Are you about to buy a home threatened by local development?
The impact of local planning approval and development on a property can be significant. How do you find out if local residents will benefit or lose out?
Is local development a bad thing?
House price data shows that the construction of local amenities can measurably increase the value of a home. Value-boosting amenities include an underground station or even a Waitrose supermarket.
In contrast, approval for additional residential property, a block of flats or an unsightly building could reduce the house's value. This is more likely if the new construction overlooks the property, blocks light, or creates unpleasant noise or odours.
Changes to roads, traffic lights or parking restrictions can also affect value.
The noise, road closures and movement of materials and construction vehicles caused by the work itself can also create months of disruption, significantly affecting the new owner's enjoyment of their home.
What to check first when buying a property
If you have narrowed your search down to a local area, and even if you haven't arranged any viewings of specific properties, you can still investigate the likely impact of planning approvals and planned development in the area.
Contact the council
The local council's planning department will have a record of local planning applications and approvals. Although you may not wish to spend hours trawling through recent decisions, a planning department's website will usually have a search function to check a postcode, street or using local area keywords.
You can find the relevant council for a property on the Government Planning Portal.
The search should return details of decisions in the specified area, including their scope and whether the request was approved, denied, is being appealed, or has been withdrawn.
Be aware that if the council has withdrawn permission for developers to build near the property you're viewing, that does not mean a developer will not be apply for planning again in the near future, and have their request approved by the council.
Local newspapers and online message boards or Facebook groups may mention significant planning decisions or anticipated development in the area, particularly if the work is expected to have a noticeable impact, whether positive or negative.
Local rumours should be taken with a pinch of salt but may indicate the prospect of major changes to an area some time before an official decision is made.
At the viewing
When you attend the property, it is worth keeping your eyes and ears open for signs of possible local development. In some cases, the agent may inform you of anticipated or approved upcoming work, but remember that it's their job to sell you the house.
Any information delivered by the agent will probably be given a positive spin.
Checking out the area
As you arrive at the property, imminent or ongoing construction in the immediate area will likely be obvious. Given that the legal side of the housing buying process alone can take an average of 12 weeks, it's worth considering that work that's well underway may be complete or close to complete by the time you move.
Take the time to read any council planning notices posted in the area, and keep an eye out for developers' "coming soon" billboards.
Speak to the neighbours
If you have time and opportunity, you could ask the neighbours if they are aware of any planned works in the area.
If they are friendly with the vendor, a neighbour may be reluctant to reveal information about the house you are viewing. They will, however, be more likely to speak out about any 'hot-button' local issues like unpopular development.
As you explore the area, you could also visit the local council office. Local town councils will usually have noticeboards to post planning requests, approvals and related information.
Fields and wasteland
Many homebuyers have been disappointed to learn that the unobstructed view they thought they would enjoy will soon be obliterated by building work.
If you have fallen in love with a house because it backs onto picturesque rolling hills or simply because an empty plot that means "your" garden won't be overlooked, you may want to reconsider.
Any undeveloped land could be built on, and unless the land is contaminated or protected by green belt restrictions or similar, it likely will be.
Again, you can ask the estate agent about any empty land adjacent to the property and whether it has planning approval for works, but be prepared for an incomplete answer. Remember, the agent works for the seller.
What must the seller reveal?
The long-standing principle of "buyer beware" applies. Sellers may not misrepresent the facts but they are also not required by law to reveal their knowledge of any upcoming local development.
Unless, that is, the seller is specifically asked the question.
To facilitate this discovery, the seller will be asked by the buyer's solicitor to fill out a Property Information Form, or PIF. The form includes questions on a wide range of potential issues, such as neighbour disputes and boundary features. The seller must also provide information on local development.
Specifically, the PIF asks:
- If the seller has received or been sent any notices, is aware of any negotiations or discussions, regarding anything that may affect the property being sold or a nearby property.
- If the seller is otherwise aware of any proposals to develop or alter land or property nearby.
The local authority search
It is often the case that the vendor is unaware of any local development that could affect their home, wilfully or otherwise. For this reason, the buyer's solicitor will likely carry out a "local authority search" as part of the legal work needed to buy the property.
The search will investigate a range of planning approvals and other issues affecting the local area and that may directly impact the property under offer.
What does the search cover?
Your solicitor will consider several factors during the local authority search, including:
- If the property is built on contaminated land
- If the property is located in a conservation area
- Any local planning decisions that directly affect the property
- Whether roads and footpaths adjacent to the property are maintained by the council
- Any planned road schemes adjacent to or close by the property (usually within 200m), such as plans to widen roads or add another lane
The search will also reveal planning-related issues that have affected or will affect the property directly. This include:
- Planning decisions made in respect of the property
- Planning-related enforcement notices against the property itself
- Building regulations affecting the property
Beware - the search may not cover everything
Searches and other investigation carried out by a solicitor may not uncover all cases of local development. This is particularly true if the developers are building some distance from your planned purchase.
Using planning to negotiate a lower price
Evidence of a planning application or approval that does impact the property may be a useful bargaining chip when negotiating with the seller. This is particularly true if the proposed works could negatively affect one of the main selling points of the home, such as the view.
In a seller's market, there is always the risk that the vendor opts to accept the offer of another buyer. That buyer may be either ignorant of, or doesn't care about, the impact of the development.
However, the seller may be unaware of the work themselves until you raise it. The news may "spook" the seller and prompt them to take your reduced offer seriously.
It can be harder to persuade a seller to take an offer seriously if the impact is harder to judge. This can be the case even if the work may cause considerable short-term disruption.
As with many aspects of home buying, you only have limited information available to you before you make an offer.
Unlike issues that affect a property directly, it can be difficult to discern the impact that local development will have.