Ensure you source the best site for your self build with our no-nonsense, in depth  guide to finding a plot for your self build project.

Harlosh house on Isle of Skye by felix mooneram

Image: Felix Mooneram

Finding the ideal site is crucial to a successful self-build, but it can also be one of the most difficult and stressful parts of the process. There are clearly plots out there: there were 12,800 self-builds in the UK in 2016*.

But a good site is not necessarily easy to find so you may need to think outside the box when you begin your search to ensure you source. Some self-builders have spent years finding the ideal location, especially those who have a specific idea of what they want.

If time is not on your side, you might need to revise your initial wish list.

Different plot types

A high percentage of land in the UK can’t be built on due to protection imposed by the Government. Planning policies restrict more schemes to development boundaries, so building new houses in areas that haven’t been built on before, such as greenfield areas, is difficult. New plots tend to be in these development boundaries and are often brownfield sites, meaning land that has been developed in the past. It’s here that most opportunities can be found. If you find a plot and are unsure of its potential, contact the local planning department.

Also check out the local authority’s land-use developmentplan maps online, which will indicate the classification of the plot.

Planning Portal and your local council’s website will offer unitary development plans (UDP), which provide guidance on development, conservation, regeneration and improvement activity in your area.

When you think you’ve found the right plot, you need to check if there is any planning in place. Be wary of plots that have planning permission close to expiry – six months can be too short – as planning departments can take up to 12 weeks in considering applications. If preparatory work or investigations are needed this could substantially delay the process.

Equally, if  you’re a plot owner and hope to sell your land some day, it’s crucial to keep the planning consent up to date. Saying that, if planning has been approved on the site before, the chances are it will be approved again – although not guaranteed.

If you find the perfect plot and are haggling over the price, bear in mind that the cost is dependent on the classification of the land (ie: what it can be used for), the location, size and potential. Unfortunately for self-builders, residential or housing land is always going be the most expensive.

Agricultural or grazing land sells for a fraction of the price and is sometimes misleadingly advertised as available with planning permission. However, this is highly unlikely so steer well clear.

Plots with planning permission

Plots with planning permission Land can be available to buy with two types of planning consent in place – outline planning permission (OPP) or  detailed planning permission (DPP). OPP means that the local council has agreed the basic principle of the proposedb development. It’s an outline of the scheme; for example, to erect a two-storey, threebedroom residence with attached garage.

It’s subject to the condition that full planning details will be submitted in advance of building work commencing. OPP is valid for a period of five years, although you will need to submit an application for DPP before starting work. This must be done within three years of the grant of outline permission. Don’t dismiss a plot because you don’t like the permitted design. You can submit a new application, even if DPP exists for a different design, without invalidating the existing permission that the site had when you bought the land.

You should never purchase a plot without planning permission in place. 

You don’t want to end up with a strip of land with no development potential. If you find a piece of land that seems remarkably cheap, it could be that it falls into this category. Always ask yourself: why does this land cost so little? And the answer is usually because planning applications have been refused in the past.

If you’re determined that this is the site for you, make an offer subject to achieving satisfactory consents. A planning application costs £462 in England, which, in the grand scheme of things, is relatively inexpensive and could be worth the spend in the long term. If the landowner is serious about selling, they will realise the benefits of waiting until permission is granted.

Alternative ways to find a plot

Getting an architect on board early can be helpful when considering buying a potential site as they are trained to look for opportunities, assess building land for suitability and uncover possible pitfalls.

Sometimes, however, less obvious routes can lead to a good buy. If you are set on a particular area, keep an eye on regional newspapers as a plot of land might be listed locally and it could even be an opportunity to snap up a bargain. And ask around; don’t be afraid to knock on doors, chat to locals and network like crazy because a private sale could be your best chance of securing an affordable site. Equally for the seller, it’s a welcome opportunity to avoid paying expensive agency fees.

And if you get fed up searching, look closer to home. A large garden, unused garage or perhaps even the next-door neighbour’s garden could be used as a plot to build your future home (subject to approval to change of use). There are many advantages – you already own the land and you can project manage from your own home.


For more advice on starting your own self build, pick up our latest bookazine, Self Build and Renovating, out now.



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