A guide to buying council land

Key information
  • If the land isn’t on the market, you’ll have to apply to the council to buy it
  • Councils can choose to list property on the open market after you’ve applied
  • Buyers will have to pay the council certain purchase fees

When it comes to development projects, nothing is more important than finding the right piece of land. But while buying land on the open market is straightforward enough, what if the plot you want is owned by the council?

The good news is that council ownership doesn't mean that land is off-limits. The process is a little different to buying land from private landowners, but that doesn't have to be a barrier to you obtaining the best property for your project. 

How do you buy council land?

The first thing to know about buying council land is that it’s not a typical land transaction. For starters, council land isn't always advertised on the open market like privately-owned plots.

To buy council-owned land, you'll have to apply to the council and find out whether or not they're prepared to sell the land in question. Each council will provide details of how to apply on their website, or via contacting their Estates and Property department. As part of your application, you may need to supply sketch plans identifying the piece of land you want to purchase and your intended plans for it.

Something to consider before making an application is that, under the Local Government Act 1972, councils selling land are obliged to seek the best possible sale price. That means that after the consultation process, they may decide to pursue an auction or market sale instead of selling directly to an applicant. 

Under the same Act, the council must also advertise any applications to buy Public Open Space in a local newspaper for at least two weeks to gather potential objections. As well as adding time onto the consultation, this also adds to your purchase fees, since the buyer is liable for the cost of advertising.

Understanding your purchase costs

Another quirk of buying council-owned land is that you probably won't know for sure what the purchase price will be before submitting your application. In most cases, the council will only value the land in question as part of their consultation process.

So before submitting a council land enquiry you should get independent valuation advice from a chartered surveyor. That way you aren't going in blind. You can also look up recent market sales of nearby pieces of land to get a best estimate of the price.

As well as the purchase price of the land itself, you'll also have to pay certain additional costs to the council. These can include administration fees, a contribution to the cost of the consultation process, and the council's surveying and legal costs.

What you'll be liable for and how it’s calculated will vary depending on the council, but details will be set out in their published sale terms on their website. 

And of course, you'll need to factor in the usual costs that come with land purchases, like your own legal fees, cost of surveys and any new planning applications.

What happens after applying?

What happens next will be a little different for each council. But generally, once they've received your application they'll undertake an internal consultation to decide if they're willing to sell and on what terms. This might include referring to a community forum, to discuss the impact on local residents.

If your request is accepted, the council will then ask their surveyor to draw up a plan of the property and conduct a valuation. They'll then make you a formal sale offer, which may include planning restrictions or a condition of sale depending on the plot. 

Some councils may set a timeframe for you to progress negotiations. And, just like a market sale, the property will be sold subject to contract at this stage, so the council can still consider other offers right up until the exchange of contracts.

Applying to buy land owned by the council is a unique process, with a lot of fine details to bear in mind. But when your heart is set on finding the right plot, it's well worth exploring what’s possible.

Addland makes it easy to find, research, buy and sell land. Start your land journey today.


Published: 15 November 2021
Last updated: 31 January 2022

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