Developing brownfield land: Is it worth buying up disused petrol stations?

You may think of new housing development sites requiring prime residential locations in the UK, but that’s not always the case – the demand for redevelopment land is strong everywhere. If you’re prioritising easily accessible locations with good road infrastructure connectivity, the potential of decommissioned petrol station sites should not be underestimated.

Land contamination issues on brownfield sites

Due to the nature of their business, you can expect most former service station sites to be mildly polluted, with around 10% showing signs of serious petrochemical contamination. Contaminated Land Investigations will establish the extent of the environmental pollution and the remediation needed to clear the land for development.

The government has expressed a keen interest to bring as much brownfield land as possible back into use. The regeneration of previously developed land is therefore encouraged in order to shield precious greenfield sites from development and preserve the countryside. It is, in fact, one of the 12 core principles of the planning system to “encourage the effective use of land” by reusing brownfield land wherever possible.

Untapped potential for profitable development

According to UK legislation, housing development can only be built on immaculate land, while commercial buildings are permitted with slightly higher levels of ground pollution. Many residential developers seem wary of the exact legal requirements and processes that must be followed, deeming the cost of obtaining planning consent, and the risk of being refused, as too high. It would seem that there is precious little appetite for purchasing any decommissioned service station sites for housing development.

The unpopularity of these types of brownfield sites has had a pronounced effect on market values, with many sites remaining unoccupied and unsold for months or years. There are clear business opportunities for commercial investors to exploit in this brownfield sector, albeit under the proviso that proper professional advice and guidance must be obtained.

Land & Brand New Homes offer specialist consultancy and advice on all areas of land acquisition. Our team conducts in-depth evaluations of brownfield land including detailed research into all environmental and legal aspects of buying development land. We can help you assess the development potential of a disused petrol station site and guide you through all the steps necessary to obtain planning permission for residential redevelopment.

Buying old petrol station sites for development

When looking to acquire development land, we believe there’s no reason to dismiss disused service stations out of hand, purely on the basis of their perceived environmental impact. Contaminated Land Investigations are your first port of call to help you identify the extent of any issues and remedial work required.

A Phase 1 Desk Study may be all that’s needed to help you screen potential brownfield sites and make an informed purchase decision. It’s a low-cost, high-value service to detect geotechnical, environmental and ground engineering hazards at an early, pre-planning stage.

At Land & Brand New Homes, we would go further and recommend that all petrol station sites are thoroughly investigated prior to purchase. A detailed Phase 2 Site Investigation will almost always be needed to obtain planning permission and can act as a powerful tool to negotiate with the landlord.

With decommissioned service stations, the key to obtaining the right site at the right price lies in carrying out extensive research at an early stage. That way, contamination can be spotted and dealt with as soon as possible and, crucially, before it becomes a major problem. What’s more, the longer it takes to remediate the site, the more leverage you have to negotiate an attractive purchase price.

For initial advice on how to approach the purchase of a former petrol station with a view to developing it for housing, and to share your development plans, please get in touch with our expert team today.