Tag Archives: self-build

Things to do with a Field

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Looking down at the bridge from up here I feel like a resistance fighter. Far from interrupting the view, the bridge and its barely audible traffic of cattle trucks, bikes and old cars, acts as a foil, setting it off. I’d be happy looking at that all day from my house. Of course, there is no house, but as Manolo and Molino point out, all that’s needed is a well, sewerage, electricity, the building . . .  because there is already a road up this mountain, and a flat spot here like a perch. And the plot is so big, sloping all the way down to the foot by the bridge itself, that the chances are, ojalá, building would be permitted.

But I don’t know. Trying to think through the gazillion steps involved in turning this stony olive field into a home is exhausting. (Even climbing up to it is exhausting.) Someone will build here and maybe add an infinity pool. Good luck to them. Slithering back down to the waiting car, I quote Donald Rumsfeld to a baffled Molino: ‘There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.’ I don’t know if Donald really thought through what he was saying, but it’s spot on.

For me, there are too many known unknowns and I suspect an infinite number of unknown unknowns involved in this ‘project’.

Still, I do know a small bit about tackling the known unknowns. Start by inspecting the title deeds or escritura; the land registry document – the nota simple, held at the local town hall or registro; and also the land records at the catastro. All should match up. Anyone seriously interested in buying land should use an independent lawyer to scrutinise the paperwork.

An independent architect should be brought onboard to check the planning regulations and provision of services, or lack of, for the land before you buy. And it is well worth having the architect produce as detailed a pre-plan as possible, and discussing it at the local town hall before making full payment and going beyond the point of no return. Because in order to get a building permit on suelo rustico it is necessary to gather together a crack team and a lot of paperwork, including a Proyecto de Actividad (explaining what the land will be used for), topographical, geological, and environmental studies; a comprehensive planning application drawn up by the architect and stamped by everyone, and to have it all approved by a number of bodies which generally include multiple departments of the Junta de Andalucia, such as MOPU Ministerio de Obras Públicas, Consejería de Obras Publicas y Transportes, Delegación Provincial – Servicio de Ordenación del Territorio y Urbanismo, Confederación Hidrográfica Del Sur- Departamento De Residuos Líquidos, Delegación de Medio Ambiente . . . and so on.

Nothing is guaranteed. But then I guess that is better than building and then being told some years later to un-build. I wouldn’t be too influenced by the old adage ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. That’s all I’m saying.

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Ruin with a View

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I’ve established there is a lot of rural land for sale in Andalucia, specifically in Cádiz which has me hooked. So how hard can it be to buy a small piece and put a house on it? Quite hard, as it turns out, although not insurmountable if you are patient and thorough.
I’m neither, but I am very attracted by doing things which are inherently difficult and exhausting, and I have this idea about steering the design of my own home.
On an afternoon out with Manolo and Molino we ricocheted up a track and stopped at the top of a hill that was for sale. A big problem around these parts – for budget shoppers – is that a land parcel has to be above a minimum size in order to be legally recognised and registered as an independent property. Furthermore, the buildable area of that plot (in these parts) is generally limited to 1% although it varies between municipalities, and depending on whether you intend to be farming and irrigating, and on whether there is already a property, or remains of a property on the site. Until 2012, it was generally understood that a ruin could be rebuilt as long as the land that went with it was above the minimum plot size, but that’s no longer the case. Some say you’ll get the permit to rebuild as long as the ruin still has a roof. If the land is very big, you don’t even need a ruin. That’s not to say that an application to build won’t fall at any one of the multiple fences along the long obstacle course that follows.
So at first glance, the rules around buying rural plots are as clear as mud.
Anyway, this piece of land – which belongs to Manolo’s uncle, and lies outside the tricksy national park boundaries, was big enough for a splendid house. Molino pointed in the general area of the perimeters with his cane; no-one could be bothered to walk any further.
Unfortunately, while the pile of rubble at the peak offered million euro views, after buying our estate we would only have around €200 spare to build the dream house. I was seriously tempted to have this big grassy hill and use it as a most extravagant personal campsite, but came to my senses.

