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Shipping Containers on Private Land: Can You Put a Shipping Container on Your Property?

29 April 2024
shipping container on private land

If you are lucky enough to have some spare land that you are looking to make use of, then a shipping container can be the perfect way to add another building to your property. This could be for extra storage, or perhaps an additional residential building that could be rented out. 

However, before you can put a shipping container on private land, there are a number of things that you should be aware of, from planning permission to the costs involved. In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about shipping containers on private land and how viable it is in your circumstances. 

Can I put a shipping container on my property?

Since both standard shipping containers and modified units are typically viewed as temporary structures, in the majority of cases you won’t need planning permission before installing them on your property.

However, before you can simply drop a shipping container onto an empty piece of land, there are a lot of things that need to be considered. Fortunately, putting a shipping container on private land is entirely possible, generally speaking. 

First, you need to establish what the intended use of the new building will be and whether you will need to apply for planning permission. Shipping containers are classed as temporary structures by default, and if they are only intended as a temporary solution, then no planning permission will be required. But, if you are planning for the unit to become a long-term building, then this situation changes. 

Can I put shipping containers on agricultural land?

Shipping containers can serve a range of functions on agricultural lands, such as controlled environments for indoor crops. However, on farmland, their usage should only be temporary, or else planning permission will be required, just like on private land.

Below are three types of units that could be considered:

  • Permanent structures: To avoid being classed as a permanent building the shipping container must be fully transportable. If it isn’t, and the unit is to be used as a barn, field shelter, or any other type of outdoor building then planning permission is needed.
  • Farmland campsites: According to UK law, shipping containers are given the same classification as a caravan. This means that up to three shipping containers can be placed on a farmland campsite for a maximum of 28 days per year. Anything longer than this would also require planning permission. 
  • Permanent living space: As a permanent living space, the shipping container’s classification would switch from agricultural to residential, requiring planning permission. 
shipping container guest house

Do I need planning permission to put a container on my land?

Determining whether or not you need planning permission depends on the use of the shipping container, i.e., whether it will be a temporary structure or a permanent building. For example, Planning permission will be required if the shipping container is to be used as an extension of your home. Another obstacle is that rules can change from one area to another, meaning it is advised to consult with your local authority to assess whether the project is viable. 

In some areas across the UK, securing planning permission for any building type can be a difficult process so always consult with your local planning department to fully establish what is, and what isn’t possible in your area. 

In specific circumstances, a single shipping container on private land will almost always require planning permission. This is especially the case if you live in an Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB), a National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, or if the unit will be close to a listed building. 

Factors affecting planning permission

If you require planning permission then there are several factors that you will need to consider when submitting your application. 

  • Where will the shipping container be placed? If you are placing a permanent structure on green belt land then there may be requirements in terms of blending the building in with the natural surroundings.
  • How big is the unit? If you are planning on putting a particularly large shipping container on your private land then it is likely that you will need to discuss the possibility in detail with the planning department.
  • Are there any other implications? If the shipping container is being placed in a built-up area or near a sensitive location, then there may be additional requirements that need to be adhered to and potential restrictions in terms of the shipping container’s size and use

What building regulations must I comply with?

Like any permanent structure, residential or commercial, a shipping container must adhere to building regulations, even if it is being placed on private land. To find out the building control regulations in your area you should get in touch with your local authority. In addition to building control regulations, you’ll also need to enquire about the fire regulations that need to be followed. 

When planning permission isn’t needed

Most shipping container projects in the UK do not require planning permission but it is important to have an understanding of what type of projects may need permission when situated on private land. 

  • Garden Sheds: Using a shipping container as a garden shed will not usually require any planning permission but there are certain requirements that need to be followed. One requirement is that the shed cannot occupy more than half of the area of land that surrounds the original property. 
  • Businesses: A shipping container can act as a temporary building for an art exhibition or an alfresco bar, for example, without any planning permission. But this is not the case for a permanent or long-term ‘pop-up’ business.
  • Other Uses: Planning permission is not needed if you plan to use the shipping container for any of the following uses: bicycle or motorbike storage, a garage, a home office, a home studio or workshop, or a social area for friends and family. 

Permitted development rights

In many cases, outbuildings, such as a shipping container used as an office, fall under permitted development rights and do not require planning permission. However, there are several conditions and limits to be aware of.

When you set up an outbuilding, like a shipping container office or workshop, it should be something that adds to your home. Also, it shouldn’t stick out in front of your house, and if it’s close to your property line, it can’t be taller than 2.5 metres.

You can’t cover more than half of your land with your outbuilding, and you can’t use it as a separate living space. If your home is a listed building, you’ll need permission for any outbuilding. Additionally, if you live in a special area, like a national park or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, stricter rules may apply, and you might need to apply for planning permission.

Even if you don’t need planning permission, you might still need to comply with building regulations, especially if the container is of a certain size or if you plan to run utilities to it. If you’re planning to use the shipping container for business purposes where customers or clients visit regularly, it might be considered a change of use, and you could require planning permission.

So, while we often talk about containers as temporary structures, you can actually set one up more permanently if you follow the rules. This gives you more options for using your land, like for a garden shed or a home gym. Just make sure to check with local authorities to be sure you’re following all the rules.

shipping container shed

Setting up a shipping container on private land

If a shipping container is to be used as a functional building then there are steps that need to be taken to set it up correctly. The setup process can dictate the long-term sustainability of the unit and what it can function as. This includes the initial groundwork, its placement, and fundamental steps such as adding utilities and wall insulation. 

