How to check if a Plot is suitable for a Self Build
You’ve found a piece of land for your dream self-build project and can envisage the end result. But even before submitting an offer, there’s a whole layer of research that needs doing to gauge whether the site is suitable for development.
Various checks and surveys can help you establish the viability of a building project. You can undertake some of these yourself, whilst others will require professionals – architects, planning officers, engineers – to accompany planning applications.
Here are some checklist considerations….
First off, consider is the site suitable for self-build? Check the plot dimensionsagainst the details given by the agent or seller. That means checking the position of the boundaries (and who’s responsible for them) which may or may not always be obvious with fences, walls or bushes and what is detailed by the Land Registry.
Next, does the site slope? Could this pre-determine the type of building you can construct? Will it require excavation (further costs) or a split-level house?
Planning Status and Consents
Does your plot come with full or outlinepermission in place? If full, can the design be changed if desired? If outline, does it indicate what designs are likely to be passed?
If there’s no planning consent, is the site within a development boundary defined in the Local Plan or Neighbourhood Plan? Are there special planning designations such as the plot being in an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB)? Would building on the plot fit in with the pattern of existing housing stock and its character?
Have you taken advice from the local council or a planning professional about the likelihood of being granted planning permission?
Where development might impact on a listed building or its environs, or the plot is in a conservation area, you’re likely to need to submit a Heritage Statementwith your application. This identifies what is considered special about the so-called heritage asset and what impact your build may have on it. An architect with heritage experience will be able to oversee this.
Check the orientation of the potential building in term of light, noise, privacy, overlooking in terms of neighbours. By being as objective as possible and getting this right from Day One you’ll avoid a large headache in the future from neighbourly objections.
Am I Trailblazing?
We all have romantic views of pioneering with our construction plans but consider why no-one has built on the site to date. Dig deep into the history of the plot and ask around if there’s been any problems or reasons not to go ahead.
Access and obstacles
Check that your site has safe accessto the main road and adequate space for turning and parking on site, especially for construction vehicles. Are there any obstacles such as existing structures, trees, overhead cables, manholesand underground pipes which need removing or repositioning?
Am I Close to Civilisation?
Access to Services is a key consideration for all self-builders. It’s worthwhile checking the location of water and waste, electricity, gas and telephonyearly on. For example, are they accessible without crossing others’ land?
Remember, hooking up to the mainline from far away can create a huge hole in your budget.
Go Wild in the Country
Is the plot in a conservation area where all trees fall under protection or subjected to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO)? Would it prove difficult to get them felled as too close to proposed building? A tree survey and an arboricultural implications assessmentmay be required if so. Similarly, will the build impact on any natural protected habitats such as bats and badgers or great crested newts if close to water? If so, an ecological reportwill be required to report how to rehome them. Again, if the plot falls within an Archaeological Notification Area then an archaeological assessment should be commissioned to accompany your submission. Contamination reportsare also common if the site was formerly used for industrial, agricultural or garage use – the report will recommend how the contamination will be safely disposed of. Flood risk reportsare commonly needed to support your application with accompanying mitigation measures all of which will be your financial responsibility.
Have you checked the soil type and its condition with the council’s building control department? Is there evidence of poor ground such as boggy areas, running sand, clay or tipped land? Did you check for historic subsidence in the area? If so, a soil surveywill indicate the optimum type of foundations needed for your build with possible consultation with a specialist engineer.
Making sure you’re bombproof in legal terms is the closest you’ll get to a good night’s sleep during a time generally determined by uncertainty. Doing legal searches is critical to whether your project gets off the ground at all! Kick off with checking your access rightsto the plot; if unsure contact the Highways Authority for consent if you need to cross a pavement or path. Check also if anyone else has rights to cross your plot? Are there any public footpaths which may need diverting or preserving? Any easements (access) or wayleaves (that allow for services)? This should come up on the searches. Similarly, ransom strips are strips of land that often lie between the plot and the highway and in order to gain access to them you will need to purchase permission. Check also for restrictive covenants that could affect the build or any other planning obligations (Section 106 agreements) affecting the plot?
Pride Road architects have experience in heritage projects and plot assessments and are happy to discuss your project with you.
Here are some of our case studies for self builds
Lisa Raynes will be speaking at Grand Designs Live