The government has really got behind self-build in recent years. In particular, it is actively pursuing ways of increasing the supply of plots and other self-build opportunities. New initiatives were announced in the spring budget, and around the same time permitted development rights were extended to facilitate the conversion of rural buildings to homes. As ever, local council responses to government initiatives vary around the country. So, let’s see what schemes are in place now, and what might emerge in the future.
The 2014 budget announced an intention to introduce a land release scheme known as Right to Build (not to be confused with the existing Community Right to Build, which is aimed at communities rather than individuals). The scheme is subject to consultation, and will involve trials with a few local authorities. The idea is that where councils don’t provide opportunities or land for self-build, they can be officially challenged and required to do so.
Precisely how the scheme might work won’t be known until it’s formally adopted, but the forthcoming consultation draft should give a good indication. Hopefully it will force councils to address self-builders’ needs and ensure there is a good supply of potential plots to meet demand. Build It magazine will be keeping a regular eye on the initiative’s progress at our regularly-updated Right to Build hub.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) already requires councils to provide sufficient land to meet the housing needs of, among others, self-builders. Historically, councils have allocated large swathes of land for new homes, and these have been snapped up by volume housebuilders, with a few infill or garden plots within settlements providing the occasional opportunity for self-builders.
Now, where councils are aware of a demand for self-build plots, they can specify, when allocating land for housing, that some of it be made available for self-builders. This might be as just bare land, but also in the form of serviced plots. Although the NPPF was introduced in 2012, there are still plenty of councils that don’t recognise the needs of self-builders, and the Right to Build initiative appears designed to address this. Meanwhile, substantial government funding is being made available to help councils deliver serviced building plots, and this should also provoke some local authorities into action.
Neighbourhood plans provide a further opportunity for land to be allocated for self-builders. This could be anything from identifying a few likely building plots, through to larger sites for serviced developments or community self-build schemes. It’s essential for would-be self-builders to make their voice heard when local and neighbourhood plans are being drawn up; they should participate in the public consultation process and object to draft policies that don’t adequately address their needs.
Where land is allocated for housing through the neighbourhood plan, the Community Right to Build scheme enables group projects to go ahead without the need to go through the normal planning process. Get up to speed with what’s happening in your catchment area by looking at the planning policy section of your district or borough council’s website, and by checking with your parish or community council to see if a neighbourhood plan is in preparation.
Recent amendments to permitted development rights (which govern what you can build without permission) now allow the change of use of farm buildings, shops and offices to dwellings (subject to a good many exclusions and provisos). These modifications not only enable changes of use that previously have been resisted by councils, but they also make the process of securing permission simpler and quicker.
The NPPF places great emphasis on new builds being as sustainable as possible. This has led some councils to adopt overly restrictive policies towards rural housing, especially in areas remote from public transport and other facilities. The recent planning practice guidance clarifies the government’s position on this, indicating that blanket policies restricting housing development in some settlements (and preventing others from expanding) should be avoided. This approach could enable new housebuilding around the edges of rural settlements, but it remains to be seen how individual councils reflect the guidance in their policies.
This particular change has rather crept in under the radar, but it has the potential to nudge the supply of more rural plots in the right direction.
Also of potential relevance to self-builders is the Right to Contest scheme, whereby members of the public can challenge central government departments to release redundant land or premises in their ownership. So if you have vacant government-owned land or property in your area that might be suitable
for self-building, it is now possible to make an application questioning its current use and put forward a more productive alternative. If successful, the land is then sold by the government at a fair price –although whether ‘fair’ also means ‘favourable’ remains to be seen.
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