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Factors to consider if you want to find a suitable site to build your own house

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Buying a piece of land and then designing and building your own home is a pipe dream for many.

But what if you want to turn it into reality? Where do you begin and what are the key things to consider? 

We’re not talking about money here and your budget, but rather focusing instead on the process of finding a suitable site and planning permission.

We speak to James Firth, of estate agents Strutt & Parker, for his views on choosing a site and the best chances of securing planning consent.

The biggest mistake is rushing into a project without considering all the steps in the planning process, according to James Firth, of estate agents Strutt & Parker

The biggest mistake is rushing into a project without considering all the steps in the planning process, according to James Firth, of estate agents Strutt & Parker

1: Choosing the site

There are some areas that are better than others to consider if you’re planning to build your own home.

Mr Firth explains, for example, that brownfield sites or land that is adjacent to existing development has a better chance of getting planning permission to build on.

‘If you do not own the site, development sites can be taken forward on a subject-to-planning basis whereby completion only occurs once planning permission has been obtained,’ he said.

2: Check the local plan and development zoning

It is important to check whether the desired land is suitable for building on or is it protected. If it is green belt land, it will have more restrictions.

Mr Firth said: ‘The Government’s planning reform measures will introduce additional zoning of land, including land for growth, renewal or protection.

‘If the land is identified for growth or renewal, it is likely that an existing development will be there already, and will make it easier to move forward with a planning application.

If the land is zoned for protection, it will be more difficult. However, the Government Planning Reform hasn’t yet come into play, and there is no fixed date for its roll out, but it is something to bear in mind.’

He added that the Government is also encouraging self-builds and requires local authorities to identify how the need for self-build properties will be met in their area.

3: Draw up plans and engage early with local planning officers

Engaging with the neighbours and local community will help reduce the risks of your planning project.

‘This is the point at which you should engage with a planning expert. 

‘If you’re looking to purchase land upon which to build, do some pre-application work to get some feedback from the local authority,’ Mr Firth explained.

4: Consider the sustainability

National Planning Policy has recently been amended to give additional emphasis to climate change and sustainability considerations, Mr Firth points out.

‘So considering how these can be incorporated into your build will carry significant weight in the planning process,’ he said.

Minor scale applications could be decided by the council and the planning authority within eight weeks

Minor scale applications could be decided by the council and the planning authority within eight weeks

5: Consider biodiversity

In a similar vein, Mr Firth explained that proposals are required to minimise impacts on and provide net gains for biodiversity.

‘The Environment Act will also be bringing forward additional requirements,’ he said. 

‘Consider the type of property you’re building and whether you can incorporate some favourable sustainable features, such as planting trees or wildlife improvement to help secure planning.

6: Getting planning permission

Smaller scale projects are likely to be decided by a planning officer as a delegated decision, whereas some more controversial or larger scale proposals will go through to a planning committee for the council to vote on, according to Mr Firth.

He said: ‘There is the option of an appeal to the planning inspectorate if it doesn’t go in your favour. 

‘But above all, it’s about focusing on the overall benefits of the proposal – from the design or environmental credentials – these are all taken into account in what’s called ‘the planning balance’.

‘Minor scale applications could be decided by the council and the planning authority within eight weeks. 

‘However, it can take longer than this. If the time line is exceeded, there’s something called a non-determination appeal to the planning inspectorate but this process can take considerably more time.’

Other factors to consider

Why are people drawn to building their own home from scratch?

Self-builds give people the opportunity to design a home that fits not only their needs but their aspirations. 

There is scope to do some exciting things with advances in technology and incorporating interesting materials. 

But, while many people love shows like Grand Designs and the thought of creating a home may be appealing, remember budgets can stretch, family life can be thrown into chaos and you should expect the unexpected.   

What types of land do people look for?

Sites that are either well located near existing development or have had some form of previous development are typically easier to obtain planning permission on, but that’s not to say it can’t be granted for other sites if there’s strong justification.

It’s all about location – lots of people would quite like to live in a very rural location but securing planning in a remote location is more difficult. 

It’s a balance between what the buyer wants and what planning can be achieved. 

Finding this balance is what planners and architects work together to achieve, in line with their client’s aspirations.

What are the common mistakes people make?

The biggest mistake is rushing into a project without considering all the steps in the planning process. 

By doing some early engagement with experts, you can save a lot of time, effort and costs further down the line. 

My advice is to invest time upfront to save later in the process.

At what stage should people think about planning?

It should be considered at the outset from initial site-selection. You don’t want to be left with a site that you can’t get permission for.

How might planning have changed off the back of the pandemic?

