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Land for Sale

Planning Permission Tips UK - Agricultural Plots of Land for Sale - The Latest Mug Punter Scam?

By Martin Meaks

The first part of most years brings a flurry of trade shows aimed at the public and trade alike such as The Ideal Home Show, Interiors and just recently the Building Exhibition at the NEC. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of new gadgets and Gizmos (along with the usual tat) that companies invent for our consumption. Most seem to have a shelf life of about 2 days once home where it is usually broken, binned or stored never to be seen again. What seemed like a great idea turns out to be nothing more than a poorly designed and manufactured item aimed squarely at the naive and impulsive home owner.

Now what has this cynical observation got to do with Residential Planning and Development I hear you ask? Well I have noticed the start of an increasing trend that for me, has the makings of another 'latest fashion fad' about to explode onto the UK property scene that could fall into the same criteria I have just described above - except this one wont cost you £9.99 but £16K to £25K - Please enter the 'building plot' sale of huge chunks of farm land for residential housing (subject to Planning of course).

Speculative Development Plots - A worrying Trend or a Safe Bet? - Displayed on a glossy wall map and within a condensed brochure pack are what at first hand appears to be a professionally presented and laid out set of building plots for domestic dwellings. Each plot is about half an acre with the infrastructure and plot areas already laid out and clearly defined. I don't have to imagine anything - its so clear what I am buying. Even their web sites shows the same degree of 'mouse-over' pick and choose selections - WOW! - the quick and cheap way into the fast food version of buying your own building plot - why hasn't anyone thought of doing this sort of mass plot sale before? - it's so simple - the 'building plot supermarket' springs to mind - UNTIL THE PENNY DROPS and YOU REALISE THAT NONE OF THESE SITES HAVE PLANNING CONSENT FOR THE DREAM PROPERTIES THAT MAY EVENTUALLY BE CONSTRUCTED.

So, OK, you get over the initial excitement and let-down and you say to yourself, '£16K for a potential future development building plot is still peanuts compared to the £200K+ price it would fetch with Planning Permission - that must still be a good deal even if it does take 5 to 10 years to obtain Planning' - the real question is WHAT CHANCE DOES IT EVER HAVE OF EVER GETTING PLANNING PERMISSION? Not only are you paying an over-inflated price of £32K+ per acre for agricultural land to begin with (normally £4K to £8K) but the chances are that the parcel of land you have just purchased will always remain just that - AGRICULTURAL - Hooray!!! You have just become a lifelong token farmer.

Why I am sceptical and cynical about some of these companies that are packaging up so called 'Building plots' like this of huge chunks of land (mostly in the Green Belt I may add) is that their presentation methods are squarely aimed at the unsuspecting public using all the visual and presentation tricks they can in order to sell this 'dream' of your very own detached 5 bedroom house in the country. These 'deals' also appeal to the 'easy fortune hunters', the 'quick buck' brigade that dupe themselves into thinking that this is a short to medium term sure bet investment - after all, land values never go down do they?

Well let me play devils advocate for the moment and give you some reasons why most of these speculative mass land plot schemes may be potentially flawed.....

1. The land is usually within Green Belt or other controlled areas unlikely to ever receive Planning permission without a major 'U' turn or change in Government Policy. In most cases this is what needs to happen if any stand a chance of being granted Planning Permission. I really do not see this happening across the board in the UK - perhaps in some specific locations where precise and exact reasons will be given for allowing development very much relevant to the local area and its merits.

2. All the land plots and estate layouts I have so far seen simply pander to the publics dream vision of a large detached dwelling on a large plot - This is not the type of housing or efficient use of prime building land that this country needs or will be encouraged by Government on a mass scale - whatever the colour of the government is at the time.

3. None of the estate layout plots conforms to any suggested Planning Guidance (namely PPG3). Therefore, even in the rare event a large section of protected country land did receive Planning Consent for residential development it most certainly will not be for the layout of the roads and plots already sold to the various hundreds of people that now own their individual section of the site - Can you honestly say that the Planners will approve a scheme for the already sold plots at the first attempt without their own involvement and guidance from their in-house or specialist urban design teams?

