Often the very best plots play host to the most unworthy of houses. David Snell examines the practicalities, cost implications and politics of replacing an existing dwelling

Perhaps one of the best ways of getting a plot, especially in the South-East, is to replace an existing dwelling. There are houses and bungalows everywhere that have exceeded their useful life. Some are small bungalows of timber and corrugated iron built just after WWII. Some are utilitarian brick-built bungalows and houses thrown up in the 1950s when there was little or no thought about thermal efficiency. Some date from the 1960s to the 1980s when design most certainly lurched forward, only to be pegged back by shoddy building practices.

Sometimes the owners fail to realise that what they’re living in is no longer sustainable. Sometimes well-meaning people buy these houses and attempt to refurbish them — attempts that usually result in failure and only delay the inevitable day when they are deemed not fit for habitation.

Government Policy

The Government has been largely supportive of the idea of older properties being replaced by new; but it’s not all been plain sailing. Many local authorities, faced with a need for affordable houses and mindful of the Government’s preferred density of 13 houses to the hectare, will not countenance a one-for-one replacement and, instead, may insist on any redevelopment being for multiple units. In some suburban areas, this has resulted in larger houses being knocked down in favour of blocks of flats, thereby removing the opportunity from the self-builder.

In rural areas, where the plot area permits, there can be a requirement that for every new house built, one affordable house is also provided. In others, the local authority may use its powers to impose a Section 106 Agreement, requiring the developers of the land to contribute towards affordable housing in the area.

However, this is by no means universal. Many local authorities will countenance the replacement – of what some consider architectural anomalies – with new homes that are sympathetic to the local vernacular.

Others are persuaded by the need to replace properties of substandard construction with new and energy-efficient homes.

The Conservative Party is hell bent on stopping what it terms ‘bungalow gobbling’, and it stews replacement dwellings in the same pot as ‘garden grabbing’. The Party has indicated its intention to remove garden land from its current classification of ‘brownfield’.

Nevertheless, there should be an understanding at local level of the difference between a genuine one-for-one replacement and the knocking down of perfectly viable houses to create a development site.

Estate Agents

They’re getting wise to self-build but it is still possible to come across a situation where an estate agent is trying to sell a substandard property without realising that it would be more valuable as a plot. Therefore, it’s well worth registering with the same estate agents through which you’re seeking a plot, in a different name at a family member’s address, as looking for small properties in the countryside which you can ‘do up’.

The Pros and Cons of Replacement

The Pros

The plot sizes are often far bigger, although if it is too big the local authority may want more than one house. Nevertheless, in many rural areas, small bungalows can be found on plots of half or even one acre. The gardens are often already landscaped: there will be lawned and planted areas that may well be utilised, whatever your plans. In most cases, the fences, walls and hedges to the boundary will already be there. It pays to have a survey of the land to establish the precise physical boundaries and to get your solicitor to check out which of them are in your ownership or responsibility. In many cases, the existing dwelling will have access to services – i.e. water, gas, telephone and electricity – and whilst you’ll still have to pay for a supply and service, infrastructure charges will not be applicable.

An existing connection to a mains sewer represents a considerable saving — as cracking open a road for a new connection is very expensive (£5,000 or more) and is work that can only be carried out by approved contractors. There may be a need for a camera survey to check that this existing connection is sound, but in most cases there won’t be a problem and connection can be made to the last manhole within the home. If the new house does not occupy the same footprint as the existing, it may solve your accommodation problems during the build.

The Cons

Demolition worries self-builders, but in most cases the costs are unlikely to exceed £5,000 — and where there is salvage, the costs can be considerably less, as old bricks are valuable to people building extensions. New bricks can be had for around £250 per 1,000, whereas second-hand bricks can often fetch £500. ‘Asbestos’ is the dread word but in practically every case the type of asbestos used in dwellings is white asbestos and, whilst precautions must be taken, in many instances this can be removed to the local tip by the self-builder.

In many areas – more so in the green belt – planning authorities place a size restriction on the new building in relation to the existing. Sometimes this will require that the new dwelling is no greater than a certain percentage (say 50%) over the size (either volume or floor) of the existing. Sometimes the requirement will be that it is no bigger.

Permitted Development Rights

Ensure you are aware of your full Permitted Development (PD) rights in order to get more accommodation. For example, if the size is restricted, you can increase the volume of the new dwelling afterwards when it is complete, or even use your knowledge of the existence of PD rights to negotiate a larger building with the planners. Perhaps you could operate the unused PD rights of the existing dwelling prior to carrying out the new development and then, when the old building is knocked down, leave the various extensions and outbuildings they have built so that they abut and/or benefit the new dwelling. However, do take care not to attract a withdrawal of PD rights if you are applying for outline or full planning permission.

Suburban Sensation

Don and Lorna McLean had wanted to self-build for a while when they found a run-down timber bungalow in the Glasgow suburbs, which played host to a rather unusual two storey rear extension. “We wanted to stay in the area, which is perfect for us — close to the city but on the edge of the countryside,” says Don. There weren’t any suitable virgin plots, so the couple bought this bungalow for £238,000, and spent £333,000 building a striking contemporary home out of insulated concrete formwork (ICF) in its place.



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  • Anonymous

    Under the "Cons" section of this article, I feel it is important to mention the "Code for Sustainable Homes" requirements – which has just cost us well in excess of £30,000. CSH Level 3 was a planning requirement for us and unfortunately we have found some of this cost has been a complete waste of time and money (rainwater harvester being the biggest let-down – due in part to the water coming through brown all the time from the leaves of surrounding oak trees, which has badly stained all the toilets and meant that we cannot use the recycled water for washing machine, etc).

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