I should add that once you resign yourself to a long session of careful research, the rationale behind restricting the building on rural land, the basic governing regulations, and the series of steps involved in moving through an application to build become clear. Never try a shortcut.

There are several good sources of information online for both English and Spanish speakers. Perhaps start with www.spanishsolicitors.com or John Wolfendale’s introduction to it all at eco vida, but you should read the section headed Suelo no Urbanizable in the Boletín Oficial de la Junta de Andalucia, 12 Nov 2012 which spells it all out, and if your Spanish isn’t up to it, find someone who can translate it for you . . . and brush up your language skills fast.

Really though, as the minimum size of land and maximum size of build, interpretation of what constitutes a rebuildable ruin and so on vary considerably between areas, it’s important to do your specific research in the specific area. Nothing is as revealing as a trip to the local town hall where, in my experience, people have been unfailingly helpful and done much to demystify what is not actually a muddy process, just a long one. However, aside from the vendor, no-one wants your new-build house on the local rural land. That’s the position you start from.


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Oh Why Not?

David Harper

Another new-build; this one the manifestation of a German’s freaky dream; an up yours to white village architectural restrictions, building standards, and good taste. Even though it is outside the boundaries of the Sierra de Grazalema national park (not far from Algodonales, if you are interested in making an offer), it is a bold – defiant – deviation from the norm. In some respects it is quite inspiring; who says your house shouldn’t be hilarious? Who says, given a set of bricks and a concrete mixer, you can’t build your own bunker dwelling? Perched on a hillock and visible for miles, it is a gripping sight. Manolo and Molino were as keen to poke around as we were, and made soft, positive noises about the fact it was legal, had water, and the fact the pink roof could be raised to turn the one room into two. It seems the owner-builder-dreamer had run out of enthusiasm halfway through the construction of the terrace, or maybe taken a look at his project with fresh eyes and left to live in something square.

The one thing that this has going for it is the views, down over the lush valley of Bocaleones and across to Zahara. Intriguingly, he had elected to completely encircle his house with fast-growing trees to block it. What do you think? asked Manolo. ‘Ha ha ha,’ I said.

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Lloyd Kahn, King of Shelter

Everyone was building their huts, domes and homes from reclaimed material, but it was Lloyd Kahn and the first of the Shelter publications (Shelter) that put pictures and descriptions of the homes that people were building for themselves under the eyes of treadmill-weary workers. For forty years that book, and the DIY house porn that’s followed, has changed thousands of lives, triggering thousands of resignations, and turning accountants, doctors, dreamers and surfers into green builders. Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter – the prospect of designing and building a home plus the can-do spirit of ordinary people – was probably 78% responsible for me packing up and setting off in search of something or other. The books are a powerful mix inspiration and practical advice, and Lloyd, as founder and Editor-in-Chief, has played a hugely important and pivotal role by providing that platform for the exchange of ideas, pictures and success stories.

Yes, the books are great for providing ideas on how to construct yourself an affordable home, but what they do best is remind you that you have choices about where and how you live – and what you live in. The people on these pages have used their imagination and built houses that fit their character and lifestyle; houses that are homes.

He’s built five or so houses himself, and I went to meet him at the one he lives in, in the green and quiet paradise that is Bolinas, above San Francisco on the North Californian coast. We talked about how a new generation of 20-30-year olds is revisiting the ideas of the 60’s for a mix of spiritual, practical and economic reasons, the restrictions of regulations and land prices, ideas for building within disused urban properties, the benefits of constructing a house that is a home not a shell, and some of the amazing, inventive stuff that’s going on around the world. Not a day goes by without Lloyd getting emails from people telling him about their house project or plans, and he’s currently collating material for the next publication. I also got to stroke a bobcat, albeit the skin from a local road kill, and meet a wise, amusing and self-effacing man at the heart of a major worldwide house & home rethink.

I’ll be writing about Shelter, self-build and the small house movement (not necessarily the same thing), and will upload some edited footage once I’m off the road, (I could do with the converted bus / film lab featured in the Shelter book, Home Work). In the meantime, here’s a a few rough cut clips.  The back catalogue of publications is available from the Shelter website. Warning: Buying one of these books will cause you to either bemoan your boring life, or change it.


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