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Designs on Grand Designs – how realistic is self-build for boosting housing supply?
For many people, the constraints or design of their homes will at some point have led them to think that they might have done a better job if they had designed and built their homes themselves from scratch. As set out in the Housing White Paper, the government is looking to tap into this mind-set as a way of diversifying housing delivery streams and helping boost supply. But how much of an impact will this method of housing delivery have in the context of a national housing shortage, especially when the Housing White Paper itself states that the ‘broken housing market’ is particularly affecting ordinary working people who are struggling to get by? Access to available land and securing finance to fund the construction of a new home are two of the main barriers fledgling self-builders face. Since April 2016, local authorities in England have been required to maintain a list of people and groups interested in building their own home in their area under the ‘Right to Build’ provisions of the Self and Custom Build Housing Act 2015 (as amended by the Housing and Planning Act 2016). Some local authorities are now seeking to introduce self-build policies into their Local Plans as a way of enabling the delivery of more self-build homes. The Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) states that relevant authorities should consider how they can best support self-build and custom housebuilding in their area, including developing policies in their Local Plan for self-build and custom housebuilding (Paragraph: 025 Reference ID: 57-025-201760728). Harrogate Borough Council recently consulted on a draft self-build policy which proposed that, on sites of 20 dwellings or more, developers will be required to supply at least 5% of dwelling plots for sale to self-builders, subject to ‘appropriate demand’ being identified. The Council is proposing to consult on this draft policy again in January 2018 (it may be in a revised form by then), but whether it has been amended in response to consultation or not, will it really result in a step change in housing delivery? A letter sent out to stakeholders in June 2017 stated that there were 164 individuals listed on the Harrogate Borough Council Self Build Register who had expressed an interest in self-build. Applying the policy to the draft allocations set out within the emerging Harrogate Local Plan, the terms of the policy as currently drafted would result in the delivery of just under 250 dwellings. The draft policy does allow for some flexibility based on ‘appropriate demand’ being identified and self-build plots being sold within 12 months, but this type of policy is only dealing with one side of the coin – diversifying supply. The policy may not actually result in a boost to supply in terms of totals, as the number of homes which will have been delivered on the site is likely to remain the same. There are a number of potential pitfalls with policies which require minimum proportions of development sites to be reserved for self-build plots, despite their positive intentions: How can it be credibly confirmed whether there is viable demand? Do all 164 people in Harrogate actually want to go ahead with a self-build? When could (and should) self-build plots form part of on-site affordable housing provision? Will planning applications take longer to determine while developers and local authorities decide whether there is a need for reserved self-build plots on a particular site? Such policies could potentially lead to a reduction in overall housing delivery, or at least the rate of delivery (albeit this is likely to have a limited effect), and at a time of a national housing shortage this could go against the main thrust of the National Planning Policy Framework and Housing White Paper. The most appropriate method of facilitating and boosting the delivery of self-build homes is of course not only being grappled with in Harrogate, but is being explored by local authorities across Yorkshire and the rest of the country. The National Custom and Self Build Association’s (NaCSBA) portal for Right to Build states that there are 118 people registered on the Leeds database, out of a population of 774,100. Teignbridge has adopted a ‘Custom and Self Build Supplementary Planning Document’ which contains a 5% requirement on sites of 20 dwellings or more. According to research by the Planning Advisory Service, Teignbridge has around 280 people on its register. Promoters of self-build cite a number of studies and opinion polls which can suggest there is a considerable demand for self-build (the NaCSBA argues that 53% of the UK population would like to build or commission their own home at some time in their lives) and if these figures were realised, it could make a significant contribution towards housing delivery. There is a potential danger, however, that some people who express an interest in self-build may not ever - for a whole host of reasons - take this forward and deliver their own home. There is a very big difference between being interested in self-build, and actually having the means, be this for financial reasons, lack of knowledge/skills, or the time and commitment to deliver what could be a very demanding project to implement. It is also possible for people to sign up to more than one register, which can further skew the figures. What is clear, however, is that England and the UK lag behind the rest of Europe in the proportion of new homes which are self-built. A recent report by AMA Research found that self build completions in the UK have declined in recent years, and the UK continues to have one of the lowest rates of self building - around 10% of new private sector house-building, compared to countries such as Austria, Belgium, Italy and Sweden where self build rates are between 67-83%[1]. As previous Lichfields blogs[2] have discussed, the UK Government could take inspiration from the Netherlands, where whole new settlements are created comprised entirely of self-build homes. These are often delivered in partnership by city councils and housing associations on publicly owned land. Indeed, this model being implemented at Graven Hill in Bicester, which will be the largest self and custom build development in the UK, and has come about through Cherwell District Council’s acquisition of a former Ministry of Defence site. The development will deliver around 1,900 self and custom build homes. Aiming to increase the amount of self-build homes in the UK is certainly something which should be encouraged, both to diversify the supply chain and improve design, but policies which target the volume housebuilder sector may need to be approached with caution. The national housing shortage is real and acute, and volume housebuilders have the capability to deliver homes quickly and at a large scale. The amount of self-build plots which can be delivered on private developer-led sites is always going to be relatively small, and it will therefore be important for local authorities to look for other opportunities to bring self-build to more people, as well as those looking to create the next Grand Design.   [1] https://www.amaresearch.co.uk/products/self-build-2016 [2] http://lichfields.uk/blog/2016/october/31/almere-a-dutch-example-for-self-building-in-the-uk/ and http://lichfields.uk/blog/2016/february/17/is-the-romantic-dream-of-self-build-dead-or-alive/ Image credit: Dan-Wood  

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