Are brownfield sites the future for self builders?

For many self builders, finding ways to reduce their impact on the environment has become increasingly important in recent times. One tactic some self builders have started using is to rejuvenate brownfield sites, as opposed to building on a greenfield plot.

The term ‘brownfield’ may not have been on the radar of self builders earlier in the year, however multiple government announcements have changed that. ‘Build build build‘, an announcement to upgrade Britain’s infrastructure, and the government’s promise to build 300,000 new homes have both put an emphasis on brownfield sites.

Here we answer the four most asked questions about brownfield sites.

What is a brownfield site?

A brownfield site is defined as a derelict or vacant plot of land that was previously used for industrial, commercial, or agricultural purposes. Common examples of brownfield sites include abandoned storage units, derelict warehouses, and disused petrol stations, however, they don’t include barn conversions, garden plots or replacement dwellings. These plots differ from greenfield sites as a greenfield site is one that has never been previously built on – and they often tend to be on the edges of our towns and cities.

Many people may have not given brownfield sites a second thought, but they can provide a variety of benefits for self builders, especially for those who are after a more urban or industrial feel.

What is the brownfield register?

In order to aid the renovation of these plots, as of 2017 local authorities were legally obliged to keep a register of all brownfield sites that are suitable for development. These registers were created to help commercial developers and self builders highlight and identify brownfield plots in their area.

Unfortunately, at the moment these registers are not massively promoted, meaning that in some areas there could be a huge number of potential sites that are being missed. Ultimately it comes down to how much time and effort each local authority has put into maintaining their register.

The site must meet certain criteria in order to be included on the list. These are that the site is free from any ownership or legal issues, and the site is capable of delivering at least five extra dwellings.

What is the environmental impact of building on brownfield?

Everyone is looking for ways to reduce their impact on the environment, and brownfield sites offer exactly that for self builders. The country has a limited amount of green space and with towns and cities constantly growing, the surrounding area is feeling the effects. However, due to the fact that brownfield sites already exist, they offer local authorities the opportunity to reduce the impact of residential development.

The self builder can also take comfort in the fact that they are doing some social good: any of these sites will have been unoccupied for a number of years and so by rejuvenating a plot of land, the entire neighbourhood may benefit too.

What mortgage considerations must self builders consider?

From a financial perspective, it’s important that costs are based on a self build mortgage when budgeting for a brownfield renovation, as opposed to a standard residential mortgage.

On some occasions lenders may be reluctant to lend on a brownfield site, which is why we recommend borrowers consider seeking the advice of an intermediary with expertise in this field. In addition, a self build mortgage application for a brownfield site can be complex, so it can be wise to approach a lender who is able to take individual circumstances into account via a process known as ‘manual underwriting’.

Brownfields sites aren’t something many self builders would usually contemplate. However, with appropriate planning and consideration, they can be a fruitful opportunity and provide the chance to live somewhere more unique.

Richard Norrington is CEO of Ipswich Building Society. Ipswich Building Society offers self build mortgages and operates a manual underwriting approach, so applications are reviewed by an individual, not a computer.

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