The Right to Build scheme is now up and running in England. I catch up with Angela Doran, NaCSBA’s self build representative for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, about how she is helping the rest of the UK to catch up by working to promote bespoke home building projects in these areas.
You've recently started a new role with the National Custom & Self Build Association (NaCSBA) − what can you tell us about it?
My job is to try and promote self build in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by maintaining pressure on government and local authorities. In England, creating focus groups who could feed information back to NaCSBA made a real difference. I want to try and co-ordinate something similar in the areas I represent.
What measures are already being taken to boost self build in those regions?
We are in the process of setting up focus groups to work closely with councils in each of these areas, and they will include people who are already working in the sector and trying to encourage self build.
In Scotland, where the committee has already been established, we’ve identified some key areas that we believe need some work, such as legal and fiscal policy, planning and land availability. There is also a concern here about the shortage of skilled tradesmen to work on these projects, so we’re looking at the possibility of forming skills training courses as well.
There are straightforward things that a council can do easily – without a big outlay – that will encourage self and custom build. We want to show other local authorities what we’ve already achieved here with Glasgow City Council (GCC) to try and encourage them to draw inspiration from that.
It sounds like you're confident more could be done to promote this route to home ownership.
Absolutely – the way we approached it with GCC was to investigate the stumbling blocks that repeatedly occur: land availability, project funding and planning issues.
And how have you gone about tackling these obstacles?
We have encouraged self build projects on council-owned sites in areas of regeneration, such as the Maryhill development.
We’ve also made sure the plots are serviced so that it’s easier for people to get started. Making land affordable has been a major part of our strategy, as it opens up the opportunity to more of the population.
We have also been working with BuildStore and credit unions to try and solve the difficulties concerning self build mortgages and deposits. For example, there’s going to be new specialist products coming out to make building your own home a more affordable option.
With the planning department, we’ve set up a design code that’s similar to the plot passports that are being used at the Graven Hill development in England.
What do you think are the main barriers to self build in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
I think it’s the same everywhere, but the scarcity of plots and the struggle to obtain a specialist mortgage are both key concerns, as well as planning issues – although to a lesser extent.
Could you give an example?
I know of projects that have taken more than 12 months to obtain permission and when you’re going into a construction scheme with limited finances, this kind of delay can be crippling. If local authorities are able to think more flexibly about how we provide housing then it’s only going to benefit self builders.
The planning department here in Glasgow has been brilliant as they’ve really recognised the potential of this route to home ownership. At an event I attended several weeks ago, various representatives from other councils approached me about the design code we’ve created. It’s great for the whole industry if more local authorities consider taking this pro-active approach.
Have you had any feedback from potential self builders about measures they'd like to see in place to boost the sector or ease the construction process?
I’m really impressed with the new self build registers that have been launched by local authorities in England, and I certainly think that this is something that should be implemented in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.
Is there an alternative for self build hopefuls in these areas?
We do have an unofficial database people can sign up to here in Glasgow and I’ve been sending out questionnaires to see what kinds of projects people want to do and which areas they’re interested in. The results are really interesting. Fundamentally, there seems to be a common consensus that more plots should be made available – particularly in urban locations.
How does the self build sector in your designated regions compare to the English industry?
It’s really taken off in England in the last several years, and I think that’s largely down to some of the work NaCSBA has been doing to try and promote this route to property ownership. The recent legislative changes under the Self & Custom House Building Act and the Housing & Planning Act seem to have made a massive difference, and there’s no doubt that we could do with the same throughout the rest of the UK.
Do you think collective projects have an important part to play in boosting the sector?
Yes, but I think it’s all about changing the perception of what self build is. Most people think of it in terms of the television programmes we see – one person with a huge budget, creating a one-off mansion-style property on their own plot.
However, if you go over to Berlin where there are lots of housing groups, collective schemes are one of the mainstream methods of providing accommodation. Once we’ve had a few more projects like that in the UK I think a greater number of people will recognise the potential of these larger schemes.
For more information and news about NaCSBA and its work to grow self build visit www.nascba.org.uk
Image: Angela has been heavily involved in bringing forward the Maryhill scheme in Glasgow, launched as a pilot to test local demand for self build in the city
First published: December 2016