Buying a Topographical Survey: Everything You Need to Know
Topographical Surveying Overview
Topographical surveys are often called ‘topo surveys’ or topographic surveys, detail surveys, terrain surveys or contour surveys. These terms all refer to laser-measured land surveys that gather data about natural and man-made features of your site, such as the topography and elevation of your land.
A topographical survey will also precisely locate all salient land features such as existing buildings, site boundaries, walkways, service cover positions, trees and tree positions, and site and spot levels. We normally present this data digitally, in CAD format, to present an accurate picture of the land with all site features outlined, as well as features adjacent to the site.
How We Work
Arbtech undertakes topographical survey work on a wide range of sites all over the UK in partnership with sister company, TSH. Residential, commercial and industrial developments being the mainstay of our work. Of those, we work predominantly on urban, green and brown-field sites, as well as mines, quarries and everything in between (even wilderness and nature reserves).
The topographical survey work that we provide for clients generally is to facilitate design-stage work, because designers (such as architects) require CAD format data visualisations and laser-accurate measurements of subject site/area for development.
We can carry out topographical surveys over any accessible area and we can provide them at any scale or level of detail. Land surveys commonly need to be tailored to your project’s specific needs or to your team’s individual specifications — so just let us know because it’s likely we’ve been there and done that.
Benefits of Early-Stage Topographical Work
Investing in development is complex. Quick, accurate topographic surveys can help to reduce your risk significantly because of these important factors:
- Reducing the risk of costly mistakes that can arise from unforeseen issues.
- Giving a ‘full picture’ of land, including off-site and near-site land features that have the potential to constrain the development or present engineering difficulties, enabling more robust design work and affording some visibility of the most suitable construction methods.
- Saving you time and money by providing the design team and any consultants with additional information about constraints (such as trees) and spot and site levels at an early stage.
Why Work With Arbtech?
Topographical survey work is an important part of any project, and as such, it’s important that you have a trusted team on your side. With over 15 years in business and thousands of happy customers every year, you’ll find it difficult to find a more reliable partner for your project.
We’ve worked with a wide range of clients including architects, homeowners, developers and estate managers over our years in business. Many of these clients come back to Arbtech for all their projects because they know they will get outstanding customer service and high-quality work every single time.
We will take the time to thoroughly understand your needs and we will tailor our work to your specific requirements. Our proven track record and years of experience mean that we’ve seen just about every requirement you could think of, and we’ll have a solution for every kind of project.
If you’d like to find out exactly what our customers think, just head over to our reviews page. You’ll see hundreds of genuine reviews from real clients just like you.
If you would like to go over the requirements of your project, our friendly team are waiting to help.
How Much Do Topographical Surveyors Cost?
The prices can vary quite a bit depending on the size of the site and the complexity of the project. We will be able to give you an accurate quote within 24 hours if you get in touch with us today. Generally, in mainland UK, our topographic survey prices for small sites start from £399+VAT.
We can normally send a quote to you same day, and typically (unless your job is extremely large or complex) mobilise to site within a few days. Once the site work is done, the processing and QC of your scaled survey drawing back at the office can take 1-2 days. So, around a week in total. For a premium, we can offer weekend surveys and get things out a bit quicker if you’re really pushed for time.
Where Do We Cover?
Arbtech has office locations in Chester, Birmingham and London, enabling our team to cost-effectively cover most of mainland UK. In fact, we’ve worked in Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Isle of White, Northern Ireland, Ireland, and even Italy. Tell us the details of your project and we’ll let you know how much it will cost and when we can get started.
Starting Your Topographical Survey
Starting your topographic survey is really simple. Just give our team a call on the number above or ask us for a free quote via our website. We’ll take some additional details off you and put a simple, no-nonsense, and no-obligation quote together for you.
If you are happy with it, simply complete and return our 1-page survey booking form. Then, we’ll allocate you a project manager and get cracking!
What Makes Us Different?
Arbtech has been providing no-nonsense, fast, efficient, and affordable surveys to a wide range of clients for over 15 years. Our experience is unmatched and our unique business model is set up to allow the majority of our land surveyors (all full-time, direct employees) to be based at home. This means that we reduce our overheads, and passing these savings on to you, we are more competitive at what we do.
We also work very hard to attract the best people in the business, which means that you get a top quality service from friendly experts who love what they do.
What Do Our Clients Say?
5 Things you NEED to know about Topographical, Land and Measured Surveys
Topographical surveys give you, your planning team, and the local authority additional information about the land you’re planning to build on. Knowledge is power, and in most cases, the more you know about the land you want to build on, the better.
