A guide to plot types

October 1, 2017

Finding a plot of land is often the holy grail for aspiring self-builders however as most budding self-builders know, the task of finding a suitable plot is often difficult can become even more daunting when they discover that plots are categorised under different types.

A piece of land with planning permission is what makes it a plot. You should never pay for a plot until planning permission is obtained, however it is worth knowing that you can apply for planning permission on any land – even if you don’t own it, so your choice of plots might be much wider than you think.

Here we introduce the different types of plot and explain what to do once you find your perfect plot.

Infill Plots

There’s no official definition of what makes an infill plot, although one commonly adopted by councils for countryside locations is ‘the infilling of a small gap in the street scene’ rather than extending the settlement boundary which is often frowned upon by planners.

However just because a plot could be classed as infill, doesn’t always mean that planners will agree to its development. There are numerous examples of open spaces, including fields that are surrounded by developments within a village which you may feel would be ideal for building on, however the Government are keen to see areas of land with settlement boundaries used up before open land. At the same time, often local governments want to ensure that open spaces within built up areas are maintained. There are two types of infill plots:

Spare land

This is land where the street scene appears to be uninterrupted but is currently not in use because it is hidden from view by walls or fences. Examples include:

  • Plots which used to be a garden or an allotment
  • Plots where access to the land at the rear has been sold off or developed
  • Where land is not registered and ownership has slipped
  • Land which may have had a previous use that in the past prevented its development
  • Pieces of land where the owners may have forgotten they owned

It is worth studying maps of the area, seeking out what could potentially be spare land then make some enquiries. You could face the issue of there being no traceable owner although the Land Registry can usually assist with transactions against the plot since 2000.

Garden Plots

Garden plots are where homeowners with gardens possessing a wide frontage sell off a section adjoining the carriageway.

Garden plots are now classed as ‘greenfield’ meaning planning permission is more likely to be granted if your development fits local needs.

With garden plots, look out for restrictive covenants that vendors may wish to impose, restricting for example, the ability to have windows overlooking the existing house or having the right to connect to services and drains within the garden area of that property.

Backland Development

Backland development is another type of garden plot only instead of looking to infill the gap in the street scene frontage, the development is at the rear of an existing property. Usually this only really happens when the plot is quite large.

Access to the plot is usually down the side of the existing house and it’s important with this type of plot that the terms of that right of way is properly laid out. If you share access then it is worth considering having an obligation for joint maintenance.

Brownfield Land

Brownfield land is land which had a previous planning use that may have ceased. Examples include factories and old builder’s yards. The Government is generally supportive of redeveloping the land, as long as all other normal planning criteria are established.

With Brownfield land it’s important to watch out for contamination on sites. This can almost always be dealt with but it can be costly and those costs should be reflected in the price.

Greenfield Land

Greenfield land is previously developed land. All political parties are against the development of previously undeveloped land in the countryside, unless it fits in with their requirements to provide more housing, infrastructure or new towns.

Green Belt Land

This is an entirely different from greenfield land in that its preservation is given legal status. In general, no new development is allowed on green belt land, unless it again fits in with Government requirements.

Replacement plots

This is where a plot with an existing building of substandard construction or state of disrepair, which can be knocked down and replaced with a better building or buildings. Usually, planners are open to replacement dwellings but beware of local policies that limit the size of a new dwelling by reference to the size of the original — this is particularly likely in the green belt.

Before taking on a project of this type, it is essential that you understand planning permission for replacement dwellings.

Fully Serviced Plots/Custom Homes

Serviced plots are brought to market by a developer, with service access such as sewers and roads already in place. In many cases service supplies will be connected into the plots, although connection charges may still be required. The developer of the land will them offer the plots for custom build homes with varying levels of design involvement from the future homeowner.

Generally, there is a more restricted design process for the self-builder and your home will be part of a development. If this isn’t an issue, it is a great way to self-build for less with fewer uncertainties surrounding planning permission and site suitability.

What happens once you find a plot?

Once you’ve found a plot, you have a legal option to buy subject to planning. To ensure that the plot will be yours on approval of planning permission, you need to get your solicitors to draw up a simple legal option document, which requires the vendor to sell to you in the event of your planning application being successful. The document may have a cost associated though this may be deducted from the price of the sale once completed. It will almost certainly be time limited too. A price may be included if you’ve agreed it or you may leave that to a valuation at a future date.

Alternatively, if having met with the planners and you are convinced that it will get planning permission, you could agree to buy the land and state in the contract ‘subject to receipt of satisfactory planning permission’. That way, if things don’t go to plan and the application is refused, the contract will void and you’ll get your deposit back.

What you won’t get back in either of these scenarios is the costs of preparing the plans and making the application. So, it’s important that you make the right enquiries with the planners.

What if you can’t establish the identity of the vendor?

If you are finding it difficult to establish the identity of the vendor, then you will need to do some research which could include:

– asking adjoining owners/neighbors if they know who owns or last occupied the land
– looking at parish or church records
– finding out information from the local community, for example the local pub, post office or local shop.

You could go to the Land Registry (England & Wales) or Registers of Scotland and pay a small fee (£5 for a paper application or £4 online) to see if the land is registered and, if so, to who. However, if the land has been vacant for some time and, therefore, hasn’t been sold in relatively recent times, it won’t be registered.

Finding out how much a plot is really worth

Plots get their value as a direct result of the value of the house that could be built on the land. And there is a simple equation that will work in most circumstances:

The land costs (A) + the build costs (B) + a 20/30% margin (A + B x 20/30%) = the end value (C)

Your next step is to work out the probable build costs. These build cost calculators are useful for calculating this:

Then, put in your hoped-for price for the land, and the margin. If the answer doesn’t come up to the end value, then your land valuation is too low. If it’s higher, then either the land cost or your building costs are too high, or a bit of both. Either way you need to juggle the figures to get to the fixed answer.