Proposed Bill Seeks to Encourage Self Builds

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A self build opens up potential home owners to a wealth of options, from price and location to layout and style. They’ve become increasingly attractive in the UK and – as a habitual self builder myself – I’m no stranger to the powerful desire to build a home that is entirely suited to one’s own lifestyle and tastes.

While I’m firm believer in the potential, the value and the quality of the UK’s self build sector, the unfortunate reality is it trails behind other European countries in terms of its share of overall completed homes. This discrepancy inspired Richard Bacon, MP of South Norfolk, to introduce the Self Build and Custom Housebuilding Bill, which recently had its first reading at the House of Lords after passing successfully through the Commons.

Bacon’s bill builds on the Government’s recent attempts to make things easier for prospective self builders and bring the UK more in line with the rest of Europe, where self builds aren’t just more common, they’re often the norm, as the bill’s report states:

“The UK has traditionally had a much lower rate of self-building than other European countries … in the UK the sector makes up around 7-10% of new builds while in Austria 80% of housing completions are self-build; in France the figure is nearer 60%.”

Bacon paid particular attention to the vibrant self build market in Berlin, where it’s a common and encouraged practice not just for individual prospective self builders but also co-operatives, who band together and work with the authorities to develop housing that meets their needs in terms of space, utilities and price.

A thriving infrastructure for self builds has the potential to democratise house building and modernise the quality of our housing stock. Instead of meeting housing demand with rows of identical, cost-driven developments, we could allow individuals and communities to develop high quality homes specific to their needs.

Whereas other countries have local authorities that are keen to help self builders, the situation here is far more controlled. Securing land and finances is more difficult, the planning process is strict and complicated by local variations.

Since 2011, the government has been trying to make life easier for self builders and better meet the huge amount of unmet demand, with surveys at the time indicating that over half of people in the UK would consider a self build and 100,000 people were looking for plots.

The Government plans to double the size of the self build market which would – though far shy of the share seen elsewhere in Europe – be a dramatic improvement. So far, however, growth has been sluggish, despite opening up access to repayable funding, making public sector land easier to acquire and granting exemption from the Community Infrastructure Levy.

The bill proposed by Richard Bacon builds upon the Government’s prior focus on funding and land by changing how local authorities themselves deal with the self builders, to try and get us closer to the happy-to-help attitude of Berlin and in the process fill the missing link in our self build market.

Bacon’s proposed bill would make it mandatory for relevant authorities to build and maintain a register of all people in their areas who are seeking to acquire serviced land for the purposes of a self build. This would ensure that there is an accurate assessment of local demand, enabling authorities to properly direct their assistance and resources.

The local authorities would then have to regard this register when carrying out functions relating to planning, housing, disposal of land and regeneration – putting self builders on more of an equal footing to the established house builders who currently dominate the market. The hope is that this would make self builds included in local housing initiatives, instead of them being seen as isolated, personal endeavours.

With the bill having passed successfully through the House of Commons, there’s a good chance that we’ll see it come into effect in 2015. As someone who’s been a firm believer in self builds for as long as I can remember, I’m excited for the possibility of unique, high quality and modern homes becoming common on our streets.

You can read more details on the bill here in its accompanying report and I’ll have my fingers crossed as I keep a close eye on its progress page.

By John Dyer-Grimes