A guide to developing land in London

A guide to developing land in London

More and more people are looking for residential properties with development potential or for land that can be developed from scratch.

In London, of course, available land for development is harder to come by – but it’s definitely not impossible.

And if you can find that dream plot, or a property with additional land, you could be taking a first step towards owning a new London property.

Here, we’ll explore the different plots of land you might find in London, explain everything you’ll need to consider before buying and outline some of the potential costs involved in buying land on sale in London.

We’ll also take a look at the things you’ll need to consider if you’re buying property that comes with development land.

Can you buy land in London?

You can absolutely buy land in London if you’re able to find a plot that works for you.

There’s a lot you’ll need to consider but buying land and self-building can be a great way to create a dream home in your preferred location.

Is it expensive to buy land in London?

With the average price of a property in London edging above £650,000, according to Zoopla, it should come as no surprise that land values in the capital are also well above other areas of the UK.

How much does land cost in London?

Land for sale in central London can run into tens of millions of pounds for large plots.

However, it’s possible to find smaller plots in the outer travel zones for much less and if you’re able to be creative with what you plan to build, it’s possible to secure a small plot of land in London for as little as £15,000 - £20,000.

Types of land for sale in London

1. Brownfield land

Brownfield sites are pieces of land that have been previously developed but aren’t currently in use.

The main benefit of buying brownfield land is that services are likely to already be in place – saving you money.

However, brownfield sites are often contaminated, and this can require time and money to put right before you’re able to break ground.

There may also be existing buildings on the site that require specialist demolition.

2. Garden plots

Garden plots are where existing homeowners sell off part of their garden for development and are sometimes referred to as ‘infill’ plots.

Garden or infill plots can be great, cost-effective land to buy for development, but can come with restraints over what can be built, and plot sizes can be small.

3. Land to the rear of existing property

Known as ‘backland development’ land, garden plots to the rear of existing properties can be sold for development.

Like garden plots, backland development land can be small and access issues usually need to be resolved as part of the planning process.

4. ‘Buy to demolish’ land

‘Buy to demolish’ land is an effective way to obtain planning permission if you’re prepared to knock down and replace an existing property with a newer but ‘like-for-like’ building.

How to buy land in London and where to look

Often, the hardest part of developing land in London is actually finding it in the first place.

Here are five places you should be looking for land in London…

1. Land and estate agents

If you’re set on finding land in a specific part of the capital, the first step to take is making contact with local estate agents and land agents.

Even if your local agent has no plots for sale, they should be able to recommend land agents or give you an early tip on land that may become available in the future.

2. Auctions

Auctions can be a great way to find good plots of London land to develop – but you’ll need to be financially prepared.

If you’re the successful bidder on a particular plot at an auction house, you’ll need to pay a deposit on the land there and then – with the rest of the cost payable usually in 28 days.

Do your research before the auction, too:

• Look through the auction catalogue which will detail whether or not the plot comes with outline or full planning permission

• Arrange to view the plot with a surveyor before the auction and look at ground conditions and access

• Hire a solicitor to go through the seller’s legal pack with you, which will highlight things like leases and title deeds. Your solicitor should also be able to undertake searches and the check planning permission status

3. Obtain local planning registers

Planning registers outline all the applications in the area you’re looking to buy.

By checking the planning register, you may be able to find a plot of land subject to a planning application that hasn’t been put on the market yet.

This gives you the opportunity to approach that seller before their land is officially up for sale.

4. Online portals

Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket will all have listings for plots of land in London, so this can be a great place to start and get an idea of what’s available and what you might have to pay.

Land listing websites like Plot Search can also help you assess what’s available in your area.

Things to consider when viewing land to buy in London

Buying a piece of land to develop requires a great deal of thought and research.

Here are six key things you should consider when viewing land to buy in London…

1. Location is key

In London, being able to get around easily is crucial.

So, research how close the land you want to view is to Underground stations and other capital transport links.

2. Access and roads

While a plot of land might look perfect at first glance, often there can be access issues.

Garden plots and backland development land can often present problems with access and if you need to build a road in order to solve these issues, it can be expensive and time-consuming.

3. Drainage, groundworks and flooding

Before committing to buying a plot of land, your solicitor should carry out searches to establish if the plot you’re interested in is on the floodplain or susceptible to flooding.

If the land has been developed before, drainage and services should be in place.

But if it hasn’t, you’ll need to establish with the local water services company what’s achievable and what isn’t.

Also be sure to assess the quality of the ground:

• Has it been contaminated?

• Is it too rocky to dig foundations?

• Is the land likely to suffer with subsidence?

Your solicitor should be able to answer these questions through their local searches.

4. Tree orders and other covenants

Your solicitor’s searches should help to establish whether or not the land you’re looking at has any existing covenants on it, restricting its use.

Searches should also reveal any existing tree preservation orders that could hamper your bid to develop the land.

5. Consider the size and shape of the land

Look at the shape of the land and think about how you want to use the space when developing your build.

Does the size of the land enable you to build the kind of property you want?

Think, also, about sloped plots, which can be more expensive to build on.

6. Planning permission

The be-all and end-all if you’re buying land in London to develop is planning permission.

Without planning consent, you won’t be able to build on the land and you’ll end up with an empty plot.

Speak to your local planning department and build a rapport, outlining what you’d like to do with the plot before you buy it.

You can apply for planning permission before buying a plot of land and, if approved, this will give you peace of mind that you’ll be able to develop the land how you want to.

And if you’re looking at a plot of land that comes with either outline or full planning permission already in place, you’re not obligated to build to that design and can submit a new application if you wish.

Things to consider when buying a property with development land

Property prices in London are high in many areas.

But if you can find a property that comes with additional land or a large garden, there could be an opportunity to make a profit from the space.

When looking for a property that comes with land, or a large garden with development potential, you should:

• Search for properties that already have planning permission in place for development of land, or a garden plot

• Consider ease of access to the plot

• Consider any overlooking or loss of light issues for neighbouring properties

• Speak to your local planning department about what’s possible on the plot if planning permission isn’t already in place

Further reading…

If buying land isn’t for you, but you’re still keen to put down roots in the capital, take a look at these great places to buy a house in London.

Being near a good school is also high on London buyers’ wish lists, so we’ve outlined everything you need to know about school catchment areas.

Finally, if you’re a first-time buyer looking to get on the London property ladder, our guide for first timers can help.