The UK’s Communities Secretary Sajid Javid started the year with a visit to the Netherlands and Germany to look at how self- and custom-build homes can make a contribution to the enduring challenge of adequate housing delivery. This comes hot on the heels of the Scottish Government’s recent conference on the subject, and the Scottish Conservatives calls for a new ‘Grand Designs Plan’ to help councils facilitate such development north of the border. Could 2017 be the year when the UK embraces the self-build house?
The figures make for stark reading. In the UK only 10 per cent of new-build housing projects are delivered via the self-build model. This contrasts with Austria where almost 80 per cent of new housing is undertaken as a personal project, while among our Western European and Scandinavian neighbours rates are typically around 50 per cent. Yet this persists despite research showing that 53 per cent of the British public polled have a desire to self-build at some stage, and where 12 per cent ideally want to begin their own self-build project in the next five years. Given the enthusiasm that exists for this delivery model, why does so little get built?
The recent Scottish Government conference on the subject made plain that across Scotland, from urban areas to the remote Highlands, self-build projects are beset by three competing challenges: land, planning and, finance. In the very simplest terms, the ability of the budding self-builder and the willing landowner to find each other is hamstrung by a lack of established brokers and inadequate search infrastructure to make useful introductions.
In addition there is also a critical lack of understanding about where planning may or may not be achievable on the part of the self-builder and the landowner, and a fundamental nervousness about the delivery model on the part of the Planning Authority. Add to that a dwindling number of lending institutions that are willing to support the self-build sector, and many initial hopes to execute the self-builders’ grand designs are quickly dashed, while the easier option of dealing with a known house builder is more of an attractive option for the otherwise willing landowner.
Recognising the pent up demand for self-build, some local authorities are beginning to address the first two of these challenges. Dumfries and Galloway’s ‘Main Issues Report’ to its forthcoming Local Development Plan is currently out for consultation. This notes that a proposal has been submitted to the Scottish Government’s ‘Simplified Planning Zone Housing Pilot’ programme, proposing the development of a ‘Plot Passport’ model to make planning simpler and quicker for small and single unit sites. This builds on a model that has been rolled out successfully on a small scale by Glasgow City Council at a canal-side site in the city’s Maryhill.
Not only do prospective self-builders need to navigate the land and planning maze, but most will need at least some level of mortgage-backed development finance to get their projects off the ground. Although there are some good options available, the terms of such lending are often limiting and it is worth obtaining specialist advice. Savills newly launched self-build service in Scotland comprises specialists who between them can address the triple challenges of land, planning and finance. The team will be hosting a launch event at an event in Perth on 29 March 2017.
While the self-build model will not solve the housing crisis single-handedly, it may become a useful tool to help the UK tackle the problem.