There are two sides to checking out a potential self build plot –
- Is it where you really want to live?
- Are there any serious problems or drawbacks with the particular site?
The main green issues are about –
- Transport and breaking dependence on the car. Check for the proximity of public transport; see if the area is easily cyclable and walkable
- Not spoiling environmentally sensitive land. You may need to carry out an environmental survey
Other more personal deciding factors may include the following –
- Is it a good place to bring up children with schools nearby?
- Are you close enough to a wide range of cultural experiences?
- Do you want to be close to the countryside?
- Is there a sense of community?
- Are there local shops?
- What about the views?
Quality of life
As opposed to the notion of “standard of living”, there is the idea of “Quality of life”.
What is meant by “Life quality”? (strictly within the scope of where you might buy some land) ?
Well if you approach an estate agent with the question of something like “What is this area like?” they will probably know what you mean. It becomes a tetchy subject because of assumed standards and class values. The UK is divided up into what is becoming something closer to a caste system than a class system with quite large areas of many cities becoming difficult to live in. This may be because of drug abuse or dysfunctional people.
With most people there is a balance between cheap building land in a “deprived” or “working class” area and expensive land in what is seen as a “middle or upper class” or “desirable” area.
Above are just a few of the many considerations you may have. Although the whole idea of ‘quality of life’ indices needs handling with care there are several types of index which can be used to get an idea of an area –
- You can see the neighbourhood statistics here
- If the site is rural there is a lot of information at the Natural England Natural England is the government's advisor on the natural environment. It 'provides practical advice, grounded in science, on how best to safeguard England's natural wealth for the benefit of everyone' site
- Crime statistics by postcode are here.
- the Sustainable Cities Index
Various local authorities have web sites which go into the quality of life issues in their area. These can be useful if land comes up for sale in an area you don’t know well. Search in your search engine under “quality of life” and then the name of the local authority. However there is a tendency for these sites to declare how many people go to church on a Sunday and such like!
If you become seriously interested in a site then it may be useful to get first hand information about what it is like to be there over a longer period. A slightly unconventional but extremely useful way is to get permission to either camp there or caravan there for a couple of days. It is amazing the amount of detailed information you can pick up by doing this. There may be quite subtle but important considerations about things like where the sun comes up, the microclimate, the views and a sense of privacy or exposure – how close the neighbours actually are! You may get a feel of the land, the history behind it and the character it has.
Potential problems and drawbacks with the site you are interested in
These fall into four main categories –
- Obviously ascertainable ones such as legal restrictions on the site, e.g. covenants or rights of way or wayleaves over the site. A solicitor will sort this out. Also things such as parking difficulties in the area or poor roads. It is also necessary to ascertain whether services such as water, sewage, electricity, gas and telecoms are available.
- Non-obvious problems of which there can be many. There might be seasonal or intermittent problems such as invasions by tourists, noise[for the purposes of part E of the Approved Documents] - Noise is unwanted sound. from pubs, intermittent industrial noise, traffic or pollution, certain types of crime, agricultural smells such as pig farms, there might be night time noises from industry, railways or fire stations. There could be difficult winter conditions. Obviously the best way to find out about all this kind of thing is to talk to as many locals as possible
- There is the rather more long term question about what the area is going to be like a good few years down the line. There may be plans for drastic changes to the road system, increases in the population density in the area or plans for industrial development nearby. Best to ask at the local planning department if any such changes are planned
- Finally there may be physical problems with the land itself, such as contamination, tree roots, drainage, old workings, etc. and they should come to light when you have a survey done. Local authorities are obliged to keep registers of contaminated land. And see an explanation here.
The Building Regulations
Site preparation and resistance to contaminants
This section, Part C, covers site remediationthe term applied to the method of dealing with pollutants and contaminants in the ground. The Building Regulations cover this in detail. See info about Approved Document C – Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture along with protection from nasties which might affect the construction and occupants such as damp, rain, radon etc. There is an abridged version of the Approved Document specially for houses.