Out-Law News 3 min. read

Self-build should be incorporated into local housing plans, consultancy says

Self-build and custom house building could play a bigger role in fulfilling local housing need, if planning authorities did more to provide plots and incorporated self-build into local plans and policies, according to a new report.

Consultancy Three Dragons has reviewed the progress made by the 11 local authorities appointed as 'vanguards' in 2014 by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) (4-page / 1.6MB PDF) in the light of recent legislative changes designed to improve access to self-build and meet demand for this type of house building. The report said that self-build will become "yet more important" as an additional source of housing supply, and make recommendations to help plan-makers identify and plan for increasing demand.

The 2015 Self Build and Custom Housebuilding Act introduced a new set of duties for local planning authorities. They must now keep and publicise a register of individuals and associations that are "seeking to acquire serviced plots of land", and "have regard" to that register when carrying out their functions. The 2016 Housing and Planning Act went further, introducing a new duty for local authorities to grant permission for enough serviced plots to meet the demand for self-building and custom building in their area.

However, although she acknowledged that self-build was "clearly an additional method to provide much-needed housing", housing and planning law expert Lucy Close of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, questioned how effective a role it could play in the government's drive to provide a long-term, sustainable solution to the housing crisis.

"This is because there are a number of issues to address and find answers to, in addition to encouraging engagement by the local planning authorities," she said.

"Where house builders are required to provide a quota of self- or custom-build plots within their schemes, there is concern how these plots will fit into the larger scheme in practical terms. For example, would there be a separate design code for self-builders and a specific build programme for their construction to fit in with the rest of the build programme?" she said.

"Also, there is a question mark over whether there will be a large appetite from the general public for self-build plots given land will be at residential values and funding self-build is currently difficult.  The added complication of multiple self build plots within a development site may also deter many people" she said.

The terms self-build and custom house building are used interchangeably to refer to the building or commissioning by individuals or associations of their own custom-built homes. According to Three Dragons, self- and custom build have played only a limited role in the overall supply of new housing in the UK in recent years, contributing about 12,000 to 14,000 new homes annually or 7% of the total new-build market.

However, the consultants said that the recent legislative changes had led to this type of house building "gaining momentum", and "losing its image as a product for older, better-off households who can afford the 'luxury' of designing their own home". "Certainly, local planning authorities that, in the past, have made passing mention to self build, now have a duty to evidence demand for it and take this into account 'when carrying out their planning, housing, land disposal and regeneration functions'," they said in their report.

Three Dragons said that it was clear from the experience of the 'vanguard' councils that setting up and managing a self and custom build register could be time consuming, but this was the most important task for councils as it would become their main source of information about demand. However, authorities needed to "improve upon and go beyond" their reliance on these registers if they were to properly be able to estimate the demand for self-build in their areas, according to the report.

By incorporating self-build into local plans and policies, authorities would be able to ensure that the "right mix of plots" was "available at the right time", Three Dragons said. They also needed to find ways of providing serviced plots, including by incorporating these into developer-led schemes, according to the report.

Planning authorities also had to consider ways of extending the market for self-build to those on lower incomes so that it could become a "genuine affordable housing option", according to the report. This could be done through gifting land, working with registered providers and involving and training future occupants in the build process, Three Dragons said. They should also bear in mind the need to make sure independent financial advice was available to self-builders, along with a range of accessible mortgage projects, according to the report.

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