A new initiative is revealed every year, each designed to kick start house building in the UK – yet nothing happens. This time it’s Sajid Javid announcing a £2.3 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund that'll create the network necessary to service another 100,000 homes.
I note that this is just about infrastructure, not the dwellings – that will be down to developers, but it appears the big firms are holding sway and many schemes are earmarked for designated green belt areas. This is a significant shift, and proposed development in these zones has jumped 54% since March 2016. The big house builders must be delighted, because that’s where the best profit margins lie. I’ll be amazed if much of what they create falls into the affordable bracket.
I fear the result will be more large-scale developments in green belt areas, where there will be vociferous objections. I don’t expect there to be any relaxation of the rules for individual builders, who will no doubt face outright rejection for any application for a new house unless they propose a straight replacement of an existing one.
However, there's some good news for our sector as the custom and self-build (CSB) market has grown for the third year in a row. A recent report shows 12,950 self-build completions in 2016 − an annual growth of 6.25% in a market now worth £3.9 billion.
This is most welcome, but it still means that we are projected to fall short of the government’s own target of 20,000 CSB homes by 2020. The best forecast we have is that the figure will be closer to 16,500. It’s a tad disappointing, but still a step in the right direction.
Of course, much of the growth in the CSB sector hangs on the Right to Build legislation. All but two councils in England now have a register of would-be self-builders in place. It’s now down to them to make the law a reality by providing sufficient permissioned plots to meet the demand. There are at least 18,000 names on the registers and the number is rising as more people become aware.
The National Custom & Self Build Association’s new task force will play a key role in making this happen. This group comprises a team of specialists with a wide range of expertise, who can help local authorities implement their responsibilities. It’s a model taken from successful self-build projects in the Netherlands and will give councils the confidence and support they need to launch their own schemes.
Who knows, we might see several more Graven Hill-type initiatives springing up around the country. The developments mentored by the task force are likely to be large scale, with a focus on affordable housing delivery. But within each one will lie opportunities for individuals to create their own perfect home.
Right to Build does not yet currently extend to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but hopefully the legislation will be adopted by the devolved governments if the work in England proves to be successful. Let’s be positive and assume it will be.
Image: Border Oak