Law guide: Property

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Checking the site

Checking the site

Local searches and enquiries

In commercial transactions, apart from making the usual enquiries with the local authority, it is often worth considering the possibility of making additional enquiries. An example could be checking the location of footpaths or bridleways that may cross the site or the location of gas pipelines that may run close to the site.

Planning matters

Enquiries have to be made by the developer relating to the current use of the land as indicated by the development plan as well as whether planning permission is currently in force. Furthermore, the developer may wish to know whether there have been any past applications for permission that have been unsuccessful. A full planning history of the site can be obtained from the local authority.


It will be important for the developer to work out how foul and surface water are currently drained away to public sewers, to give an idea of whether the current drainage system could cope with foul and surface drainage from the developed site.


The developer will need to know that immediate access to the site can be obtained from a public highway, and that there are no new highways proposed nearby which would adversely affect the development.

Enquiries of the seller

Pre-contract enquiries of the seller will be raised to discover further information about the planning status of the site; the location of public drains and highways; the suitability of the land for the developer's purposes; and possible past contamination of the land. Although information regarding these matters can come from other sources, that alone should not be a sufficient reason for the seller to refuse answering.

Survey and inspection

It is worth conducting a survey and/or inspection of the site before exchanging contracts in order to:

  • Assist in establishing ownership of, or responsibility for boundary walls, hedges and fences;
  • Discover the existence of public or private rights of way;
  • Spot the presence of overhead electricity power lines which would prevent or impede development;
  • Discover the rights of persons in occupation of the land;
  • Ensure that adjoining landowners do not enjoy the benefit of easements of light or air which would impede the buyer's proposed development.

Searches of the common register

If a rural site is acquired, a search of the commons register should always be made. If an inner-city industrial site is being acquired for redevelopment, such a search of the commons register would be unnecessary. Whenever there is any doubt, it is sensible to conduct such a search.

Investigation of title

A thorough investigation of title to the site is important to ensure that the seller has the right to sell; that the buyer will enjoy the benefit of all necessary easements, including rights of access and drainage; and that there are no covenants restricting the proposed development or use of the site.

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