Preparing the land for a shipping container

Before you can start the fun stuff, the land where the shipping container is to be situated needs to be prepared. This stage can typically be broken down into 4 key stages.

  • Site selection: Prior to the arrival of the shipping container, careful consideration must be given to selecting a suitable site for its temporary or permanent placement. Ideally, this location should provide convenient access for the delivering truck, while also being in close proximity to necessary utility connections such as electricity and water. These factors are crucial in ensuring that the container can function effectively as a building.
  • Ground preparation: After selecting the site, thorough ground preparation is crucial to ensure a solid and level foundation. Achieving this can be done by opting for a levelled concrete slab, utilising a layer of sturdy gravel, or employing wooden beams. This carefully prepared flat surface guarantees that the container remains stable and free from sinking or tilting.
  • Drainage considerations: If the area where the shipping container will be placed is susceptible to flooding or tends to accumulate water, it is crucial to install a drainage system. This preventive measure is necessary to protect the unit from any potential damage.
  • Accessibility: To avoid any potential complications upon delivery of the shipping container, it would be wise to eliminate any fences or obstructions that could obstruct the installation process. This proactive approach will ensure a smooth and hassle-free experience.

Positioning and installing the shipping container

With the site selected and the necessary measures taken to allow for a straightforward delivery, it is time to position and install the shipping container in its new home. You’ll need to consider the following factors:

  • Delivery: The ease of delivery can depend on the location and size of the shipping container, dictating the vehicle and equipment needed to put the unit in place. A tilt-bed truck, flat-bed truck, or possibly a crane may be needed to position the shipping container correctly. To make sure things go smoothly you should speak with your delivery service representative to check if they have everything that is needed.
  • Positioning: To position the shipping container correctly, the procedure needs to be well coordinated by a professional delivery team who can manoeuvre the unit safely and in a timely fashion. 
  • Levelling: When the shipping container is positioned, checks then need to take place to ensure it is completely level. If it isn’t level then there may be issues going forward such as the doors not being able to open properly.
  • Securing: The unit may need to be secured to the ground using heavy-duty bolts, while a specialised locking system may also be needed to prevent theft. However, this may depend on the location of the shipping container and its use. 
  • Checking: With the installation completed, checks need to be carried out to assess any potential issues that may need to be corrected. Potential issues may include poorly aligned doors or seals. 

Ideas for using shipping containers on private land

Shipping containers can serve a range of purposes, with new and sometimes wacky ideas being thought up each day thanks to their affordability and versatility. Many cities across the world have built entire entertainment complexes from them, accommodating numerous bars, eateries, shops, and event spaces.

For private properties, the most common uses for shipping containers are garden sheds, garden rooms, garages, bicycle and motorbike storage, workshops, home offices, studies, dens for kids, and social spaces for adults. 

shipping container garden shed

Fortunately, shipping containers come in a range of sizes, making it possible to install one in even a small space. Furthermore, shipping containers can also be modified to make them even smaller (as small as 5ft) or adjusted to fit in an irregularly shaped space.

The pros and cons of using shipping containers on private land

There are pros and cons to using shipping containers on private land, just like any building project or business venture. Let’s consider them in more detail. 

Pros

  • Affordability: Shipping containers are much more affordable than traditional brick-and-mortar buildings, making them much more viable for a number of projects.
  • Durability: They are also very durable, built to withstand extreme weather, and remain functional for decades. After all, these containers were built to brave the rough oceans on long journeys.
  • Flexibility: Shipping containers can be customised and modified to suit any space or project type, making them impressively flexible. Parts of the unit can be cut or welded, insulation installed, and with doors and windows added to create a perfectly livable space.
  • Mobility: A shipping container can be easily transported to new locations, making them a good option for a temporary or mobile solution such as a pop-up shop. 
  • Security: They are also very secure, with hardy locking systems, while it is also very easy to add CCTV and alarms to protect whatever is inside. 

Cons

  • Planning permission: Unfortunately, in the UK, planning permission can be a hassle even for a simple project such as using a shipping container as a large garden shed. 
  • Size and space: Shipping containers come in a range of sizes but are typically quite large and may be unsuitable for small spaces unless they are modified. 
  • Maintenance: To get the most out of your shipping container it needs to be regularly maintained so it remains durable and in good condition. Maintenance could include regular repainting, doors, and windows being repaired, and resealing. 
  • Temperature control: As these units are made from steel it can be sometimes hard to heat and cool them effectively. This is why insulation is essential to help regulate temperatures and avoid issues such as dampness or mould accumulation. 
  • Aesthetics: Not everyone likes the look of shipping containers, especially if they do not have cladding installed to hide their original appearance. This means they might not blend into their local surroundings, making the planning permission process even harder. 

The Bottom Line

Shipping containers are durable, affordable, and easy to transport but they also have some limitations in terms of where they can be situated and how regularly they need to be maintained. Despite any limitations, people across the UK are purchasing shipping containers as an alternative to a brick-and-mortar building that can come at a significant cost and take a long time to build.

Putting a shipping container on private land is a great way to add more storage space, extra accommodation, or perhaps a new business venture. There are a number of projects that would not require planning permission, depending on their size, but it is strongly advised to consult with your local authority before proceeding with the project.

Looking to add extra space to your property? Check out our wide range of new and used shipping containers. Whether you need extra storage or want to create a unique living space, we have options to suit every need and budget. Explore our selection today and find the perfect match for your needs!

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