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What is a Topographical (Topo) Survey?

A topographical survey (commonly known as a topo survey) is a comprehensive and accurate assessment of a site or section of land, which takes into account all potential considerations that relate to a specific planned future development.

Considerations assessed during a topographical land survey include:

  • Natural features and environmental considerations
  • Man-made features, both current and historic
  • Location of utilities, identified by drainage covers, electricity poles, gas meters, etc.  In London in particular, there can be a huge amount going on under the ground, see this helpful article on Thames Water Build Over Agreements
  • The surroundings, e.g. shade from neighbouring properties and the potential light blocking on neighbours, being overlooked or overlooking surrounding buildings, blocking views above certain heights, and surrounding environment considerations too

Topographical surveys are 3 dimensional (height being an important measurement not just gridline position), and will often be related to GPS positioning and/or Ordinance Survey references. CAD software is the widely accepted option that allows accurate 3D mapping to be saved digitally, that can then be outputted in a variety of 3D and 2D views as required.

An extract from a topographical survey is shown below, showing the level of detail and accuracy of measurements:

Topographical Survey Example (London)
Topographical Survey Example (London)

What is the purpose of a topographical survey?

When a topographical survey is requested, there is always a potential development being considered, e.g. a residential or commercial property development.

The purpose of the topo survey is to assess all limitations and considerations relating to the site in question, to allow the architect or property developer to assess the feasibility of the proposed development, as well as decide what can and can’t be done, bearing in mind the findings of the topo survey.

Who uses topo surveys?

Whilst topo surveys are often requested by architecture firms and property developers, the range of people and organisations that may want a topographical survey conducted is wide.

Home owners and commercial property owners who want to assess the value of their property or section of land for future alternative development may well need a topo survey to help them evaluate this.

And construction companies who have an in-house design team are another common client of a topographical survey provider like AURA Surveys.

Important Considerations

  • Accuracy – if you’re planning to put down foundations within mm of a mains water feed or electric cable or sewer, you need to know your measurements are accurate!  AURA Surveys commit to accuracy within + or – 2mm.
  • Thoroughness – also known as attention to detail – there’s no point in researching 9 out of 10 important considerations and leaving 1 or 2 major issues out of the report, that would scupper the proposed development in the late stages of planning application.  Companies conducting a topographical survey service need to consider every possible aspect that could constrain or even prevent the proposed development, even if a skilled architect can then design a workaround, they still need to be identified in the first place.  For this reason, hiring a specialist firm of topographical survey professionals like AURA Surveys is crucial, their experience and level of detail will provide the correct level of service, in contrast with a more general surveying company.  A good topo survey professional will be collaborative, and consult with a variety of other specialists where required, such as tree preservation specialists, bat survey specialists, etc.
  • Service Levels – construction projects have deadlines, and involve a complex network of different professions and organisations, including architects, council planning departments, construction companies, and clients.  Good quality service aspects like turning up for the survey at the agreed date and time are an important consideration when selecting a firm to conduct a topo survey.

Measured Building Surveys vs Topo Surveys

In laymans terms, a topo survey is an accurate, detailed, and thorough site survey or land survey, more concerned with the potential of the site (i.e. a plot of land defined by a specific boundary), than it is concerned about any existing buildings on that site.

A measured building survey, by contrast, is focused on the existing building/s, and so is more appropriate when renovating or extending an existing property, than the overall potential of the plot that the property is located on.

Standard Pricing and Bespoke Packages

Whilst our measured survey pricing page gives helpful and transparent information on the typical costs of topo surveys, we do regard every survey request as a bespoke requirement.

If a site warrants a particularly detailed examination of various aspects, maybe due to it’s conservation area status, or historic significance, or maybe due to the ambitious nature of the planned development, then a tailored survey package will be quoted on each occasion, suited to your requirements.

Areas we cover

At the moment, our primary focus is the Greater London area, although we do regularly conduct topo surveys in the home counties and beyond the M25 generally.

London has many additional considerations not found in less densely populated areas of the UK, and so hiring a local specialist if your project is within London is a smart choice.

And each borough of London has it’s own set of restrictions and local history, so again, a London based topo surveys firm is a smart choice for any construction projects in the London area.


Using our FARO X 130 3D Laser Scanner, our CAD surveys can output in AutoCAD (.DWG), Revit (.RVT) or PDF formats.

This gives you contours, GPS positioning, levels, and 2D sections in any direction required.

Request a Topographical Survey Today

For a professional level of service, and fast response, ring 0333 335 5085, or email, or please fill out our online quote request form.

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