Development sites rarely arrive ready for new housing. It is often a question of putting them together like puzzles and finding solutions to make them work both legally and practically. So, assuming a potential site has been identified and the planning position is good or looks favorable for housing development, where do you start?
Who owns the site?
To consolidate all the land required for development, the owner(s) of the site must be identified. It can be an easy or difficult task. If the site is a neatly wrapped area that is registered in the Land Register of Scotland under a single title sheet, then bingo! – the owner will be there to see everything. However, if the site is made up of several pieces of land owned by different people, these owners must be found and brought on board.
Do all borders meet?
After finding the affected owners, it is essential to determine if all the pieces of the puzzle fit together perfectly. Title plans and descriptions will need to be checked against ammunition survey plans to ensure legal title boundaries align with the current position on the land, and land registry plan reports obtained to find out any problem. See our blog “How to Find the Boundary Line” for more discussion of boundaries.
If there are any overlaps in land owned by those involved in the sales negotiations, this should be relatively easy to resolve. However, if there are gaps, finding the missing puzzle pieces may not be so easy. If the owners of these missing pieces cannot be found, then it’s time to think about how to deal with ownerless land, as discussed in our previous blog.
Missing pieces can appear anywhere in a site, both in the middle and on the periphery. Gaps at the margins should be treated with special care, as they could potentially cause access problems.
Can anyone come to the site and turn on the lights?
In addition to ensuring that all the pieces fit together, it is also important to ensure that either the legal boundary lines up with a publicly adopted road or the title has easement access rights allowing free passage through the site and connection to the network. .
Alignment with a public road provides the advantage of unrestricted access for pedestrians and all types of vehicles and makes life much easier for utility providers looking to install new service supports on site and perform connections to main services.
Local authority road adoption plans should confirm whether all parts of an adjacent road, including the shoulder, are adopted for maintenance by the local authority. Check out our blog on How to Adopt a Route for more information.
If there is a gap between the publicly adopted road and the site, or if access to the site is by a private road, easement rights granted by the owner of the gap or private road will be required for the access and for the installation and maintenance of services.
Such easement rights that already exist must be adapted to the subdivision. For example, the rights will have to allow not only the end residents and their visitors access to the new dwellings, but also the construction traffic supplying construction materials, installations, machines and equipment to build the houses. If this is not the case, it may be necessary to enter into negotiations with the owner of the land through which access is taken.
Who and what occupies the site?
Within the site itself, investigations should be undertaken to determine if there are other occupants or underlying issues that could impede development.
With rural sites, the possibility of existing agricultural leases and licenses should be considered. This may be apparent if there are animals roaming the site, but even if this is not the case questions should be asked. Checks should also be made to ensure that there are no protected wild animals on site. Check out our blog on how to manage protected wildlife.
Also, is anyone using the site as an entry route? It is important to check public rights of way on site, as they cannot be built, diverted or stopped unless proper procedures are followed. All established paths through a site, even if it is just flat grass, should be investigated and research carried out to verify that there are no public rights of way on a site . It is also important to check whether the site is subject to any kind of right of way, written or not. Easement rights can be established by using land for at least 20 years without objection from the owner, for example by parking cars on the land.
What’s hiding underneath?
It can be easy to spot activity above ground at a development site, but what’s happening below will be just as important. Are there any third-party minerals that cannot be disturbed during development? Are there old water pipes, telecommunications cables or power lines that will need to be moved or removed? Research will be needed with the Coal Authority and utility companies to help determine what might be there and where.
And of course, the possibility of underground contamination must be considered, especially in brownfields. The title may contain information about what the land has previously been used for, for example a former hospital site would be a red flag, but more detailed expert investigation will be required to establish what is there and what should be done. to remedy the situation.
Does the title authorize the construction of houses?
Most land in Scotland comes with title conditions that define what can and cannot be done on the land. It is advisable to check at an early stage whether such title conditions could block or delay a development. For example, it is not uncommon in rural areas to see title conditions aimed at guarding against over-development. These title conditions are not necessarily deal breakers, but they will need to be analyzed and assessed as to their applicability, and any potential performers identified. See our blog on how to deal with problematic title conditions for more details.
Anyone else interested in the site?
Competition for housing development sites is fierce. Developers will regularly scan the horizon, looking for any short-term and long-term opportunities. Some will have taken options on land that could come online for housing at a later time. The option itself will not be registered against the title but it will generally be secured by standard security which will be a red flag on the title regarding an interested third party.
A developer will have been in the field to get a sense of the local interest in the site, but it will still be important to back up their findings with inquiries from landlords and searches through the Community Rights Registry of purchase to see if there are any. the interest of a community organization is pending or has been registered.
The perfect website?
A site zoned for housing development, neatly wrapped in a title with a clear red line around it, with no overhead or underground interference or problem and no title conditions attached, is the nirvana of development sites, but these do exist. rarely in today’s world. Putting together development sites today is more difficult than ever. It is now a matter of putting the pieces back together, repairing if necessary and ensuring that anyone interested in the site is taken care of, before continuing with the construction of the new houses for the new occupants.