Groundworks Laid for Right to Build

by Mike Hardwick
9th February 2016

The government has initiated some interesting new legislation. You may have heard of the Self and Custom Housebuilding Act, which became law earlier this year and requires councils to keep a register of those interested in building their own home.

This has laid the groundwork for the sector to be given an even bigger boost via the wide-reaching housing and planning bill, which will open the path for a Right to Build. The legislation is described as a way to ‘get the nation building homes faster by giving house builders and decision makers the tools and confidence to deliver more properties in appropriate places’.

Previous governments have recognised the need for hundreds of thousands of new dwellings, but each has failed to deliver. Why? Just about everyone in both the self-build industry and the mainstream commercial housing sector has been saying the same thing for years: if you free up the land and streamline our archaic and rigid planning system, we can get on with the job.

The legislation has huge implications, all of which are positive. The aim is to double the number of self and custom build homes in the UK by 2020. The outline contents of the bill suggest the government will be coming down hard on local authorities (LAs), requiring them to identify and maintain registers of brownfield sites for this kind of project.

It also seems permission in principle will be granted automatically if a plot comes under this category or has already been earmarked under local and neighbourhood plans. This should take much of the uncertainty out of the process.

Controversially, we could also see the planning inspectorate being authorised to issue planning consent over the heads of LAs with poor track records of granting approvals. That should give the NIMBYs something to get upset about.

Not every council has a Local Plan in place yet, something which will be essential under this new regime. I would expect this bill to encourage councils to get a move on or have the decisions taken out of their hands.

So, it looks like we’re finally getting the promised streamlining of the planning system that will help self-builders. I sat next to Richard Bacon MP at the recent Build It Awards and was heartened to find he shares my view that incremental, organic development through self and custom build has a place as one of the answers to the housing shortage. The construction of individual or small-scale projects doesn’t really tend to upset locals half as much as the imposition of major estate developments.

Group and cohousing schemes in urban areas can maximise the effective use of brownfield sites, while rural one-off plots tend to benefit from individual high-quality designs that can often add to the aesthetics of the countryside. I’m hoping that the housing and planning bill is, at last, setting us off down the right path.

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