Are Local Councils Doing Enough for Self Builders?

Self builders need to speak up and be counted by their councils
Build It expert Mike Hardwick
by Mike Hardwick
2nd January 2020

Part of the good work done by the National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA) involves submitting an annual Freedom of Information (FOI) request to establish how local authorities are doing regarding promotion and management of their self build registers.

It is still early days for getting this year’s responses in, but some trends are starting to appear – subject to the full data sets, which the government are unlikely to release with an election imminent (at the time of writing).

Overall, the numbers on the registers are looking like they have increased, which is good news. Based on early results, NaCSBA estimates that new individual registrations over the past year will be around 10,000, a little down on last year’s figures of just under 11,000. However, the total numbers don’t seem to be rising to reflect these new sign ups. Instead, the figures suggest that existing entries are being removed – a process that is rejected by NaCSBA as a matter of principle.

One reason for reductions in new and total registrations is that certain councils are placing restrictions on applicants, usually via a local connection test or through the imposition of charges – a trend which seems to be growing. While allowed, there appears to be little evidence to justify such actions and a cynic might say it’s just a way to minimise the numbers.

I’ve heard that the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) became an excuse to cull the registers – any ‘nil responses’ to enquiries used to remove budding home builders from any lists they were on. Some of the charges have become punitive as well.

Take a bow, Three Rivers District Council, for hitting a new high (or maybe I should say a new low) with this one. To get your name onto their self build register and keep it there for the full four-year cycle will cost £725, without any guarantee of a plot at the end.

It’s hardly likely to get interested parties rushing to sign up. Plus, some local authorities lump all planning permissions into the same category. How exactly does an individual get their own self build project integrated within a 500-home standard housing estate? We’ll never know.

My fear is that if councils don’t recognise the need to provide tangible plots for self builders and land for groups and instead fudge the figures, then trust in the scheme will be weakened to the point where it could quietly disappear without trace.

This really would be a shame, as the best councils are using it as an opportunity to encourage diversity in their housing stock.

I’m hearing of an increase in complaints and requests to the Local Government Ombudsman from potential self builders frustrated by the lack of action.Perhaps that’s the way forward – the squeakiest wheel gets the oil.

We, like NaCSBA, should not accept the current situation, and should make our voices heard.

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