30 May 2017

Guidance on locating and acquiring land for self-building

Self-build projects account for 7 to 10% of new housing in England each year (around 12,000 homes); a figure dwarfed by 80% in Austria and 60% in France. Barriers to self-build in England include; lack of available financing, planning and regulation processes as well as land supply and procurement. In this article Sarah Chilcott, MD of Planning Portal, offers guidance on locating and acquiring land for self-building.


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With space and opportunity often at a premium, it is wise to be as flexible as possible with both location and the amount of work you are willing to take on. However, avoid looking at too wide an area – find a balance between flexibility and focus. As well as the location, size and quality of the land, it is also important to consider access, planning restrictions, available services and the environment in general.

A few common and effective ways to find land for self-building are:
• Land search websites (you may need to subscribe)
• Local authority register
• Local knowledge
• Estate agents
• Auction houses
• Press advertisements.

Self-build and planning permission

Planning permission for self-builds either comes with the plot or can be applied for before or after land purchase. Planning permission is associated with the land, rather than the applicant and you can make a purchase subject to planning permission. Some agreements of this nature can incur legal fees.

There are a number of scams to be aware of, including land banking schemes and advertisements for land that will ultimately fail to get planning permission. Sadly, many who fall foul of these schemes don’t ever recover their investment. Always seek independent professional advice and if the plot does not come with planning permission approved, seek the advice of your local planning authority (LPA). It is advisable to engage with your LPA pre-application in order to understand any constraints on the land that may prevent development. You can find these on the LPA’s websites, though if you aren’t familiar with planning and the planning process, they can be difficult to understand. Pre-application advice is generally chargeable, but early engagement with your LPA can help you achieve a successful outcome.

It’s important to remember that LPAs can enforce very different rules. What applies to one part of the country might be very different to another. Consider local planning restrictions when putting your application together – it could save you time and money.

What is Outline Planning Permission and Detailed Planning Permission?

An application for Outline Planning Permission (OPP) is generally used to find out, at an early stage, whether or not a proposal is likely to be approved by the LPA before any substantial costs are incurred. OPP generally applies to larger projects. For smaller schemes, refer to the aforementioned process for pre-application. Your local council’s website should have forms and information on how to complete an application – there is normally a charge for this. If, following an LPA pre-application advice, an outline application is proposed, you can access all the relevant forms via the Planning Portal application process.

Once planning permission has been granted, a ‘Reserved Matters’ application must be made within three years of the consent (or a lesser period if specified by a condition on the original outline approval). Reserved Matters can include details about the appearance of the development, access, landscaping, layout and scale.

Detailed Planning Permission (DPP) is the next step in the process and indicates that a detailed application has been submitted to the LPA. Location plans and other supporting information are usually supplied at this stage.

Further information....

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