Independent Review to Boost Self and Custom House Building in the UK

We talk to Richard Bacon MP about the new home building review, as well as what the future holds for the sector
Articles by Build It magazine
by Build It
2nd May 2021

Can you tell us a little background on the review?

Since the passage of the Self Build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015, I’ve spent considerable time looking at housing schemes across Europe, where this approach is considered normal. Buried deep in the December 2020 spending review was an additional £100m to support the release of public sector land, which will include a ‘significant portion’ for serviced plots for self and custom builders. Last year we were also able to secure more funding for the Right to Build Taskforce.

We’ve stayed in regular touch with the Ministry for Housing, the Treasury and Number 10 to keep them informed of the Taskforce’s progress, as well as how we’re trying to implement the policy. It seemed the Prime Minister was sufficiently interested to ask me to do this review! For Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, it is a chance to showcase some high-quality exemplars where homebuyers get to influence the design of their own home.

What is the aim of this independent review?

It provides the opportunity to talk to people in the sector, and potential investors, to discern what would give them the confidence to invest at a greater scale. I’m hoping to get evidence from a wide range of interested parties, and make recommendations to the Prime Minister that are sensible, practical, implementable, and that will make a difference quickly. The aim is to establish a plan to scale up self building and custom build homes, as well as overall housing supply.

How has the appetite for bespoke home building evolved in the UK?

I think the appetite was always there, but for many people it’s only a pipe dream because there are barriers. Research by Nationwide Building Society indicates that 61% of people would like to build or commission a house to their own design at some point in their lives, but many people simply can’t. What’s obvious is there’s a big mismatch between demand and supply, and I want the self build route to become a more mainstream option.

The pandemic has made our homes feel more important than ever before; the ability to work efficiently at home varies considerably depending on the design of your property. Going forward, we’re all going to become more flexible in the way we work, so our housing has to keep up.

What do you see as the main barriers to self and custom building? How can the government help to alleviate these?

If you are an individual self builder, then the biggest hurdle is almost certainly finding a suitable plot, getting services to it and obtaining planning permission. What I find absolutely extraordinary is that we have tolerated a situation where people have little consumer power over the biggest investment in their lives.

As the review is still in its early stages, I can’t share any recommendations just yet; I’m due to report back to the Prime Minister by 23rd July. But I can offer this piece of advice to struggling self builders – keep going and persist. It’s taken seven years of slog to get from legislation through to the PM commissioning this report, but I’m trying to make it easier for everybody. We now have a government that supports self and custom build at the highest levels.

How can we encourage more people to self build? What is the best way to spread information on this route to homeownership?

I think there are two parts to this – we need a large-scale public awareness campaign on how easy and cost effective it is to do. But first we have to make it easy. The last thing you want to do is put ads on the telly if there are no viable plots out there to buy.

How do you see self build boosting the UK housing market?

We need to increase the supply of new homes. One way is to have houses that people actually want to live in. So, the absorption rate is likely to be much higher, and you will see a greater increase in net supply. We need to make it easier for other entities – not just volume house builders – to enable people to self commission their properties.

Self or custom build and volume building appeal to different people – they are two different markets. Around 33% of people want to buy a developer-built home, and that’s fine, but the government has a responsibility to ensure these are of a high standard with a whole life in mind. Self build offers the opportunity to build better, greener homes, that also get more acceptance from the local community.

What do you see as the future of self build in the UK – both in 2021 and beyond?

I want to create a world in which an ordinary person on a normal income can afford to own the home that they want. I think that’s a reasonable aspiration. And if everyone can do that, in higher quality dwellings, we would have a more stable, prosperous and contented society.

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