All you need to know about Topographical Surveys

What is a topographical survey?

Topographical surveys are often called `topo’ surveys, detail surveys, terrain surveys, or contour surveys; they all refer to laser-measured land surveys which gather data about natural and man-made features on your site to create a map. A topographical survey will also locate exactly all relevant features such as existing buildings and structure, physical boundary details, walkways, service cover positions, trees and tree positions, underground services, slopes, and site and spot levels.

Using highly specialised survey equipment, land surveyors normally present this geo-referenced data digitally, in CAD format, to create accurate topographical drawings of the land with all site features outlined as well as additional details about features adjacent to the site. This information allows you to then adjust your plan if necessary, according to the constraints and opportunities of your site.

A topographic survey underway.

Why might I need a topographic survey?

The key benefits are:

  • To help an application for planning permission to progress.
  • To avoid the risk of costly mistakes; a topographic survey can protect you from unforeseen issues with a site, for example, it may reveal that the build may be too close to the boundary line for comfort, leading to a planning application rejection, or the area of land is unsuitable; certain clay soils that expand and contract with rainfall and temperature changes lead to unstable ground, possible subsidence and heave. Having a survey at an early stage could change your drainage details; it could also highlight the need for a tree survey, avoiding delays later. In certain cases, a topographic survey can save money and prevent plan changes further down the line.
  • Any surveys undertaken following the topographic survey will be based on that survey, which enables them to be a more accurate representation and beneficial to the project.
  • To enable you to make the most of every development opportunity from your site. Every scheme has different elements, the larger or more complex the project, the greater the likely need for a topographical survey. Ultimately, it comes down to a question of risk – a land survey can tell you everything you need to know about your site’s specific needs, giving you an accurate picture to help base decisions on from an early stage.
Assessing natural topographical features is an important part of survey work.

How will a topographic survey benefit my plan?

It will collate information into maps, models, CAD drawings and charts to help:

  • choose the right location for any new buildings.
  • identify opportunities to enhance the value of your scheme.
  • take into account off-site or near-site risks that could pose engineering challenges.
  • avoid encroaching on or building over boundary services.
  • mitigate risk from natural and manmade features.
  • uncover unseen hazards like buried foundations.
  • identify natural and manmade topographic features that could indicate a need for further surveys before a scheme can obtain planning consent.

Potential problems that can be highlighted by topographical surveys:

  • boundary issues.
  • building too close to a retaining wall could cause a structural collapse.
  • you might not be getting the most out of your site and may be able to explore development options previously dismissed as unworkable.
  • avoid going through rejections and committees with your scheme.

A topographical land survey provides a sound foundation to rest your design on.

Open terrain surveys are often carried out by land survey teams.

The process:

  • discussion with a topographical surveyor about the site to decide on the level of detail required.
  • experienced surveyors visit the site, set up equipment which might include cameras, GPS tools, laser scanning spot and site levels and handheld devices. They capture accurate measurements and other data the land surveyor needs to create accurate drawings of the survey area.
  • in the case of difficult sites to cover, for instance involving steep inclines, busy roads or collapsed structures, surveyors can undertake drone surveys which can provide photos or laser scans. Topographical surveyors can also gather data from external sources such as Ordnance Survey or the local authority where necessary.
  • using all this information, land survey teams can create CAD drawings according to your requirements. They can include 2D drawings resembling conventional maps or 3D models.

Do you need advice on tree or ecology issues relating to a development?

Arbtech are experts in ecology surveys, tree surveys and biodiversity net gain. Contact us for advice, or a free quote.

Ready to get started?

Experienced topographical survey firm Arbtech Consulting Ltd, carries out surveys priced from £399+VAT, depending on the scheme’s scale and complexity. The majority of their work relates to residential, commercial and industrial development, mainly on urban, green and brownfield sites. To find out more contact Arbtech.

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