Martin Walsh Associates

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The House That Marcus Built: Great Location but A Tricky Plot

As I design buildings for a living you won’t be surprised to hear that like 53% of people across the UK, I’d considered building my own house¹ – given the opportunity of course!

In January of this year, that dream became a reality when work started on a forever home that has been over two years in the planning!

So, I’m shifting from architect to client and over the next few months I’ll be providing a view from the ‘inside’, sharing my journey that will be filled with highs (he says optimistically) and possibly a few lows, as we tackle the joys of building a new home. I’m also sure that they’ll be a few tips along the way too!

The self-build

Progressing with a self-build is a significant achievement. In 2011, just 12,000 of these properties were delivered in a year, and this category of housing accounted for just 7-10% of all new housing within the UK¹.

Whilst this is a much lower figure than what we see in other countries, it’s not that the desire to build isn’t there! Ambition for self-build remains strong. In the recent Housing White Paper February 17, it stated “According to successive Ipsos MORI polls, more than a million people across the UK expect to buy a building plot, secure planning permission or start/complete construction work on their new home. Plotsearch has more than 100,000 live subscribers and Rightmove has an average 400,000 monthly searches on land.” ²

But, here is where the problem lies, land is hard to find and at a premium.

Whilst there are other barriers – procurement, access to finance, planning and general regulation - we have experienced the challenge of finding land first-hand, and know from our work within Martin Walsh Residential that this can be a time-consuming process.

But there are ways. Plot searches are a valuable tool, traditional estate agents are also a good source of local opportunities. Asking around in an informal way is also useful, this worked for us, but more of that later!

Various commitments from Government to support new build is also helping to cut red tape and identify land availability. There is also extra pressure on local authorities to provide more support. This includes the need for councils to maintain a register of people who wish to build their own home and in turn have the responsibility to identify and offer sites, which does help if you are on the hunt for land.

The time is right

When you have had a desire to build your own home for as long as I have, the final decision to take the step was influenced by timing. In 2015, as a family of four, we realised that we were quickly outgrowing our current home, but when we looked around we weren’t impressed with what we could get for our budget. So, this is where our journey began and our hunt for a single plot started.

A once in a life-time opportunity

So where did we find the plot? Whilst we were knee deep in plot searches (see my tips below) it was informal conversations with a client that helped us to secure a plot in Ossett. They had full planning approval for a new home in their garden but had decided not to progress with it.

Firstly, the fact that the site had planning permission was a bonus, but we had to be sure that our home met we the restrictions in place. This is an important consideration. Land usually comes with outline or full planning permission, if it doesn’t, progress with caution or at least investigate whether you can obtain a contract conditional to getting the permission you want. Other options worth investigating is an Option to Buy scheme, which is usually determined by the flexibility of the seller.

The space on offer suited our needs and would accommodate our vision for our forever home. This is crucial, a plot must be within budget and comfortably accommodate your footprint, if not you may have to make sacrifices that could have been avoided by investing more time in your search for land.

For our perspective, Ossett is a great location. It’s close enough to local amenities, literally down the road from our Dewsbury based office and close to motorway networks for business travel.

We grabbed the plot with both hands, but like everything in life there is often a compromise!

Great location but a tricky plot

The land available was a promising plot but tricky. It was a sloping site with bad ground (worked coal seam) and there was also planning constraints. We did our homework and were fully aware of these elements, so there were no surprises along the way.

Having the original, existing property on site meant that our house style would have to be sympathetic to the existing two-storey Georgian home and the height of our property ridge couldn’t be any higher than the existing Georgian Villa’s ridge height. But our biggest challenge was that the land held existing planning permission for a 1.5 storey, so rooms were within the roof space, and we wanted a five bedroom home!

From dream to drawing – designing a home that works harder

There is no doubt that we needed this home to work harder for us. Designing commercial buildings that enhance and support the businesses that use them is our bread and butter, so I knew that clever design would make the best use of the plot and deliver the home that was needed for my growing family………………………….

But that’s another story! Keep an eye on my next blog ‘From dream to drawing!” where we will look at our design and the planning process.

In the meantime, here is our top tips for finding land.

1. Embrace the grapevine. Keep your eyes and ears open! If you have an area in mind keep a look out for changes in the landscape. People also love talking about what their neighbours are up to! This worked for us!

2. Check in with your local authority, do they offer and can you register for plot release? Your local council may be able to help and should be working hard to get a feel for self-build demand which influences their housing policies. Log yourself and your requirements on the relevant Custom Demand & Self Build Register, here’s a quick link to the local authorities that have a managed self-build list. Or, you can register with your local authority here.  

3. Formal networks. There are a number of networks for land searches, yes Rightmove is an option as is your local estate agent, but why not try the ‘need a plot’ facility on the Self Build Portal which is produced by the National Custom & Self Build Association. One that comes highly recommended is Build Store’s Plotsearch ( One word of warning is always read the small print to check for commission fees for plot finders.

4. If you are looking for land, you should also have an eye on a builder. Good builders are hard to find and are often booked up in advance. Don’t waste time once you have found land researching good builders – you should have done this already and have a shortlist in place.

5. Once you have found your land, get to know your neighbour – it’s good to talk!

6. Be patient, but thorough. Finding land that is fit for purpose and within your budget is likely to take time, but this gives you the opportunity to do your research and be thorough when reviewing the plots on offer.


¹ Self-Build and Custom Build Housing (England) By Wendy Wilson 01/03/17

² Housing White Paper, Pg59 (53)


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Martin Walsh Associates

Martin Walsh Architectural, Firth Buildings, 99-103 Leeds Road, Dewsbury, WF12 7BU
Get in touch with us T: 01924 464342
F: 01924 450662