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Planning permission in the initial deal

Land or houses are obviously cheaper with no planning permission for any build or changes (either in principle or detailed - known as PP or DPP). Everyone puts planning on now as the 'planning in principle' agreement with the local Council is easy to get, if it can be got at all. The value of the land or property goes up hugely if it has planning.

We have seen the most rubbishy drawings imaginable going through planning. Sometimes with no dimensions, unworkable arrangements of spaces and doors, drawn as if by a child with a wobbly hand. And they get through.

So assume that if land doesn't have planning, it will be more difficult to get. Not impossible, but it will take many applications and a long time. This is fine if you are a larger player and can have a number or projects on the boil. But not so good for individuals, again, unless you are prepared to wait, say for your dream home application.

Some sites, normally those without planning, might have an uplift clause, which means the vendor gets a percentage of any future sale. This is very stupid and greedy but they do exist. Get a good lawyer to have a look at them, they are restrictive practice.

On C4 TV's Grand Designs, our favourite programme, the planning process is always before the cameras roll, and just mentioned as 'planning took 8 years and Mr X has been twice married and twice divorced in this time... and now he has become a woman. This has led to interesting design changes...'

Finding land or properties

I am discussing finding small plots of land for one or two houses, or single properties. We are a small eco builder so do not delve into the larger plots, although it would be nice someday. These are the plots that might appeal to a self-builder or small developer.

The basic rule is 'buy cheap sell high' and the mistake people have made recently is buying high... which will lead to pain later. With the mania about property in the media, it is not really their fault. Of course the Banks always do all right whatever happens - profit is privatised and debt is nationalised - see Northern Rock.

Finding building land to build on After finding the land comes planning

This comes before any money is spent on surveys (after purchase) as the site might be difficult, and there is no point spending the money early. In fact you should talk to local planning departments as soon as you are serious about a site.

Planning applications can be done by individuals, but it is easier and more likely to be successful if an Architect is used, as they will know the Councils and have the right approach.

Initial meetings are essential, then produce some outline drawings. Planning departments are not interested in the interior or build methods, they are after basic design, exterior materials, overlooking and street scene. Parking always comes up. They look favourable on eco developments. All Planning data such as unit density, amenity etc. are kept in official documents that are usually online.

If it is your first time arrange a meeting with the Planning department and explain what you have in mind. They will soon disabuse you of any fantasies. But that might not be a reason to change your ideas. The more unusual designs just take longer as neighbours often jump up and down if anything too modern or weird is suggested.

Construction, safety and accessibility etc. comes later when building regulations to into play.

Party Wall Surveyor / Solicitor

You will need one of these if you have any neighbours. Nowadays so-called people scan Council lists of planning applications for anything like a wall, an extension, or any new buildings, and send generic scary letters to all the neighbours, warning them that if they don't appoint a party wall solicitor they will be liable for huge costs in the future, their house will fall down, etc. They then either get the work themselves or another specialist will.

This creates a very bad adversorial situation even with previously friendly neighbours, where even only a few years ago simple works hardly raised an eyebrow.

As Architects we have contacted RICS, the official body for surveyors, and complained of this, since it is highly unethical, but they don't care as more work is generated for the profession.


Good luck!