More than half of all homes in Germany and Belgium are self and custom builds and, in a bid to solve the housing supply crisis, the government is keen that we copy our continental neighbours.
The Self-Build and Custom Housebuilding Act, which came into force on April 1, brings us a step closer to increasing the number of one-off “grand designs”.
It is part of the Right to Build initiative aimed at making a small dent in the government’s target of a million new homes by 2020.
So from now, all councils in England and Wales have to keep a register of individuals and groups wishing to bring forward projects. Later this year, when the Housing and Planning Bill reaches the statute books, local authorities will also have a duty to identify opportunities for custom and self-builders in their five-year land supply. They must also make efforts to match the demand on their register with a supply of land and serviced plots with planning permission.
Michael Holmes, Chair of the National Custom and Self Build Association and spokesperson for The Homebuilding and Renovating shows, says: “This is great news for those who would like to build their own home. Essentially, the register is a demand assessment tool that will enable local authorities to establish how many people want an individually designed home and how they should make provision for this in their planning policies to ensure sufficient building plots are given planning permission.”
For those unfamiliar with the terminology, self-build projects are where an individual directly organises and commissions the design and construction of their new home. Custom build is when someone works closely with a developer to build a new home. This could include a fully commissioned property or fitting out a previously constructed shell.
The NaCSBA is not expecting a boom in the availability of plots as affordable land is still a major issue. Finding a suitable mortgage can also be difficult, although in Yorkshire the Ecology building society is supportive. Nationally, Buildstore offers help in sourcing funding.
“It is baby steps and things won’t happen overnight but I think we will see a lot more self and custom building in the years to come. There will be a culture change. The housing bill later this year should make it easier to get planning permission on plots,” says Jason Orme, a member of the National Custom and Self Build Association board. “The system will have to be tested and challenged but, in theory, if there are 85 people on the list, the local authority should be looking to satisfy that need.”
Sheffield has a headstart thanks to taking part in the government’s Vanguard Right to Build scheme trialled by 11 local authorities. The councils were tasked with assessing the interest in self and custom build and helping to enable projects. Solutions included encouraging developers to allocate a few serviced plots on all large sites to using council land. Sheffield City Council’s starting point was to establish a register and a help and advice section on its website
“We established that here is a lot of interest,” says Amanda James, assistant regeneration manager.
The council has worked with housebuilder Persimmon to create 10 serviced custom-build plots at a site in Beighton and pioneered a planning help service. “The expense of putting in a pre-planning application was a problem for many people so we set up a free service so they could have a chat with a planning officer and get advice. We were able to pay for that through Vanguard funding and it worked well. Now that has ended we are looking at funding it ourselves,” says Amanda, who stresses that custom and self-building doesn’t have to be a “grand design that Kevin McCloud approves of”. “The point is it can be something quite simple and affordable.”
In the UK, just over eight per cent of homes are self or custom built compared to 56 per cent in Germany and over 40 per cent in France. The government’s ambition is to double this number by 2020.
*Contact your local authority to register interest in self and custom building or visit the NaCSBA’s righttobuildportal.org.