The pandemic has impacted the desire for people wanting more space, have a garden and more amenable internal area – this is a wider trend and has created competition for suitable sites. 

Remember that the impacts of the pandemic on the property sector more widely are still a factor when it comes to self-builds, whether that’s finding available experts and architects or the availability of building materials.

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Fraser to attend Oireachtas committee on Zappone controversy

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The State’s highest ranking civil servant will appear before an Oireachtas committee to explain the circumstances around the now-scrapped appointment of Katherine Zappone as special envoy.

The secretary general of the Department of Taoiseach Martin Fraser will appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs next week.

Members of the committee are expected to ask Mr Fraser to explain in detail when precisely Ms Zappone’s name was communicated to the Department of the Taoiseach.

Controversy erupted in late July over an attempt by Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to appoint Ms Zappone as a special envoy for freedom of expression and LGBTQ+ rights.

On Monday, former minister Zappone turned down an invitation to appear before the committee to discuss the matter.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin was not aware of plans to appoint her before they came before Cabinet just before the summer recess.

Moreover, Fianna Fáil has disputed a claim from Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s that Ms Zappone was named as a UN special envoy in a memo sent to the Taoiseach’s office the day before the Cabinet discussed the proposed appointment.

“The memo with the name of Katherine Zappone was in the Taoiseach’s office, the day before the Cabinet meeting,” Mr Varadkar said earlier this month.

“Notwithstanding that, Simon Coveney and I had a responsibility to flag that to him as a Minister, me as a leader in Government, there should be good faith and no surprises, and I’ve spoken the Taoiseach about that, and apologised.”

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath disputed this and said that an “under the arm memo” sent to the office of the Taoiseach the day before the Cabinet meeting on July 27th did not mention Ms Zappone.

Mr Fraser’s decision to appear before the committee means the controversy will continue into another week.

Mr Fraser, who has been secretary general at the Department of the Taoiseach for a decade, is to move from Government Buildings late next year to become the Irish ambassador in London.

In mid-September, the Dáil voted confidence in Mr Coveney by 92 votes to 59.

Separately, Mr Varadkar has now sought to downplay reports of a “sting” operation arising from the Zappone affair, whereby a junior minister reportedly gave false information to a senior minister during a phone call, which then made its way to a journalist.

The Tánaiste said he had spoken with Patrick O’Donovan, reportedly the junior minister involved, but said he had not been shown text messages arising from the “sting” and that “there have been no confrontations” about it.

“He’s shown me no text messages or anything like that. This is an internal matter that will be dealt with within Fine Gael,” Mr Varadkar said. “I’m aware of what’s been reported and I’ve spoken to all the Fine Gael cabinet Ministers about this.”

Asked whether Ms Zappone should attend or otherwise respond to written questions from the Oireachtas committee, Mr Varadkar said it was a matter for her and the committee, arguing the Government had “moved on”.

Speaking in New York on Monday, the Taoiseach also sought to draw a line under the controversy, saying Ms Zappone was a “private citizen”. Mr Martin said: “As far as I’m concerned we’ve had enough debate about it now.”

“This was in effect, an under the arm memo which means it is brought to Cabinet on the morning of the Cabinet meeting itself and that was the first time that the name Katherine Zappone was with the Taoiseach and with all of the other Cabinet colleagues so that is certainly the case.”

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How much it costs to buy near new Nine Elms and Battersea tube stations

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Two new Underground stations opened this week – Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station.

But while the areas feature lots of new housing for London, people looking to move to there and jump on the Tube’s extended Northern Line will pay a hefty price tag.

The average price of a house in Nine Elms is £726,131, according to Zoopla, but they have got cheaper. This is a drop of more than 6 per cent on a year ago, the equivalent of £50,000. 

But that average price doubles to £1,501,091 once you narrow a buyer’s search area from the wider Nine Elms area to just the Nine Elms development site, which is the new housing just south of the River Thames. 

And there’s the opportunity to spend much more – among the three homes we found below in the location was a flat in Battersea Power Station for £16million.

A luxury penthouse high up on the eleventh and twelfth floors of Battersea Power Station is for sale for £16million with estate agent Copperstones - see more details below

A luxury penthouse high up on the eleventh and twelfth floors of Battersea Power Station is for sale for £16million with estate agent Copperstones – see more details below

Two new Underground stations have opened this week: One at Nine Elms and the other at Battersea Power Station

Two new Underground stations have opened this week: One at Nine Elms and the other at Battersea Power Station

Buyers looking at the Nine Elms development will need a typical budget of £1.5m, according to property website Zoopla

Buyers looking at the Nine Elms development will need a typical budget of £1.5m, according to property website Zoopla

Billions of pounds of investment have been pumped into the area in recent years, including through the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station.