Simply put, a topographical survey protects you from unforeseen issues with the specific area of land, your site, or your plans that you would have otherwise been unaware of.
For instance, a land survey could reveal that your build skirts a little too close to the boundary line for comfort. Press on here and your planning application could be rejected. Or perhaps the are of land itself is unsuitable. As would be the case if it consisted of certain clay soils that expand and retract with rainfall and temperature changes. This causes ground surfaces to become unstable and will potentially leave your build at the mercy of subsidence and heave.
Obviously, this sort of information can have a material impact on your development. It could make you aware of a need for additional surveys (like tree surveys) well in advance of you submitting your planning application thereby avoiding a risk of costly delay when the local authority inevitably ask for one. Where there are unstable ground surfaces, it can change how you approach drainage details, the choice of foundation, or even the design itself.
In short, an early topographic land survey will help you refine your designs and adjust your plans, saving you significant sums of money whilst avoiding delays and disappointment.
Do I need a topographical survey?
The precise answer to the question of whether or not you need a topographical survey is beyond the scope of this article. Every development presents different planning and design challenges, and this means that, unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
However, what we can say is that the larger or more complex your development, the greater the likely need for a topographical survey.
So, if your plans are wide-ranging and involve multiple builds spread out over a large brownfield site, the chances of you encountering something potentially problematic are fairly high. That said, you could just as easily run into difficulties part-way through building your extension if, for example, it turns out that the ground is more sloped than you thought it was.
Ultimately, it’s a question of risk. And, it’s important to stress that you don’t know what you don’t know. Therefore, it’s perhaps helpful to view your topographical survey as an investment. It will tell you everything you need to know about the land you’re planning to build on, helping you make all the right decisions – first time.
How will a land or topo survey benefit my development?
Basically, a topographical survey will help you avoid the avoidable and exploit the exploitable.
It does this by bringing together a broad range of three-dimensional points of data into easily digestible maps, models, and charts.
These will help you:
- Choose the right location for any new buildings
- Pick the best position and facing of any structures
- Find opportunities to enhance the value of your development
- Take into account off-site or near-site risks that could pose engineering challenges
- Avoid encroaching on or building over boundary lines
- Mitigate the risk posed by natural features like streams, slopes, and soil
- Uncover unseen hazards like the buried foundations of existing buildings
- Discover natural topographic features that could indicate a need for further surveys to get through planning
This list is far from exhaustive. But suffice to say that, in most cases, the benefits of getting a topographical survey outweigh the risk posed by not getting one. This is because investing in a development is a complex process. And, ultimately, your time and money are at stake. Quick, accurate land surveys can significantly reduce the risk of things going wrong by giving you the “full picture”. This will include every single feature that has the potential to seriously constrain your development or presents construction difficulties.
Speaking of risk…
What happens if I don’t get a topographical survey?
But equally, you might run into all sorts of issues, ranging from the relatively minor to the profound and catastrophic.
At the less serious end of the spectrum are things like boundary issues that could lead the local authority to refuse planning permission in the first instance. Of course, this is inconvenient, but it’s not the end of the world because all you need to do is adjust your planning application and try again.
By contrast, building too close to a retaining wall could cause a total structural collapse. However, you won’t know exactly what “too close” is without a topographical survey. The worrying thing is, a lot of the unforeseen issues that a land survey will uncover aren’t immediately apparent during the build process. In fact, unless it’s something dramatic like a 20% incline or a well signposted disused mineshaft, things can appear completely normal. So, if you risk it and don’t get a topographical survey, you could face the costly consequences months or even years after your development is finished.
Though not as frustrating as a refused planning application or as dramatic as a collapsing building, there’s one other consequence to choosing not to have a topographical land survey that’s worth considering:
You might not get the most out of your site.
The majority of people are quite risk-averse. If we think there’s a chance that something might go wrong, we tend not to go ahead. Obviously, this attitude has its advantages, but insofar as your development is concerned, it could lead you to limit your aspirations when there really isn’t a need to do so.
Land surveys aren’t only there to warn you of danger; they will also show you what you can do. They’ll give you and your planning team the assurances you need to allay your concerns through detailed information about your entire site. This will allow you to explore development opportunities you may have initially dismissed as unworkable.
A topographical survey will be the sound foundation upon which the rest of your designs are built. You can get some small, domestic designs through planning without one, but if you want to make the most of your development and get planning consent without getting dragged through the mire of rejections and committees, it’s wise to consider a topographical survey.
So, what is a topographical survey?
In the simplest possible terms, a topographical survey is a map.
