The wheels continue to turn in Westminster as the Housing & Planning Bill and regulations to support the Self Build & Custom Housebuilding Act advance through the system. The latter comes into effect on 1 April 2016 and calls on local authorities (LAs) to keep a register of groups and individuals seeking serviced plots of land to create their own homes.
It’s welcome legislation and a key part of the self and custom build revolution the government expects to roll out over the next five years. The Housing & Planning Bill, currently at committee stage in the House of Commons, will contain further provisions requiring LAs to allocate permission for enough plots to satisfy demand.
I recently had the chance to go over the legal details of the registers with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). It’s looking quite positive, but my one worry is that the eligibility criteria seem too wide. In the past, there has always been the assumption that there would be a filter to prevent the system overloading.
This kind of strain would increase the risk of LAs being unable to give permission for enough viable plots to meet the demand. I would have expected to see some sort of local connection test, such as being brought up in the area or working nearby. There could also be a financial check to ensure the applicant has realistic funds to purchase and develop the land.
Yet it seems that in the early stages, it has the potential to be a free-for-all, and here’s why: for the base period (from 1 April 2016 until when the Housing & Planning Bill comes into force) British citizens above 18 years old, nationals of European Economic Areas other than the UK and Swiss nationals have a right to apply for the register. Altogether that’s a population of 517 million.
Let’s say a cosy 350 million of those are over 18 and therefore eligible to apply – I hope they don’t all rush at once! If this scheme is going to work it must have a fighting chance of success. My concern is that if demand is too high from the outset, councils will be overwhelmed.
I may be worrying too much. I spoke to one of the vanguard council planners who has been trialling the scheme, and their initial register runs to a manageable 250 names. The DCLG says it will be tightening the criteria but that it wants the details to be decided at a local level. The necessary legislation for this has to be done separately through the Housing & Planning Bill.
Still, you have to be in it to win it, so if you’re looking for land, it’s the time to think about registering with your LA. The proof of this system will be the quality of the plots made available to those who have expressed interest.
If the strain on councils is too high, they may feel pressured to permission low grade plots just to say they’ve met demand – they can always grant consent on less desirable sites but they can’t force people to buy them.