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The rules on self-build have changed – now we need to exploit them

Leila ferraby self build comp
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Councils must now grant planning permission to meet demand for those wanting to build their own homes. But we need to point people in the right direction, says Gus Zogolovitch 

Survey after survey reveals that a huge number of us (12 million at last count) would like to build or commission our own home; yet, only 10,000 of us actually manage to do so. That means 99.99 per cent of us go disappointed. In context, we sit at the very bottom of the league table for providing this form of housing. Germany, Austria, France are among the many European countries that rely on self-build and custom-build to deliver over 50 per cent of their new homes every year. In Germany, that’s more than 100,000 new self-build or custom-build homes every year.

For those of us who want to see more self-build and custom-build homes in the UK, 31 October was an important day – the day all councils were made responsible for granting planning permission for enough ‘serviced plots’ to meet the demand on their own self-build and custom-build register.

The theory is that lots of us want to build our own homes (either on our own or with a developer) and that doing this will help us plug the gap between what the volume housebuilders generally produce every year and what we need as a country to keep housing demand and supply roughly in balance and hopefully avoid the boom and bust economics that does no good to anyone.

This is great news for architects. Most of the larger practices I know cut their teeth on small private client work before expanding into bigger projects. When the customer is so heavily involved in the concept, design is going to be crucial to the home. New custom-build models are emerging where there are opportunities for architects to become SME developers or manufacturers of turnkey solutions. The more diversity we have, the greater the opportunity for architects.

The regulations that came into force on 31 October are the culmination of campaigning by MP Richard Bacon’s all party parliamentary group (APPG) on self-build and custom-build, which eventually led to legislation with cross-party support, and forced local authorities to sit up and take notice.

This is potentially our only chance to change the way we build and buy homes in the UK, let’s not let it go to waste

The first thing the legislation did was force councils to set up registers of demand. The idea is that we go on to register and the council then has evidence of how many people want to self-build or custom-build, and therefore know what they need to provide for those people.

Sadly, this has played out like the opening scene in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where Arthur Dent is told that the public consultation to knock his house down is in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory in the cellar of the planning office with a sign that says ‘beware of the leopard’. A current trawl of the London councils leads you to suspect that councils are big fans of Douglas Adams. They do not appear to be exactly enamoured with the idea of having to provide serviced plots. What’s worse is that councils are now looking at charging for you to enter your details on their registers. This is less a locked filing cabinet, more a vending machine with a note inside saying ‘sorry, nothing to see here, come back next year’.

I believe that we have a unique opportunity to make self-build and custom-build a reality in the UK. To do so, we must bypass the council’s own marketing departments. So, this piece is a call to action to all architects and professionals with private clients who have once remarked: ‘I’d love to build a new home one day.’ Point them in the direction of the legislation and tell them to fill out their local register. If we all do it and encourage others to do so too, we can give these registers the exposure they need. This is potentially our only chance to change the way we build and buy homes in the UK, let’s not let it go to waste.

To help, we’ve put together a list of all the councils in London and those outside London.

Image by Leila Ferraby

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The AA exhibition last spring on the brilliant self-build ideas and work of Walter Segal should have helped greatly to encourage initiatives, but I wonder whether his work is as well known - and understood - as it deserves to be?
    The revelation (?) in Nick Clegg's memoirs that Cameron and Osborne didn't understand him banging on about social housing, 'because it just created more Labour voters', shows what happens when political dogma collides head-on with stark reality.
    The tiny size of the self-build sector in this country might just have something to do with this political mind-set, and the current melt-down in affordable housing can surely only be tackled with the help of self -build just as much as the need for the sort of factory built housing that - for example - RSHP is promoting.

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