4. Can you imagine the logistics of tracking, locating, contacting and re-negotiating with a 100+ separate plot owners asking them to release or put back into the pot their land to then have it re-divided up again and to then choose another plot(s) or just have the increase in value money instead. Remember, we are dealing with 'Joe public' here and any professional land developer will tell you that the more fingers there are in the 'land pie' the harder it is to get a final agreement to implement the approved scheme - Sure 95% of the land owners will be pragmatic and see common sense BUT it only takes a few complicated people to prevent the estate development from taking place. Some prime land developments that have received approval have remained dormant for years or never implemented due to the actions (or non-actions) of one or more obstructive land owners. In 10 to 20 years time some plot owners would have vanished, be untraceable, changed hands or even died and left complicated estates to be battled out at court by relatives not to mention the arrogant plot owner who thinks he deserves more re-allocated plot allowance or more money can stop a development scheme from starting or being sold on dead in its tracks. Even if the land plot companies have legal machinery in place to control these events I guarantee it will not cover all the eventualities - remember, there is NOTHING AS FICKLE AS FOLK!

5. Now that you have 100+ plot owners actually owning clearly defined building plots, many will not want to wait for the master plan to be approved in 20+ years time - they will get impatient and start submitting their own disjointed Planning Applications or require fencing to define their own plot, or use it to for storage or to erect a shed or build a boat on etc. - the list as to what 100 individuals may desire for their own piece of land is endless and a mine-field for the adjoining neighbours and Local Authority to control.

6. Planners and Government love control - Do you really think they would allow a huge housing estate to comprise of individually built houses with no real overall design style or theme for the entire estate - simply left up to the design discretion of each land owner? Therefore again, this reinforces my view that selling individual plots like this and casting the layout of the estate in stone with so many individual plot owners is NOT the correct way to develop a site for housing. The design of any development site is a continuing stream of ideas and proposals between the designers and the Local Authority that is ever changing and evolving to accommodate Planning Issues. Most schemes now for large development sites require social housing and other amenities to be incorporated - some schemes have set aside a percentage of the land for this use as a bargaining tool with the Council but who says that the land retained for this use is in the right location to begin with?

7. Some plots I have seen encompass woodlands, hedge rows, ponds and thickets of trees. Most rural developments are supposed to respect and work with the established natural environment - again no thought seems to have been given to the plot layout to work with this important aspect of site design.

8. Some companies also imply that if you then join some sort of 'plot owners association' it will add strength to the lobbying committee (by virtue of numbers) to release more land for development on the premise that these 'poor homeless' plot owners simply want to build their own 'affordable' house. This argument is entirely scuppered by the fact that most plot owners are purely speculators not too dissimilar with the current over blown 'Buy to Let' market. If all buy to let properties came back onto the market for owner occupiers only it would easily accommodate most of the housing demand and lower prices to more affordable levels but at the cost of destabilising the housing market.

My conclusion to this growing mass plot land sale of agricultural land without a valid Building Permission is that it merely serves as a tool to maximise the previous land owners sale value well above what its true agricultural value is and for the companies setting up these sub-divisions to earn huge profits on the back of the over-inflated land sales to the unsuspecting public at large. AFTER ALL THEY ARE A BUSINESS TO MAKE MONEY. Also, most Farm or large land owners are fairly canny people - do you really think they would sell potential building land that could receive Planning Permission within the next decade or two? - I doubt it.

At the end of the day it is simply a gamble with very high stakes. Even for the odd success storey in the years to come it will not be an easy ride for the successful plot owners for the practical reasons I have already stated. However, it only needs one site to win Planning permission within the next 5 to 10 years to instantly improve the value of all the other pending schemes and it is at that point I may be tempted to cut and run - to realise a small profit when you can rather than waiting for a full consent that may never come in your lifetime. Would buy one of these individual plots myself - NO. Would I invest in a company that sold shares in a development land bank scheme that allowed for the design flexibility required during the negotiations and Planning application process - YES.

Some people I feel sure do not worry about the length of time it may take to obtain Planning Permission and see it as a 'gifting asset' to pass on to their younger family and perhaps that may be the right attitude to take if you really have no there use for the £16K + investment money at this time.

What are your thoughts? Have you been tempted with one of these schemes? Do you already own a plot? What is your perspective? Am I just being too cynical and cautious for my own good? I would love some feed back on this issue.

Please remember, this is only a personal view from a limited observation of these schemes and may not be fully conclusive or represent a balanced viewpoint. Always do your own research first.

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the tactics involved when developing land or a site for residential use and how to give yourself the best chance of being granted an approval. There are some reals do's and don't's that must be implemented.

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the issues involved when developing or extending a property for planning permission.

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