Your land surveyor will create this map of the land on and around your site and annotate it with significant features, contours, and so on.
A topographical survey looks at features both above and below ground (think: houses, old foundations, trees, rivers, slopes, cabling etc.), the type and composition of the earth, and more. Your topographical survey can also look at non-geographic features like boundary lines, rights of access, and similar by drawing on other data sources. These will then be plotted along with the geographic features your land surveyor discovers.
Essentially, if it’s on or near your site and mappable – a topographical survey will pick it up.
Once you have your map, you’ll be able to create and adjust your designs to fit within the constraints and opportunities unique to your site.
The topographical survey process
Once you’ve decided to instruct a topographical surveyor to complete a land survey, the process is relatively straightforward.
It all starts with a discussion where we’ll ask you about your site, what you want to achieve and how you’re planning to go about it. From there, we’ll be able to help you determine the level of detail your land survey will need to go into.
After our conversation, one (or more) of our experts will visit your site. They’ll set up their highly-specialised survey equipment that includes cameras, GPS tools and laser scanning spot and site levels as well as handheld devices. These are used to capture the accurate measurements and other data that your land surveyor needs to create an accurate picture of the map of your site.
Some sites are hard, if not impossible, to fully cover on foot. This can be a consequence of the physical geography (very steep inclines, ravines, offshore islands etc.) or man-made threats like busy roads, power stations and partially collapsed structures and existing buildings. You needn’t worry if this is the case; Because our team of surveyors will come equipped with drones that are capable of doing everything a human surveyor can. Be that taking photographs or even taking laser scans.
When necessary, they’ll also gather data from external sources (like the Ordnance Survey or the Local Authority) either before or after your site visit.
When they’ve gathered the data, your land surveyor will use it to create AutoCAD drawings (also sent to you as a PDF). Depending on the needs of your site and scheme, these can include:
- 2D drawings that resemble conventional maps
- 3D models
Most of the topographical survey work we do is to facilitate design-stage activity. This is because your architect and/or design team will need CAD drawings and pinpoint accurate site measurements to create feasible plans.
It’s worth noting that as a topographical survey is one of, if not the first step in your development scheme, so you’ll benefit from the expert input of one of our specialist land surveyors right from the very start.
Why choose Arbtech?
Topographical survey work is a critical part of the development process. Therefore, you must choose a provider you can trust to give you the accurate, fast service you need to keep your scheme on track.
Bluntly, you won’t find a more reliable partner for your project than us.
How do we know?
As of 2021 we’ve racked up 16 years in the business, delivering over 3,000 successful projects per year, resulting in hundreds of genuine five-star reviews.
Residential, commercial and industrial developments make up the balance of our work. Of these, we work predominantly on urban, green, and brownfield sites. However, if your site is a little more unusual, we’ve also got plenty of experience performing topographical surveys in quarries, mines, nature reserves, and conservation areas. No matter how atypical or tricky your site is, the chances are our team have successfully completed several surveys on similar locations in the past. In fact, at this point, there’s little that our 30+ strong team of surveyors hasn’t seen.
The majority of our people are set up to work from home too. This means your project will be handled by a local expert (employed by us – not a subcontractor!) who has lived and worked in and around your area for years. Best of all, using local experts reduces our overheads, and we pass these savings on to you.
Our people work fast, but this never comes at the expense of accuracy or detail.
They’ll always take the time to understand your requirements and answer any and all questions you have in plain English.
All this comes together to give you a detailed topographical survey cheaper and faster than pretty much anyone else.
How quickly can you do a topographical survey?
We know that any delay to your development represents an irreplaceable financial and temporal loss.
As a result, speed is at the heart of everything we do.
We’ll send you a quote the same day, usually within a few hours. If you’re happy with that, we’ll be ready to mobilise to your site within a couple of days. The only exception to this is if your project is extraordinarily large or complex. Once we’ve done the site work, you’ll wait another day or two for your drawings.
All in all, the process takes about a week from start to finish.
Not fast enough?
Then talk to us about investing in a weekend survey.
How much is all this going to cost me?
Our prices start from £399+VAT. This would be for a small site on the UK mainland.
A larger or more intricate site will, of course, cost more. So, get in touch with us to discuss your requirements. We’ll gather the information we need to fully understand your project then return your (no obligation) quote within 24 hours.
If you’re happy, simply complete and return our 1-page survey booking form. Then, we’ll allocate your land survey to a project manager and make the first step in getting started!
Fast topographical surveys you can trust
Get through planning, avoid the risk of costly pitfalls and make the most of every development opportunity with a topographical survey from Arbtech.