Downturn Can’t Stop Grand Designs Enthusiasts From Building The Dream

Ryan Unsworth is Development Manager at Keyland Developments, sister company to Yorkshire Water and a subsidiary of the Kelda Group.

“Whilst the downturn in the property sector has affected most, it doesn’t seem to have impacted on individual owner occupiers chasing the dream of creating their own Grand Designs style project.

Over the past seven years, we have sold some of the most unusual projects that have come to the market in Yorkshire. Firm favourites with Kevin McCloud wannabes include former borehole extraction buildings, water towers, pumping stations and a selection of underground reservoirs. In order to breathe life into these redundant and unique sites, Keyland employs a professional team to navigate the complex and challenging process of gaining planning permission for residential usage. On grant of permission, we then take the opportunities to the open market and it’s at that point that it takes a very focused and imaginative individual to take up the challenge.

Looking at an underground reservoir, which is fundamentally a concrete box covered in grass, from the roadside and imagining yourself living there is a million miles from a standard residential viewing with a local estate agent. Working out where to start on a project of this nature takes some incredible effort, not to mention the difficulties involved with trying to budget for it. The conversion costs are exceptionally hard to quantify as completed comparable projects are few and far between.

The type of purchaser of these properties comes from a variety of business backgrounds; very few come from the building trade and the majority are venturing into this field for the very first time. Whilst most have undertaken a domestic residential refurbishment project of some description, it’s only a handful of people that have started and finished a project on a scale or complexity as these. The sheer thought of converting a 30m water tower into house or constructing a subterranean dwelling in a 1,800m² underground reservoir puts most people off. To put the 1,800m² reservoir into context, planning permission was granted by Bradford Council for a 750m² house inside the reservoir – an average 3 bed semi measures 120m².

As you would imagine, challenges and subsequent delays are ever present on these projects. I am aware of issues arising with planning authorities on final designs, access restrictions, ecological concerns and drainage issues to name but a few. One of the biggest factors is the construction methods used to create these industrial structures/ buildings. Each reservoir, water tower or pumping station is a bespoke structure, built by the local water authority to serve a purpose in its locality. While there may be similarities in their appearance, each one will have served a different purpose and will have been constructed slightly differently. As a result of this it’s not easy to find an expert or an on the shelf solution to deal with any issues that arise. The flip side obviously is that these features give an industrial charm and character to each property that is impressive in its very existence.

Taking all that into account, we have serious competition for these unique sites when they do hit the market for the single reason that they offer an opportunity to create a truly individual and inimitable home, often in a picturesque and private setting. Purchasers with the tenacity and creativity to take on these projects will inevitably say that it was well worth the effort when they have created something that no-one else can rival and each space is a reflection of their hard work and vision.  Yorkshire is home to some of the country’s most spectacular views and to have an uninterrupted view of Grimwith Reservoir, for example, is simply priceless.

A good example of a project which is nearing completion is the Water Tower in Pannal which the Yorkshire Post visited and also featured on George Clark’s restoration man. The purchasers had some serious challenges to overcome and their commitment to delivering the project is commendable. The finished dwelling will be a spectacular addition to Harrogate skyline and these gems will continue to pop up across the region as people take that bold step towards creating the home of their dreams.”