t miss anything crucial that could influence a site’s suitability.
This includes factors such as what and where you can build, whether the costs stack up, and the chances of gaining planning permission for a design you’re happy with.
Don’t be alarmed by the length of the checklist. On most plots, you’ll actually come across very few constraints. But taking a fastidious approach means you’ll be aware of any potential issues right from the beginning – so you can proceed with greater certainty and budget more accurately.
If you come up against anything you’re not sure about, the key thing is to seek advice from suitable professionals. That could mean speaking to your local council about planning matters, involving your solicitor for legal considerations or using other appropriate specialists. If you have an architect or planning consultant on board – or if you’re working with a package house company – they will be able to point you in the right direction.
Looking at comparable planning applications for recent nearby projects, via the council’s online records, may also prove helpful. Checking these over can alert you to possible stumbling blocks, including how the hurdles were overcome and who provided the necessary reports or advice.
Get a solid idea of whether the site you’re considering for your self-build has real potential by going through this checklist, broken down into 11 key areas. Note that some of these considerations may be more critical to your scheme’s success than others; and many of the points are equally applicable to conversion projects.
– If so, could this necessitate a split-level house or significant excavation (which may impact on construction costs)?
– Would access be too steep for deliveries and plant vehicles?
If the plot has existing planning consent…
– With full consent, is the design and layout what you want to build?
– If outline, is there an indication in the permission as to what is likely to be approved?
Should the answer to either of the above be ‘no’, then all of the points for ‘no current permission’ will apply.
If the clock runs out soon, say within six months, this could present issues for a scheme that involves a redesign or discharge of planning conditions.
Common requirements include council approval on external materials and/or landscaping, plus ecological surveys etc.
The results of this could impact on any alternative design you wish to put forward for planning.
If the plot has no current planning permission…
– If not, are there circumstances that could enable you to build, such as a housing land supply shortfall, or a need to live on site for farming or another rural business?
– If so, would your scheme have any implications for these ‘heritage assets’?
If it might, you will need a heritage statement to accompany your planning application.
If any of the above affect the site, you might need a traffic assessment to accompany your planning application.
You may need a tree survey and an arboricultural implications assessment if any of the above apply to the site.
If so, you will need an ecological report identifying what species are present and how they will be safely rehomed. Note that surveys can be season-dependent, which may cause delays.
If so, you will need an archaeological assessment to accompany your submission. In some circumstances, a watching brief may also be required – whereby you pay for the excavation work to be monitored.
If so, you will need an environmental assessment. If contamination is found, further investigations will be required to determine what it is, along with a method statement to confirm how it’s to be disposed of.
If so, you will need a positive flood risk assessment to support your application. Note that mitigation measures are likely to add to your build costs.
If any of the last three points apply, you will need a soil survey to determine the most suitable foundations. Should an engineered solution be recommended, this will increase build costs.
– If not, is there a watercourse for rainwater to drain into, or would soakaways be effective?
In each case, check the availability and cost of making a connection (as well as any temporary supplies and disconnections if you are dealing with existing services). If a supply is unavailable, the extra cost of a site-based alternative should be reflected in your offer price for the plot.
You may need consent from the Highways Authority if you need to cross a pavement.
In some cases, a third-party may own a ransom strip between the site and highway, which means you’ll need to pay them to secure an agreement for access. This should be factored into your offer for the land.
– If so, do any time limits or other potential issues need to be addressed?
These legal agreements might be put in place to prescribe the nature of the development; or they may require that compensation be paid to the council for any perceived damage that would be caused by your scheme (such as loss of open space).
These access routes may need to be preserved, diverted or closed – and could impact on your chances of gaining planning consent.