Assessing your land

As we write, a planning white paper is about to turn into a bill. There will be changes to the National Planning Policy Framework early in 2021 and a new act by the end of that year. We do not intend to update this page every five minutes so if by chance some element is inaccurate, please forgive us.

First wander around

Arriving in a new place and finally stepping onto the land is one of the most exciting aspects of our work. We experience a flood of considerations, ideas, measurements, hurdles.

In practice, we do work from a six page list but it is not always practical to record details on paper – nor even by audio. We just need an awful lot of time to think. But the list is a very useful aide memoire.

We start by plodding around the land looking for possible constraints. Is this an ecological wonderland? How many trees will be likely to be preserved by TPOs? What is the relationship to nearby buildings? How will surface water drainage be managed? The possible points of access? Adequacy of local roads? Mains services to hand?

After maybe an hour of considering the range of semi-technical issues, it’s back to the road to tramp around the larger area – probably for an hour or more, taking in the type of community and in particular, what we might build that would be acceptable and useful to local people on the particular site we are looking at. This will be more important than ever once the new Planning Act is in place

As a general yardstick, residential development tends to be more profitable than most other uses. However there are plenty of special circumstances where some other use would create an even higher land value. Conversely, if there may be problems with residential use it could be that we could still obtain permission for something of lower value. We can’t list all the options here. There must be hundreds.

OK, we come back to residential – and back to have a second look at the site.

Back at the office

Of course, the very first task back at the office is to record all those multiple facts considerations, problems and opportunities that have been spinning around on the drive home.

Assuming your land is worth further work, it’s the turn of our architect and engineer to tramp around and take their own notes. Then it’s meeting time. There is a great deal to discuss. By now we have all had time to undertake some basic research.

Next, of course, is to discuss with you all that we have learned to date: Our agreement with you]. It is likely that you will want to take your time to make your decision and to consider the points we have talked about. That is fine. It is quite normal for you to want to talk to us two or three times. OK, we have then done the deal. It’s off to solicitors. It is most unlikely that they will work at the speed of light so we shall just have to be patient.

Signed up? Great! We lineup the expert help we shall need and start amplifying our ideas and research. We look overall multiple policy applications from the local development plan (“LDP”). Then there are possibly half a dozen supplementary planning documents (“SPD’s”). These relate to any subject where the LPA wants compliance in greater detail than is appropriate for the LDP. (The LDP must have detailed ministerial scrutiny and approval, whereas an SPD contains material exclusively in the mandate of the LPA.)

Some SPD’s are concise and clearly intended to be followed in detail. Others are extremely extensive, providing a level of detail which is probably intended to be guidance rather than policy. Yet others produce SPD’s with as many words as a short novel, where a prospective developer must unravel and interpret requirements, guidance, wish lists and dreams.

Over the next few weeks, we will probably download over 20 documents and read or update ourselves on 500 pages. We carefully note problems, hurdles and occasionally, a plus-point.

Nevertheless, the key areas to assess are “policies” and the whole relationship between what the LPA wants and what Government policy requires. Our aim is also to come up with a development proposal that satisfies as many of the diverse “interests” and consultee organisations  as possible.

Our approach to the constraints we have listed above is varied. No-one likes to be shown to be a fool. So really stupid hurdles can be dismantled by a one-to-one discussion. Others can be satisfied, usually at considerable cost. The rest are matters of professional judgement by our own expert team. The management time required to consider every hurdle placed before us is huge and the costs mount inexorably.

What we might apply for

This time we are looking at it from a slightly different perspective. Do we go for just one of the categories on our list or shall we mix them, and if so in what mix? We might consider:

  • houses for first-time buyers.
  • flats and studios for singles.
  • bungalows targeted for down-sizers who want to release money to help a grown-up child get onto the housing ladder.
  • bungalows with a range of special features, targeted for slightly older people who are beginning to have trouble with a stiff back or arthritic fingers or any other moderately debilitating annoyance that prevents them from rushing around the house as they might have done 10 years earlier.
  • possibly a work-and-live technology starter park.
  • Self-build plots and shell homes. What matters here is that every LPA is now under considerable pressure to allocate some proportion of every site to self-builders. We would happily allocate the entirety of a small site for self-build or shell homes.  That might make your site just a little bit more attractive to the LPA. Our contract however, is no different from any other. We obtain planning permission and then we sell. That is our deal with you.
  • Work from home houses with extension or garden room for work or storage.
  • If the location makes the chance of obtaining permission low, then we would be looking at a development which would be more attractive to the LPA. The obvious ones would be “First Homes” and affordable housing through treatment of the site as a “rural exception”. Some market housing will be permitted. We just have to negotiate how much.

Relevant characteristics of your site

There are no particular characteristics we insist on for a quick assessment, but here are some features that tend to reduce the chance of success.

  • Isolated rural location
  • Small site adjacent to major trunk road
  • In a small community - the problem is lack of local facilities, but this may not be a problem if there is a large village just down the road.
  • Proximity to “bad neighbours” - an airfield, sewerage works, near to noise source, etc.
  • On a flood plain or steep bank.
  • The land is wooded.
  • Subject to some sort of conservation or preservation order.
  • Contains known “historic” features.

Many locations are “good sites”. The possibilities are endless, but here are examples:

  • On the edge of a small town or substantial village
  • Where some sort of development has taken place in the past
  • With good access to a main road not far away
  • Which would be an attractive place to live “in the round”.
  • facilities available close by: primary school, shops, GP surgery, dental surgery, veterinary surgery, etc. The more the better, but none essential by itself.

Do not worry because you know your site offends certain policies or that it has already been turned down for inclusion in the local plan. Tell us, of course. We investigate very thoroughly. Maybe there is something we can do to mitigate what you fear. Maybe the law has changed recently or may change very soon.

At the end of the day, remember that everywhere, we are short of houses. We might succeed today on a site that would have been inconceivable only a few years ago.

A good way to start your exploration with us is to take advantage of our very simple free assessment.

If you would like a useful summary of our services, here it is.