Building your own home - what can Councils do to help?

This article was originally written for the January issue of Selfbuilder & Homemaker magazine. To read the full article, please click here.

Many self-build registers are now set up, and the government’s self-build portal lists much of the country as having minimal plots available. Writing before the government announced its plan to directly commission the construction of ‘starter’ homes on publicly owned land, Ashfords LLP discusses what Councils can now do to help potential self-builders.

Building your own home is commonplace in countries including Austria, Belgium and Germany. In fact in Austria self-build properties make up 80 per cent of the new homes constructed there each year. In contrast, self-build properties in the UK account for just 10 per cent of all annual new builds.

Why the UK has failed to follow the trend of its European counterparts is unclear, especially since a self-build can prove a cheaper alternative to buying from a developer or private individual. Therefore, in the midst of a housing shortfall, a private members bill has recently been put before Parliament to help address this issue.

Right to build initiative

The result was the enactment of the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 which gained Royal Assent on 26 March 2015. The Act requires ‘certain public authorities to keep a register of individuals and associations of individuals who wish to acquire serviced plots of land… to have regard to those registers in carrying out planning and other functions.’

Self-build registers

Whilst many of the registers are now set up, the government’s self-build portal lists that much of the country, specifically the South West, South East, Greater London, East Anglia and the West Midlands as having minimal plots available, or as it terms it: "Good plots can be hard to find".

Understandably, local authorities do not have sites just sitting around waiting for self-build development and the Act does not go so far as to require local authorities to make land available. To do so could prove problematic where land just is not available.

The Act however, makes two key provisions, which are summarised in the explanatory notes, which accompany the Act:

  • Relevant authorities to maintain a register of people who are seeking to acquire a serviced plot in their area in order that they may build houses for them to occupy as homes; and
  • Certain authorities (broadly, local authorities) to have regard to the demand for custom build housing as evidenced by the registers when exercising certain functions including those relating to planning and housing.

The first question is, whether or not these registers will be utilised by the public? Only time will tell. However, on the assumption the registers are widely used and that a large number of people wish to build their own home, rather than buy ‘off the rack’, the important question will be the impact that the second provision will have on the functions of local authorities.

The functions, which relate to planning and housing also extend to ‘the disposal of any land of the authority and regeneration’. Local authorities could find that when they sell off surplus land they are required to at least consider whether the terms of the sale should include an element of self-build.

Public sector buildings

In addition to this, the Act could also have an impact on the disposal of public sector buildings. Public bodies could find themselves, where there are unused or dilapidated public sector buildings within its control, making these available for demolition and allocating some or all of the land for self-build development.

Will the Act have any real and noticeable impact on the UK housing shortage? It seems unlikely, at least in the short-term. One effect it may have is to shift allocation of the re-use of public sector buildings to the self-build sector and/or make land disposal decisions, which fail to take account of the needs of the self-build sector to be unlawful.

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