When you’re hunting for a self-build plot, you should always make sure there is planning permission in place before you part with any money. Purchasing land without planning permission is a gamble which could be very costly, and planning permission falls into two categories – ‘outline permission’ and ‘full permission’. Most plots of land are sold with outline permission, which simply means the local authorities have granted an application for the land to be built on without seeing detailed plans for the house which will be built. By contrast, plots where there is full permission are those where plans have been approved for a specific building, although there’s still the option to go back to the authorities with revised plans if the designs approved aren’t to your taste.
In terms of plot names, the most common types of for self-builders are infill sites, demolition and rebuild plots, garden plots and conversions.
Infill plots are what most people think of when they think self-build. The term is commonly used to describe plots which are a blank space in an otherwise built up area, so developers would be ‘filling in’ a gap. Planning permission for this type of plot is usually relatively straightforward because there is often a framework in place which simplifies designing a property and creating a layout, with nearby houses providing a template. In urban areas the local authorities will usually ask that the infill project suits the scale and style of nearby buildings, so that it is in keeping with the local area.
Infilling is less common in more rural locations, as such sites tend to fall into areas where there are listed buildings or conservation zones, and the gaps between houses are often considered part of the character and charm of the neighbourhood rather than prime building land. If you think you’ve spotted a perfect infill plot, it’s always worth getting in touch with the local planning department to ensure the land you’re looking at is actually approved to build on.
Demolition and Rebuild Plots
If you’re looking to build in a rural area, demolition and rebuild plots tend to be the most common and the easiest to acquire planning permission for. That said, getting expert advice is key with plots such as these, and bandying around the word ‘derelict’ is not recommended if you want to get the local planning department onside. In most cases approval will only be granted if the dwelling which currently stands on the site is still being used as housing, so just because you’ve found a run-down and abandoned cottage ideal for bulldozing doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get permission.
Rules around demolition and rebuild can be strict, so always take steps to make sure the plot you’re looking at can be built on. Councils will often restrict the amount of floorspace you can increase an existing dwelling by, while most demolition and rebuild plots are on greenbelt sites where rules on the appearance and scale of a building may be more tightly controlled.
In recent years the government has relaxed the rules around planning and introduced legislation to encourage building on previously developed land, which now includes private gardens. While some have criticised ‘garden grabbing’ developers for concreting over urban green spaces, these plots are ideally suited to one-off self-build projects providing you check the scope of property boundaries with the local planning department.
Other things which need to be taken into consideration when building on garden sites include issues around space and privacy. You need to ensure that both your self-built property and the property whose garden is being built on will still have sufficient outdoor space, while ensuring that neighbouring properties are not going to be overlooked is also important. Making sure there is good access must also be a priority, especially where disputes with neighbours might arise over boundaries or about an increase in traffic.
In recent decades there has been a growing trend for barn conversions, and these can be a very cost-effective choice if the structure of the building is still sound. Unfortunately the planning rules around rural building conversion can be quite complicated, not least because government policy favours seeing them developed into commercial buildings rather than residential ones. If you think you’ve found a conversion plot which could make a great self-build project, then checking with the local authorities to see whether its viable is a must.
If a building is still capable of being converted without too much rebuilding and you can prove your case for making it residential, then you may still find rules about the design are very strict. As most conversions are designed to preserve a building rather than modernise it, designs which radically change the appearance are unlikely to be looked on favourably by the planning department. For a project such as this, it’s always advisable to take professional advice from specialist and experienced designers and architects.
Just remember that whichever type of plot you find, checking that there is planning permission which is still valid and hasn’t expired should always be your first step. Speaking to the local authorities and planning departments and checking that what you’re proposing is viable should also be a priority, before you spend any money on acquiring the land. Once you know it has potential, there are a host of surveys you ought to consider to make sure that the ground is suitable, access and services are manageable and that you’re not building in an area subject to additional environmental, historical or archaeological rules.