The government has certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons with its recent announcements about easing the planning rules in order to encourage more house building.
In particular, its refusal to completely rule out some tinkering with the green belt has already had organisations such as the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England foaming at the mouth.
But are they right to be so incensed? After all, it’s not as though there isn’t a lot of our green and pleasant land still lying virginal. Last year’s UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) — a major study by 500 experts — calculated that just 2.27% of England is built on. That leaves almost 98% to go. And in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, there’s even more scope for the concreters to get to work.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not taking sides here, even though I’ve spent much of my working life as a senior land buyer for large national development companies willing governments to make it easier for us to acquire decent sites and obtain the necessary consents. I love the countryside and want to see it properly preserved.
I pose the question merely because we all know that the country is in desperate need of more housing…and it’s got to go somewhere.
What’s more, our construction industry — vital to the economy as it accounts for around 10% of GDP — could do with a major boost having been on the slide for some time now.
So, if a little guardedly, I suppose we should welcome any initiatives to stimulate a bit more activity in the sector.
However, this does mean that it’s going to be more important than ever that anyone thinking of buying a property should check first that it’s not going to be affected in the future by developers plonking a couple of blocks of flats or, even worse, a small estate at the bottom of their garden.
The risks are already there. It is estimated that around 85% of urban homes currently fall within a 75 metre radius of a potential development site. Any relaxation in planning laws will only make this situation worse with even some rural properties potentially coming under threat.
Until recently there has been no method for house buyers to properly investigate future development risks and allow them the opportunity to take a considered view about whether or not to proceed with the purchase.
That has now changed. For the first time, house buyers have the option to ask their solicitor or conveyancer to not only carry out searches into existing planning applications that may affect a property but also to look for any threats (or opportunities!) from nearby sites that could be exploited by developers.
It’s amazing that most people go into the most expensive purchase they will ever make without checking what the future might hold for their property. Sure, they will probably invest in a full surveyor’s report to make sure the property is structurally sound. And they’ll trust their solicitor’s/conveyancer’s searches to uncover any other immediate obstacles that may present a problem. But, unless they specifically request it, they won’t be told if there is any chance of nearby development taking place that could affect the value and their enjoyment of the property.
When they do, they frequently have cause to be grateful — and not just in the negative sense. For developers can also present opportunities as well as threats for home buyers…and sometimes both!
Take this recent case as an example. We provided a report to solicitors acting for the buyers of a 1930s three-bed semi which revealed that a neighbouring property had been given permission for eight new houses to be built. The development, if it went ahead, would have a negative impact on the view from the rear of the house.
Copies of the title to the neighbouring land, controlled by the developer, showed a restrictive covenant that could benefit not just the solicitor’s client but three of their neighbours. They could choose to either block the development or negotiate a release with the developer. They chose the latter, and all four ended up with a five figure financial windfall. The solicitor also gained three additional — and grateful — clients!
Even waterfront properties can have potential problems — and not just from flooding. We were able to point out to one home buyer that the view from the apartment he was thinking of purchasing could be somewhat spoilt by a six-storey floating hotel that had been given permission to be moored permanently on the water opposite.
In that case, the buyer still chose to proceed. But he was able to do so with his eyes wide open. Knowing what the future may hold can at least help home buyers to make properly informed decisions.
DevAssist Ltd provides a range of reports designed to alert property buyers to development risk or hidden value. For information visit www.dev-assist.co.uk