Councils have had three years to adapt to the Right to Build Act, which means local authorities have to keep a register of people wishing to self build and offer serviced plots to meet demand. But how have councils reacted to the legislation and what’s next for self builders?
Unfortunately, the legislation has been less successful than either NaCSBA (the National Custom and Self Build Association) or the government had hoped. When central government passed this Act back in 2016, it was with the ambition to double the number of custom and self build homes in the UK by 2020. It is now clear that will not have happened and more needs to be done.
For a number of local authorities this was yet another change to the already complicated planning process – it was a requirement to do something new. Many of them put it into their ‘too small, too difficult’ pile rather than embracing the opportunity it presents to create more and better homes in their area.
This legislation should have enabled councils to deliver higher quality dwellings that people would rather live in, but the planning process is struggling to adapt. That poses wider questions on how the UK planning system works.
Another reason Right to Build hasn’t worked yet is that there has not been time for any follow up on the good work that has been done. The legislation came into effect in 2016, but it was only in October 2019 that councils had to demonstrate they had complied.
We’d like local authorities to adopt a portfolio of tools to encourage self build in their areas. First, they should favour the development of one-off homes in or around the edges of settlements. Second, councils should bring forward medium-sized sites – five to 30 homes – exclusively for custom or self builders. Plus, they should set aside proportions of larger development sites for these projects.
Many councils are using dirty tricks to manage their registers and effectively attempt to limit the number of homes that they have to bring forward under the legislation. The best way to facilitate self build is to stop implementing policies to make it unreasonably difficult to join these lists.
Imposing local connection tests restricts the register to only people who already live in the area – this either needs to stop entirely or be matched by a similar rule for people wanting to buy speculative new builds. Councils must also end the excessive charges that are only there to deter people from joining and remaining on Right to Build registers.
The registers should be monitored to prohibit local authorities unfairly removing interested parties, with the pure intention of reducing their own obligations.
Some local authorities have also been passing off unsuitable permissions as being potentially appropriate for custom and self builders when they are clearly not. Warwick is a good example – they have quite slyly interpreted the legislation to mean that any permission they grant could have potential for a bespoke home, so they don’t need to set aside any plots at all.
They delivered 253 permissions this year, but we estimate that only nine people have actually self built on a plot in Warwick in the last 12 months.
The Right to Build is intended to facilitate people to build or commission their own home on a serviced plot. If a local authority decides that every permission or patch of land can be deemed as potentially suitable, that’s hardly in keeping with the spirit of the Act.
NaCSBA believes that changes are needed to both guidance and legislation to address and close the loopholes we’ve identified through the data we’ve collected. We also need to band together and call out the bad practice we are seeing from some councils.
In the long term, this battle between bespoke houses and large-scale developments is one that the custom and self building sector will win.
The quality and value of the homes being delivered in the UK is so out of line with everywhere else that change must happen and individual housebuilding is key to creating high quality dwellings. This is probably the last consumer market that exists where the choice and options remain so poor. It’s not good for prospective homeowners and it’s not good for the UK economy.
The big challenges are land, planning and finance. In theory, Right to Build should address land and planning and a ‘Help to Build’ equity loan would offer finance. So, if we’re able to get
those tools in place and working effectively, the public can respond. Change will happen, it’s just a matter of how quickly, and once the movement gains momentum, it’ll be unstoppable.
NaCSBA will now go back to the government with its findings and lobby to update the guidance and change the legislation to address some of the loopholes, as well as publishing the data so that local authorities can be held to account.
At the same time, we need to work alongside councils to better understand their constraints and challenges and give them a chance to adapt. The first three-year tract was a transition period for local authorities, and now they will be expected to meet their obligations annually.
Their need to act is more urgent because they haven’t been creating a pipeline to match up to demand. It will now become increasingly clear which councils are not doing what they need to – the pressure is on.
If you’re interested in self building, sign up to your local register by visiting www.righttobuildportal.org