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Planning permission and acquiring land for self-build

by on June 1, 2017

Self-build projects account for 7-10 per cent of new housing in England each year (around 12,000 homes); a figure dwarfed by 80 per cent in Austria and 60 per cent in France.

Barriers to self-build in England include; lack of available financing, planning and regulation processes and land supply and procurement.

In this article Sarah Chilcott, MD of Planning Portal, offers guidance on locating and acquiring land for self-build.

Researching opportunities for self-build

With space and opportunity often at a premium, it is wise to be as flexible as possible with both location and the amount of work you are willing to take on. However, avoid looking at too wide an area – find a balance between flexibility and focus.

As well as the location, size and quality of the land, it is also important to consider access, planning restrictions, available services and the environment in general.

A few common and effective ways to find land for building are:

  • Land search websites (you may need to subscribe)
  • Local authority register
  • Local knowledge
  • Estate agents
  • Auction houses
  • Press advertisements.

Self-build and planning permission

Planning permission for self-build either comes with the plot or can be applied for before or after land purchase. Planning permission is associated with the land, rather than the applicant and you can make a purchase subject to planning permission. Some agreements of this nature can incur legal fees.

There are a number of scams to be aware of, including land banking schemes and advertisements for land that will ultimately fail to get planning permission. Sadly, many who fall foul of these schemes don’t ever recover their investment. Always seek independent professional advice and if the plot does not come with planning permission approved, seek the advice of your local planning authority (LPA).

It is advisable to engage with your LPA, pre-application, in order to understand any constraints on the land that may prevent development. You can find these on the LPA websites, though if you aren’t familiar with planning and the planning process, they can be difficult to understand. Pre-application advice is generally chargeable but early engagement with your LPA can help you achieve a successful outcome.

It’s important to remember that LPAs can enforce very different rules. What applies to one part of the country might be very different to another. Consider local planning restrictions when putting your application together – it could save you time and money.

What are outline planning permission and detailed planning permission?

An application for outline planning permission (OPP) is generally used to find out, at an early stage, whether or not a proposal is likely to be approved by the LPA before any substantial costs are incurred. OPP generally applies to larger projects.

For smaller schemes refer to the aforementioned process for pre-application. The local council website should have forms and information on how to complete an application – there is normally a charge for this. If, following a LPA pre-application advice, an outline application is proposed, you can access all the relevant forms via the Planning Portal application process.

Once planning permission has been granted, a ‘reserved matters’ application must be made within three years of the consent (or a lesser period if specified by a condition on the original outline approval). Reserved matters can include details about the appearance of the development, access, landscaping, layout and scale.

Detailed planning permission (DPP) is the next step in the process and indicates that a detailed application has been submitted to the LPA. Location plans and other supporting information are usually supplied at this stage.

In summary

  • Seek expert advice whenever you are in doubt – either using a planning professional or early engagement with the LPA
  • Be aware of the risks of buying land for which planning permission has not yet been obtained
  • Always check the LPA Local Plan for any constraints on the land i.e. greenbelt, flood risk
  • Make sure you understand the different types of planning permission and what your responsibilities are
  • Remember that OPP is conditional
  • Rules and policies are not the same across LPAs. Always speak to your LPA for the most up to date guidance.

Read guidance on financing your self-build project, sustainability and Community Infrastructure Levy in our self-build guide

This article was originally published in i-build magazine. 

  1. One way to address the shortage of self/custom build opportunities is to encourage custom splitting. This would mean that many large and currently under-occupied houses could be split to provide two smaller homes; no loss of land, energy efficiency refit and downsizing in place. LPAs should include potential custom splitters and owners of larger properties on their registers. See for more detail.

  2. Andrew Campbell permalink

    Great article.

    Shame it doesnt address the real issue.
    Where I live the council do all in their power to prevent development by for example buying up land, making outrageous demands of self builders and nit picking on every development.

    The elephant in the room is local councillors and their NIMBY attitudes.

    Until development is taken out of local council hands the country is doomed to low house build numbers.

    No brainer.

  3. No mention of ppip or brownfield registers?

    • kirstymatthewson permalink

      Good afternoon Brian,

      Thanks for your feedback. Those are issues we are looking to cover in a later article. Please keep visiting the Planning Portal for updates.

      All the best,

      Planning Portal team

  4. Self build has another constraint that does not appear so easily with a planning application and can place the self builder in dire financial problems. I am referring to a planning condition in the approval for an archaeological investigation. These can cost extreme sums of money, gain nothing for the self builder but introduce lengthy delays.
    When only small bits of pottery emerge from these investigations the self builder, as is every other builder, penalised for no direct purpose

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