How to de-risk your self build project from the outset

May 2, 2021

Smith & Love Director, Deborah Smith highlights the importance of de-risking a self-build project

The planning system can often present unexpected obstacles, even for the most experienced developers. As a private individual seeking to build your dream home, the benefit of research at the outset cannot be understated.

This is where a planning consultant can provide invaluable advice in navigating constraints and highlighting opportunities, allowing clients to make informed decisions before committing both emotionally and financially to a project.

What makes a good plot in planning terms?

Self-builds can be complicated in planning terms because most people are looking for a plot of land in the countryside where local authorities aim to restrict development.  Often these can be the most difficult to obtain planning permission for residential development.  

One of the key matters for a local authority to consider in assessing the location of your new home is the sustainability of a site. In basic terms, this relates to how future occupants would access services and facilities associated with daily life – shopping, work, schools and so on.  If there is an over-reliance on the use of private vehicles to reach nearby services, it is likely that a site will be considered unsuitable for a new house. Locations which offer other sustainable modes of transport such as a good local bus service, can help to offset this.

Plots at the edge or within an existing settlement can be more achievable, particularly on previously developed land. Seeking to replace an existing dwelling will generally be acceptable in principle, but often subject to limitations around scale and massing.

Aside from matters of principle, you will also need to consider a range of ‘material considerations’ which can influence the outcome of a planning application. This can include any of the following:

  • Highway safety
  • Impact on trees
  • Impact on biodiversity
  • Impact on neighbours
  • Impact on heritage assets
  • Landscape impact
  • Flood risk and drainage

All of these technical issues are considered and balanced when determining whether to approve or refuse an application.

The planning process – what are my options?

Our clients typically come to us with a basic site location plan and ask if they can build a house on the plot. It is rarely a simple yes or no answer! Our first step is to provide some comfort by undertaking high-level checks relating to planning history, local planning policy and potential constraints. Owing to our considerable experience across the North West and beyond, we are also able to provide an overview of the housing position of respective local authorities, which may influence how receptive they are to new development.

Following this initial review, the subsequent planning process will depend on a number of factors. Here’s a list of the most common routes to consider when deciding on which application type to choose.

Pre-application advice with the LPA

Pre-application engagement is a good way of establishing how a proposal might be received by your local authority. It can be cost effective in the early stages of the process particularly in helping you to decide whether to commit to the purchase of a site or the preparation of a planning application.  The submission of sketch proposals will be sufficient at this stage.

Outline consent

Outline consent is a way of confirming that the principle of development is acceptable.  The supporting information is the same as a full planning application albeit there is no need to submit a full set of architect’s drawings.  If successful a second application follows (known as ‘reserved matters’) which covers the more detailed elements of appearance, layout, landscaping and scale.

This can be a useful way of establishing whether a local authority accepts the principle of development.  

Permission in Principle (PiP)

PiP is, in effect, an updated version of outline consent.

It also contains two stages – Permission in Principle and Technical Details consent.  This is an inexpensive way to test the water with a local authority particularly if success depends on some sort of planning justification.

It’s a lower cost option for applicants and provides a speedier response time, with a 5 week determination period and requires fewer drawings and reports than an outline application.

We would recommend PiP, especially for small scale and single plot developers working on a more modest budget.

It is worth noting that an LPA has the ability to grant PiP without an application, by choosing to enter qualifying, previously developed land Part 2 of its Brownfield Register. You may wish to review your Council’s register to see if plots of interest have been afforded permission in this manner.

Self-build register

Self-build legislation was introduced to help to diversify the housing market and increase consumer choice for people wishing to build their own bespoke homes. Your local authority is required to maintain a self-build register, which effectively allows anyone who meets local eligibility criteria to express an interest in pursuing such a project.

We would always recommend that clients with an interest in self-build apply to be on the register first and foremost. We can then begin to assess options to secure a new property in your preferred location.

What are the pitfalls?

Ensuring that a local authority supports your self-build proposal in principle is key to a successful outcome.  This should be established first and foremost in order to avoid wasted time and resources. 

Size matters, if your dream home is too large for the plot or its impact on the surrounding area is considered to be detrimental then be prepared to be flexible and compromise with a local authority. 

If there are neighbours that overlook your plot of land we would always recommend that you talk to them and explain your proposals.  Neighbouring objections can sometimes arise as a result of poor communication or a lack of understanding.

Finally, be prepared for the process to take longer than anticipated.  A planning application for a single house should take 8 weeks to determine by a local authority.  If you have entered into early engagement with planning officers then 8 weeks is a realistic target.  However, the determination of a planning application can sometimes take unexpected twists and turns so be prepared for this.  Using a planning consultant can help to de-risk a project from the outset.

There are numerous ways to tackle building your own home, but whatever your requirements, with our associated network of professionals we can help to guide you from plot identification to approval, via the most cost effective and appropriate route. In our next blog David Cox of, David Cox Associates, talks about house design and finding the right builder.  

For advice on obtaining planning consent for your self-build house project email