Why you can’t build houses in fields

But we all want to!

The issues we bump up against the most when serving the self-build and self-self build (that’s how we lovingly refer to people who are building with their own two hands) market are land, planning permission and more accurately, the fact that both are so difficult to get. Part of my role at Hartwyn is to make it fit in with the world that we’re currently living in. That means learning and interacting with the economics of housing and construction from land sourcing to property prices and doing my best to educate our clients on what that looks like beyond the dream-space.

Reality sucks. We all know this. Dream-space is where the creativity, individualism and magic lives. But the quicker we engage with it, the quicker we can get on with making things happen or (shock) deciding that maybe this path isn’t for us*

Let me be clear here, it’s all connected. The first fact to take on board is that we can’t simply buy a field and build a house in it. Second fact is, the difference between the price of land with planning and without can be 10x or more and the third fact is the inflation of land value is based on a scarcity model created largely by the property market which means that the prices aren’t necessarily accurate or representative of the wider economy.

There’s enough space for us all, it just depends on how we distribute. We should be building more houses, decentralising the right to build more houses and empowering people to do so. We should also allow environmentally catastrophic businesses and entities that aren’t viable to go out of business so that they sell their assets, rather than bolstering them up artificially and hoarding land that other people could use. 

Without getting political, (careful…) that’s not where we are right now. The supply of housing, a key part of any human’s life and the most recession-proof resource there is has been effectively ring-fenced in the UK. But there are 2 sides to this. The sad truth of the matter is that whilst we all love the idea of simply being able to buy a patch of land and build on it, we’re not islands. We’re part of a society.

Planning laws (whilst often archaic and corrupt) do serve a purpose. They prevent one person’s actions adversely affecting another and they save those who don’t understand the implications of deciding to build a house from making some potentially very bad decisions. The house itself is only one small part of a home. Homes have to exist in context and in harmony with the other things that are (and are not) around it. 

As much as a lot of people might like the idea of having an isolated house in the middle of a field, not being near to a shop (or even a road!) is quite often over time a lot more of an issue than people realise when they think about their house on the hillside. Even from an environmental perspective, isolated and single-entrance housing estates rely entirely on cars as there is no local transport, so your lovely eco-build can be very much offset in the wrong direction by being in the wrong place.

So planning is an often unwelcome, but necessary part of life. Sadly however, the scarcity of housing and heightened emotions around that drive people to skip over this realisation. We desperately want the things we want to be true, to be true. As with pretty much any other situation where we have a group of mis-informed people, you also have a group of people willing to take advantage of them. 

In this article we hear about a growing trend of people selling off parcels of land which have pretty much zero chance of ever getting planning permission. As the article says,

“First of all, these sites are usually situated far away from villages, towns or other local amenities – so they are the least likely locations to be granted planning permission, even if they were to be kept intact.”

“Secondly, if the new owner of any one of these plots is under the impression that they would be able to get planning permission on their individual site stuck in the middle of a field, while the surrounding plots are still on the market, with all the access issues that entail, they need to think again; it’s simply never going to happen.”

Nice, huh? For me this is the equivalent of selling PPI to your confused Nan or ANY form of advertising that targets children. Not that the people buying this land are to be likened to children or the elderly necessarily, but they are similarly defenceless against the tactics based on the information they have.

No-one is saying that building a house is all sweetness and light. It’s not. It’s expensive, difficult, always takes longer than you think it will and (if you don’t have any already) will leave you with many grey hairs. But it’s wonderful, rewarding, beautiful and a unique experience. Not to mention often profitable based on build costs and future value. Add to that the idea that many people don’t think they have a choice in the property market otherwise, and you’ve got a maelstrom of emotion and hope preventing them from looking further at something that is clearly too good to be true. 

The key to all of this is, as ever, awareness and education. You don’t have to look into the murky world of land sourcing very much to learn that this goes on, but the fact that it still IS going on means that there’s a knowledge gap in the wider populus. 

So, why can’t we build houses in fields? The answer is, we can. Just not any old house in any old field. And even when you do have the right house in the right field, you’ll probably need some other sources of knowledge to help you avoid kissing too many frogs.

You can learn about planning and many other things in our Self-Build Primer course which will return in November 2020. Head over to the shop on our website for a gander or fill out the form below to reach out to us, we’re always happy to chat things through with you if you’re unsure.

Until next time, 

Arif

*Im VERY keen to help people to realise this as much as I am to help them build houses. It’s not for everyone, and that’s totally fine…..

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