Caution at Auction

27th April 2020

“Diligence is the mother of good fortune”- Benjamin Disraeli

Self-build is a common concept. You have a plot of land and develop it with a bespoke home designed for your specific needs, whether it be to meet practical family requirements or to build your dream aspirational home. We think of Kevin McCloud on Grand Designs waxing lyrical about amazing architecture in beautiful settings.

Over recent months, we have had a lot of enquiries from individuals or families who have a site that they want to buy in order to carry out their own self-build project. You would think that there is nothing strange about this, but there seems to be a growing trend in these enquiries where all is not as it seems.

The problem arises with plots which form part of wider parcels of land being sold with very limited chances of securing planning permission for anything. It is far from unusual for us to be asked to progress housing schemes on sites that are outside settlement boundaries and/or include major constraints. However, being in the open countryside, Green Belt and even in an area of Ancient Woodland, make securing a permission for any house, let alone your dream home, very difficult and sometimes impossible.

Purchasers are attracted by the possibility of an affordable site with marketing material showing where their new home could go and what it could look like. However, this is always still subject to planning permission, a significant caveat. Plots like this are often sold at auction. Whilst ordinarily this is a sound method for property purchases, it can, in a small number of situations, make people feel under pressure to commit to acquiring a site without taking the necessary advice.

These incidents call into question the effectiveness of the Self-Build Registers, something brought in in 2015 (and mandatory as of October 2019) whereby every local authority in England should be making available potential development plots to self-builders who have put their names on a Right to Build Register. Local authorities have an obligation to keep a register of any individual or local community groups wanting to obtain land to build their own homes and must consider the self-build demand when preparing local plans. The possibility of self-build has been well trailed by the government but the reality is that, far too often, the rhetoric reaches well beyond the opportunity.

As a result, individuals are either unaware or confused by the process and local authorities are not sufficiently promoting their registers to use them to best effect.

As planning professionals, we want to help clients achieve their ambitions and if the ambition in this case is to build their own home, we can provide two key bits of advice:

  • Firstly, if the opportunity seems too good to be true, it probably is; and
  • Secondly, carry out some high-level due diligence and seek advice from planning experts before committing to the purchase of a potential development site.

In recent cases Bell Cornwell planners have been able to advise clients quickly and effectively on the chances of success on similar sites, saving clients both money and time as well as avoiding the emotional upset of not being able to pursue their dream project.

If you have a plot of land you are looking to buy, but are unsure of the potential, do not hesitate to contact us. Talking to us before you commit can save you a small fortune if the site is not suitable or will give you reassurance if it does have potential.

For more information please contact Senior Planner, Geoff Megarity.

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