Question: After a wonderful summer holiday in the UK, we have fallen in love with the idea of living in the countryside and commuting to London to work. We want to build our home or refurbish an old property. Our ideal plot is around one acre in a private probably semi-rural setting. We are aiming for a 3,000 to 4,000 square foot house with separate garage.
One of the main reasons for our move is to get away from the confines of suburban living and not be overlooked by neighbours. We desperately want more space around us. We would prefer to build upwards rather than to have a basement floor. We like high ceilings and well-proportioned rooms and large windows.
We realise that we may have to pay quite a lot for the land as we have chosen such a prime location, but this is the one thing we don't want to compromise on. Can you help us?
Answer: I certainly can help you build your dream home in the countryside. The London commuter belt is a very popular location. And landowners tend to build several properties on an acre of land, further pushing up the price of a plot of that size. So be warned that prices will be very high.
Rather, focus on designing the new building in such a way that privacy is provided by avoiding any parts being overlooked. Landscaping can have a big impact on privacy too.
You may have to take the risk of only obtaining planning consent on purchase, or you could look for a change of use, such as converting an old pub, office or barn. Planning regulations have relaxed recently, so local authorities are required to work out future housing needs in their area, and allocate sufficient land to meet it, with the "presumption in favour of sustainable development".
This does not only refer to the environment, but also economic and social sustainability, so to help your development you would need to be able to prove a positive contribution to all three.
This is very often called 'Smart Growth', an urban planning and transportation theory that concentrates growth in areas with walkable, bicycle-friendly land use, including neighbourhood schools, complete streets, shops and a range of housing choices.
Many councils have been asked to release part of their green belt land. You can contact the planning authorities and ask them where the most recent changes have been made.
Please be aware of the green belt fraudsters online. Four people were recently convicted of selling small plots of green belt land to unsuspecting buyers, falsely claiming they could be built on, and received jail terms of between six and seven years. So, always check with the local planning authority that it is true.
There are very few deals to be found with estate agents so try other avenues, such as local newspapers, word of mouth and property auctions, some of which are held at savills.co.uk and allsop.co.uk. Better still, visit the areas you like and ask people in person if they wish to sell.
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Peter Morris is an architect and interior designer and a director of Peter Morris Architects, which specialises in modern, innovative and practical designs (petermorrisarchitects.com).