The decommissioned coal-fired power station is now luxury flats and penthouses – while there has also been the building of a new US Embassy in Nine Elms.

Despite the recent falls in average house prices near the stations, property experts suggest that values will rise, at least in the surrounding areas.

Billions of pounds of investment have been pumped into the Nine Elms area in recent years, including through the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station

Billions of pounds of investment have been pumped into the Nine Elms area in recent years, including through the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station

Buying agent Henry Pryor said: ‘While some might expect the new stations to be full of people fleeing the Nightmare on Nine Elms Street, these new infrastructure nodes are really going to give the area a genuine lift.

‘Lower Chelsea and the area around Battersea Park may well see prices bumped up by as much as 10 per cent, even if many buyers in SW11 thought that they were high enough.’

We take a look at three properties for sale at Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms 

1. Two-bed flat, Battersea Power Station, £1.15m

This luxury flat is close to the Battersea Power Station Underground station, which opened this week in London

This luxury flat is close to the Battersea Power Station Underground station, which opened this week in London

The modern property is on the market for £1.15million and is being sold via estate agents Martin & Co

The modern property is on the market for £1.15million and is being sold via estate agents Martin & Co

Inside, there is an open-plan living area with a fully-fitted kitchen, while outside there is a covered and tiled private balcony

Inside, there is an open-plan living area with a fully-fitted kitchen, while outside there is a covered and tiled private balcony

There are two bedrooms, including the main one boasting an en-suite shower room and room for a baby's cot

There are two bedrooms, including the main one boasting an en-suite shower room and room for a baby’s cot

There is also a smaller balcony at the rear of the flat that overlooks the railway tracks that carries commuters in and out of central London

There is also a smaller balcony at the rear of the flat that overlooks the railway tracks that carries commuters in and out of central London

This luxury two-bedroom flat is in the redeveloped Battersea Power Station and has an asking price of £1.15m.

It has an open-plan living area with a fully-fitted kitchen and a large private balcony.

Residents have access to a library, private cinema, communal gardens, a gym, swimming pool and a concierge service. The flat is being sold via estate agents Martin & Co.

2. Six-bed penthouse, Battersea Power Station, £16m

The modern interiors include designer crittall-style doors and walls, which are made from many panes of glass

The modern interiors include designer crittall-style doors and walls, which are made from many panes of glass

The property has six bedrooms, seven bathrooms - including this one with a cooper bath -, a roof terrace and two parking spaces

The property has six bedrooms, seven bathrooms – including this one with a cooper bath -, a roof terrace and two parking spaces

The penthouse boasts far-reaching views from the private balcony across the River Thames and towards the city

The penthouse boasts far-reaching views from the private balcony across the River Thames and towards the city

The London penthouse has a hefty price tag and is being sold via estate agents Copperstones for £16million

The London penthouse has a hefty price tag and is being sold via estate agents Copperstones for £16million

This luxury penthouse is on the eleventh and twelfth floors of Battersea Power Station, with views across the River Thames and the capital.

It has six bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a roof terrace and two parking spaces.

You’ll need deep pockets to buy it due to its £16million price tag. It is being sold by estate agents Copperstones.

3. Three-bedroom flat, Nine Elms, £3.95m

The three-bedroom flat is in the Ambassador Building in Nine Elms and has a light interior with walnut parquet flooring

The three-bedroom flat is in the Ambassador Building in Nine Elms and has a light interior with walnut parquet flooring

The luxury home has floor to ceiling windows and is being sold via estate agents Johns & Co with an asking price of £3.95m

The luxury home has floor to ceiling windows and is being sold via estate agents Johns & Co with an asking price of £3.95m 

The famous Sky Pool floats 10 storeys up between two skyscrapers at the Embassy Gardens development in London

The famous Sky Pool floats 10 storeys up between two skyscrapers at the Embassy Gardens development in London

This flat is in the Ambassador Building in Nine Elms at the Embassy Gardens development – home to the Sky Pool.

It is three bedrooms, walnut parquet flooring, marble work surfaces and floor to ceiling windows.

It has an asking price of £3.95m and is being sold via estate agents Johns & Co.

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What to expect in Budget 2022? Small tax cuts and modest welfare increases

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Public spending may have rocketed over the past 20 months due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic but it appears that tax cuts and welfare increases will be on the table nonetheless when the Government sets out its budget on October 12th.

As Tánaiste Leo Varadkar recently said, there will be tax measures aimed at “middle-income people in particular”, as well as a welfare package to offset the impact of the rising cost of living.

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