The Ultimate Guide to Finding Land for Development in the UK

Date: March 5, 2024

Many people in the UK are interested in property development. This could be for Residential Development such as self builds, residential conversions or larger scheme of houses.

Or you could be interested in Commercial Development projects such as offices, medical centres, industrial buildings, retail units and many others.

You will often require planning permission to make your project a reality. Sometimes development sites benefit from Permitted Development rights (GPDO) but you will still need to go through the prior approval process with the local planning authority before you get started.

You can often find land that has planning permission in place that is ready to build on. These sites are often much more expensive then sites without planning because the planning risk has been removed. The best profits are often achieved by securing land without planning permission and then achieving the planning permission yourself. There is more profit but the risks are higher. However with build costs rising every week this added risk is sometimes worthwhile.

image of land available for development in the UK

What professionals do I need to secure planning permission?

To achieve planning permission you often need a team of professionals who can guide you through the process.

You will need someone who can produce drawing for your scheme this could be an Architect or Architectural Designer. Normally they would produce a site plan, floor plans and elevations for your idea.

A Chartered Town Planner is a professional who is an expert in the UK Planning System. They would guide you through the relevant planning policy and regulations. They can help inform your architect on their design and what needs to be changed for the proposal to get planning permission. They would normally produce your formal planning application and submit it to the local planning authority. They often interact with the planning officer and make changes to the scheme where required. They have expertise in justifying the merits of your scheme to the council. They also appear at Planning Committee for you when required.

You will need a team of Environmental Consultants that can provide the required reports for your development proposal. These are submitted to the local council. This could include Noise Impact Assessments if your proposal has the potential to create adverse noise. These are carried out by IOA qualified Acoustic Professionals. They leave monitoring equipment on your site and produce technical reports for the Environmental Health Officer at the local planning authority.

If your development could have a potential impact on Air Quality,  an Air Quality Assessment could be required. These are carried out by AQA qualified surveyors who supply monitoring equipment on site and provide technical reports to the the Environmental Health Officer at the LPA.

Many development schemes impact traffic movements and parking, when this occurs experts in Transport Planning are instructed to carry out traffic and parking assessments for the development proposal. Transport Planning assessments often involve a Transport Strategy, Transport Plans, a Swept Path Analysis and more. These are submitted to the internal Transport officer at the council for approval.

Some development proposals in built up areas can affect the Sunlight and Daylight of neighbouring properties. When this occurs a qualified Sunlight/Daylight surveyor is instructed to assess any issues relating to Sunlight, Daylight and Overlooking. A Sunlight/Daylight assessment informs the architect and planning consultant on the design of the scheme. They send these assessments to the Local Council and explain how the proposal will not harm the sunlight and daylight reaching neighbouring properties. They will also provide measurements and models to show how a development proposal will not cause an unacceptable overlooking of habitable rooms.

When a development proposal has the potential to impact or change the landscape of the surrounding area a Landscape assessment can be required. These are known as Landscape Visual Assessments (LVA) or Landscape Visual Impact assessments (LVIA). They inform the council on the likely landscape impact of the scheme. A qualified Landscape Architect produces reports to inform the council on how the scheme will impact the surrounding area. Their findings inform the design of the project and suggest ways to mitigate adverse landscape impact.

Larger development that are likely to have significant effects on the environment sometimes require Environmental Impact Assessments. But a full EIA involving ‘Scoping’ and ‘Screening’ opinions are less likely for smaller developments that have less significant impacts on the surrounding area.

Another common environmental report is a Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP)  this report shows how the applicant will minimise negative impacts on the environment during the construction process.

Depending on the nature of the development proposal other reports could be required including Tree surveys (for protected trees), Ecology surveys and Flood Risk Assessments (FRA).

This all seems very complicated. However a consultancy such as Enviropass that offers all of the above under one roof is a great way to reduce cost and stress when trying to achieve planning permission.

So you have chosen the kind of scheme you want to do, where do you find land?

The first thing to realise is that finding a profitable development site is a challenging task, if it was easy everyone would be doing it! But with the correct strategy it is certainly possible for those willing to work hard to secure a site.

Once you have chosen the general region you want to do a project, it is a good idea to register with a number of residential and commercial estate agents. Once you have registered your interest online give them a call to introduce yourself. Explain your goals and funding position. You need to give them confidence that you are a buyer with funds in place and that you can perform when the opportunity arises. Often the estate agents won’t immediately have anything suitable that is available for sale. It is important to check in with the estate agents every couple of weeks to check if they have anything coming up in the near future. You might have seen projects on their website that has recently sold. Perhaps check that all of the sales actually went through, if they didn’t, perhaps you could step in if the price was right.

