Plotfinding expert David Snell looks at opportunities in Greater London with H&R readers, Giles and Rosemary Jerrit.

Giles and Rosemary Jerrit are looking for a plot around South London in order to climb the property ladder. Their budget is £425,000 maximum and they hope to build using Rosemary’s (Chartered Civil Engineer) project management skills. To help them, H&R’s plotfinding expert, David Snell, tracked down several plots in the area. What follows is an account of the opportunities they found. Two were not viable and did not warrant further investigation, but the trio deemed one worthy of looking at in more detail.

The Plot We Looked at in Detail

Land at Thompson Avenue, Richmond — £180,000

This plot is formed from the back garden of one of a pair of semi-detached houses that sides onto another road. The vendor makes a habit of identifying such plots and obtaining an option whilst he seeks planning permission, but what marks this plot out is its small size and the level of foresight that was needed in the first place to recognise it as a potential plot.

The plot size is 11 metres frontage to the road by 8.5 metres — the width of the garden of the semi-detached house. Before it was identified as such, the garden was divided from the road by a simple timber-panelled fence. Now it is shut off from view by hoarding with a padlocked gate that encloses an area some three metres wider than the plot by agreement with the owners; this will provide some working space. The garden had obviously been planted with various shrubs and there is a small greenhouse still in one corner. Beyond what was the back fence of the original garden and adjoining the frontage to the new plot, there is a small electricity substation. The substation – which comprises an area of about two metres by three metres – is enclosed by close-boarded fencing and houses what appears to be a small transformer.

Planning

It took 18 months to get the planning permission with the original proposal for a two storey building being rejected, mainly because of the objections of the neighbours who felt that this would be too intrusive.

Undaunted, the vendors then hit upon the idea of creating a basement dwelling with only a small section above ground. They consulted all of the neighbours and had negotiations with the planners and, as a result, planning permission was granted last August. The main conditions on the consent are that the development shall be commenced within three years of the date of granting and that the final external materials must be approved prior to commencement of works. Within the consent the planners went on to state that they had concluded that there was no demonstrable harm to interests of acknowledged importance and that the proposals would not result in an overbearing impact on, or excessive loss of light or privacy to, neighbouring properties. That is important because, having got the consent, the vendors have gone back to increase the size below ground and increase the height of the single-storey structure by 600mm — and they can use the planners’ arguments in support.

Notice under the Party Walls etc Act will have to be served on adjoining owners, and in particular EDF, the owner of the substation, as the proposed excavations will go right up to the boundaries.

Ground Conditions

The vendors had originally intended to develop the site for themselves as a pied-à-terre in London, and therefore commissioned a soil report. The results found that the ground was ‘made’ ground to a depth of one metre overlaying medium-dense sand and gravel. From 2.2 metres downwards the soils became very dense. No water was encountered in the boreholes and the surveyors concluded that there was no cause for concern at the proposals and that the ground would safely support the structure. They also concluded that damp-proofing – rather than full water-proofing -– would be necessary.

The Site

The site is entirely level —in fact, it is level with the footpath. There is no real growth at the moment as most of the shrubs and trees have been removed. In the sandy soil conditions this should not present any problems.

The proposal is to excavate the entire site to the limit of its boundaries and -– as the soil investigation report concludes – this is likely to mean that the excavations will be taking place in a sandy gravel type of subsoil. Due to the non-cohesive nature of this type of soil the excavations would normally need to be battered (sloped). As they plan to build right to the boundaries this will not be possible and the site will therefore have to be shuttered or sheet piled.

Again, due to the cramped nature of the site there will be little room for storage of materials on site. Part of the excavation will comprise a basement patio garden area, but it is unlikely that this could be used for anything other than the occasional storage. The extra three metres that is being loaned to the site by the head vendors will therefore be very useful. At the moment the plans are for the excavations to stop one metre from the substation, but the new plans – should they gain favour with the planners – propose building right up to this boundary as well.

Potential Values

  • End Value: £450,000
  • Build Cost: £183,000
  • Land Cost: £180,000

The house planned for the site requires that the whole site is excavated to provide a basement dwelling with a below-ground terrace and a small single-storey section at ground level. This will be quite expensive to build. However, as much of the construction work will be in the hands of a principal basement contractor, the costs should be fairly finite. Total build costs, including the basement, should be around £183,000, which added to the land cost of £180,000 gives a total of £363,000 to set against a value of £450,000.

What to Build

The extent of the proposed development will provide just 85m2 of accommodation with a living/dining/open plan kitchen area, plus a bathroom and a bedroom on the lower-ground floor. Two sets of French doors will open onto the sunken garden and the bedroom will also have access. The ground/entrance floor will have a single bedroom with a shower room and a WC and steps down to the basement level. This ground floor section will be the only section visible above ground and will measure just 4.6m x 5m externally with a pitched roof. The basement section will be screened from the road by a two-metre-high wall.

David’s View

Without trying to sound patronising it was sometimes difficult to comprehend a building having a value as much as my own home when its total size is less than my kitchen. But this is London and values are high. Having adjusted during the day, and having been in similar-sized houses, I had no hesitation in advising Rosemary and Giles to offer the asking price, which they did.

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