Assessing your land: Is it Suitable for Development?
Looking out at your plot of land, it may seem like a pristine site ready for new homes, businesses, and a thriving community. But it's not just the open space that matters. There are several crucial factors to consider before making any substantial decisions about development. Three Bidwells Partners explain where to begin.
Where does this complex sounding process begin?
Danielle Percy, Partner, Head of Landscape Architecture & Masterplanning, offers some preliminary advice:
“The initial step is to conduct a comprehensive feasibility study to ascertain the complete potential of your land. The study serves a dual purpose: to unravel the full development potential and to identify any constraints or challenges that may surface down the line.”
Danielle Percy, Partner, Head of Landscape Architecture & Masterplanning
A feasibility study delves into the physical aspects of the land – its topology, geological features, soil conditions, and water resources, to name a few. It also investigates potential planning prerequisites that may influence the development project.
Danielle continues: “This in-depth study provides a robust framework for landowners and aids in shaping a vision for the site, keeping in mind its inherent potential and any foreseeable obstacles.”
Zanna Bowles, Associate, Residential Development, Oxford, adds:
“Another crucial aspect to inspect before any decision-making is the demand for both development and the intended product in your area. It involves a thorough examination of the local housing market along with the commercial and industrial demand. For example, in the correct location, life sciences commands very strong values in the arc region.”
The assessment could reveal that your land might not be the best fit for local commercial development but could be an excellent match for a mixed use, residential-led scheme.
She adds, “The financial viability of any potential development is a critical factor. It involves analysis of the planning potential, estimating the development costs and juxtaposing that with the potential revenue to determine the likely return to both developer and landowner.”
Zanna Bowles, Associate, Residential Development
Ian Ashbridge, Partner, Head of Agriculture & Environment, poses a key question when considering green belt development:
'What does agriculture stand to lose if this land is developed?'
While examining the impact of losing grade one agricultural land to development, we need to balance it against the proposed project's potential benefits. For instance, if a region primarily consists of grade one and grade two agricultural land, developing a small portion might not translate into a significant loss."
Ian Ashbridge, Partner, Head of Agriculture & Environment
What is the expected timeline for this process?
Danielle says: “The timeline for completing the feasibility study hinges on several variables. Factors like the size and complexity of your site, coupled with any regulatory requirements impacting the project, play a crucial role. As a ballpark estimate, a feasibility study can typically be delivered within a few weeks.”
Ian elaborates on an earlier point: “It is crucial to recognise the potential impact of a development on national food production and food security. The National Planning Policy Framework now includes a defined section that necessitates any development to consider the impact of losing agricultural land.
“If your land falls into grades one, two, and three A, you need to make a compelling case demonstrating why your development is sustainable. It can take time.!”
Zanna adds: “Promoting land through the local plan system can take years and is a long-term undertaking. Specialist organisations can be engaged to drive forward the land promotion and at the outset a planning strategy is prepared to identify the likely timescales involved. This preliminary research can be undertaken in a matter of weeks.”
What is the most critical factor when deciding if land is suitable for development?
Zanna places planning strategy and financial viability at the forefront: “Developing land can be an expensive endeavour and there are many factors to consider when devising a development strategy for a site. However, it’s critical for landowners to conduct a thorough analysis of the planning prospects and a financial analysis of likely returns before committing to a development project. Understanding the risks and opportunities through this preliminary work helps landowners make informed decisions about whether to proceed with the project, thereby minimizing the risk of potential financial losses. A reputable land agent will provide the necessary guidance and advice the Landowner requires.”
Ian Ashbridge highlights the importance of long-term sustainability: “Landowners should consider the enduring sustainability of the land use. They must assess the development’s impact on soil, water, and air quality over the long haul. What’s more, potential consequences for any existing agricultural business occupying the land cannot be overlooked. Farmers, in particular, need to approach this decision with a holistic perspective.”
Danielle Percy, while agreeing with her colleagues, places an equal emphasis on the feasibility study: “The most important piece of work is the feasibility study. It helps determine whether a new development is financially viable, technically feasible, and environmentally and socially responsible. It forms the cornerstone of any successful project."
Ian Ashbridge concludes with specific advice for green belt land: "If you're considering developing green belt land, it's essential to consider its agricultural land classification. You must ascertain the grade and then produce a comprehensive report with a plan around how to manage Best and Most Versatile Land. This multifaceted approach to planning and development advice is what we, as a firm, can offer—a seamlessly integrated solution."