However many excellent development sites are not advertised on the open market. Sometime they are sold off-market as some vendors want a discrete sale of their land to qualified buyers. Local builders, surveyors, architects and planning consultants are often a good source of off-market deals. Speak to friends and family, even people down the pub or at the tennis club. You’d be surprised how often local people you know have heard of sites that could be for sale if someone made a suitable offer to the vendor.

You could even try the direct approach to finding land but it requires some knowledge. Go onto Google maps and look at your local area from the satellite view. You will notice rows of houses, commercial building and perhaps green open space. After looking at your area for awhile you will notice a pattern of development. This is where opportunities can arise. Perhaps you can see a row of houses but one of the houses benefits from a large plot. Get out the measuring tool and see if another house could fit on that plot. Make sure you account for parking and suitable amenity space. If it’s starting to look good, note down the address and drive past the building when you finish work. Does it look like another house could fit onto the plot? Write a hand written letter and post it through through their letterbox. Explain you are a residential developer and would be interested in having a chat about their property. We find hand written letters in a small envelope have an excellent response rate. Look at several different sites and repeat this process. Many people will not respond but eventually you might get lucky. As a new developer you should devote several hours each week to finding sites. The same model applies to commercial development, identify a site in your local area with planning potential and make a direct approach.

It is a good idea to get a structured system in place when finding land. Note down in a spreadsheet the areas you have already looked at, whether you have already sent a letter and whether you got a response. If you want to take to take this seriously you might chose to use some software to help you evaluate sites. There are several software products on the market that link to the HM Land Registry. Clicking on the map gives you the site boundary and sometime even ownership details. The best software even shows details of the planning history of the site. With the correct expertise these tools allow developers to quickly evaluate the planning potential of the land.

However there are several pitfalls that await the inexperienced developer when purchasing land for planning. You need a good understanding of national and local planning policy. Development proposals that conflict with planning policy will likely not get approved by the council. It is often a good idea to show your sites to a qualified team of professionals. They can guide you on the likelihood of getting planning permission for your site.

You can also try to secure sites at auction. This is not recommended for inexperienced developers. When attending an auction you effectively exchange contracts when the hammer goes down and your bid is accepted. You can lose your deposit if you fail to complete because you got your numbers wrong. Although for experienced developers an auction can be a excellent source of cheap land. But you need to have done in depth research first. When buying at auction you need to think about your fall back position if you fail to get planning permission. Is there still an alternative use of the site? Could you sell the site again and get your money back with its current planning use? These are important things to consider when sitting down in the auction room.

How much should I pay for a site?

This is a complicated question that cannot be fully answered here. It is a good idea to seek advice from a RICS qualified Chartered Surveyor who can advise you on the range of values for a given site without planning permission in place. Every site is different.

How do I finance the purchase of the land?

Many purchasers of land are cash buyers. They can act quickly, this is how they secure sites at good prices. They give vendors the confidence that the purchase will occur swiftly with minimal hold ups. However there are other options available. Depending on the type of site being purchased some lenders will provide bridging finance. However bridging finance is best used by experienced developers as the interest rates are often in the double digits. If the building has a suitable existing use class in place then commercial mortgage finance might be available. Some developers do a joint venture with someone who has the cash to purchase the site with them. Many experienced developers use option contracts to secure a site with a minimal down payments whilst they attempt to secure planning permission. Others use the tactic of exchanging contracts ‘subject to planning’ with the provisor that they don’t need to complete if they fail to secure planning permission. Developers sometimes use promotion agreements (mainly for larger sites) to structure deals using minimal cash upfront. They use these techniques to reduce the planning risk on the site. In all cases an experienced property lawyer should be used for such agreements. 

I have got Planning Permission. What should I do next?

Congratulations! You have added significant value to your site. Once you have your Decision

Notice you will need to discharge several planning conditions before you can start your build. An Environmental Consultancy can provide the reporting needed to discharge those planning conditions with the case officer in the local council. You normally have three years to make a meaningful start on your project before the planning permission expires. So you can’t wait forever.

If you need professional advice relating to the Planning and Environmental consultancy for your project. Please contact Enviropass at or call 0203 488 0225.

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