Richard Bacon MP: Changes in the self build sector

After spearheading 2016’s Self and Custom Housebuilding Act, South Norfolk MP and self build supporter Richard Bacon tells us about the government’s plans for the sector
by Anamika Talwaria
4th February 2020

How will the new government boost self build?

I’m hugely optimistic because, for the first time ever, self build got a mention in the Conservative manifesto. And we’re looking at how the Help to Buy scheme (which offers an equity loan to first-time buyers purchasing their home from a big developer) might be extended to people who want to build their own dwelling: a Help to Build scheme, if you will.

Learn more: Can I Get Help to Buy if I Build My Own House?

I have agreed a meeting with Treasury ministers to discuss the potential for Help to Build in more detail, having already met with the Bank of England and lenders to examine how such a plan would operate.

How do you envision a Help to Build scheme working in an ideal world?

Finance is one of the three components in the nexus that makes self building difficult for many people – the others being land and planning. I think that a Help to Build equity loan to make building a bespoke home more affordable is a very important step towards increasing the speed of delivery of high quality, sustainable housing.

In a perfect world, one would go further and have large numbers of serviced plots of land available across the country, with utilities like water and electricity delivered at scale, rather than just doing one-offs.

Ideally, I’d like to see central government actually rolling up their sleeves and delivering those homes, through its proxies and perhaps through Homes England. There’s a strong case for government to enable serviced plots itself – rather than sit back and just encourage others – with all the right incentives in place.

Graven Hill Flythrough

Self and custom build developments like Graven Hill could become more commonplace across the UK in efforts to tackle the housing crisis

Evidence from the continent shows that where local authorities get heavily involved, housing becomes much more accessible to people across the social spectrum through private ownership, housing cooperatives and co-housing. It should be easy for people to get a hold of a serviced plot of land and develop their own house.

Are councils fulfilling their duties under the Right to Build?

The first phase of Right to Build legislation ended on 31st October 2019 – coined Right to Build Day in the industry – by which point 18,000 serviced plots or planning permissions should have been granted to interested self builders who put their names on their local authorities’ registers.

Some councils charge a fee to sign up and it’s now clear that this is a problem – a minority are charging exorbitant rates to thwart local people’s ambitions, subverting the legislation. I will be pushing hard for this to be revoked.

This government must remember that self building is actually part of the infrastructure that we need to deliver. If you’re going to devote time to upgrading roads and rail for jobs, you need places that people can afford to live in.

Learn more: Are Local Councils Doing Enough for Self Builders

Current policy stems from the 2017 whitepaper, which says that the government must take steps to make it easier for people to build their own dwellings. So far, the main way this has been implemented is through Right to Build Task Force – a privately financed body. We’re asking central government to take on the funding and expand their remit in this area.

We are also facing, as a nation, a serious housing problem that is going nowhere. Self build is not about a handful of people fulfilling their Grand Designs fantasies – government needs to make it a normal, mainstream choice, empowering people to build, including those who have been socially marginalised.

For instance, I’d really like to see serviced plot opportunities for NHS staff, teachers and armed forces – these areas often suffer retention problems, partly due to poorly maintained, unsuitable housing. The employees should be supported to create better homes to suit their needs.

What else do you want to see the government doing?

Nearly all the things that put people off self building are a question of risk management. If you identify what makes it unattractive for a financier to do a mortgage package, the difficulty of getting water and gas to a plot, or the risk of being rejected at the planning stage, you can manage this better.

We need to create a world in which self building is normalised, and it’s easy to buy a fully serviced plot where you know you’ll gain planning consent. Plus, this route to housing tends to be more sustainable, finished to higher standards, much cheaper to run and far more carbon friendly, which is crucial now that climate change has raced to the top of the agenda.

Having got all those pieces of the jigsaw in place, there needs to be a public information campaign to make it clear that this is now a viable route. There’s no reason why this won’t be feasible under a supportive government that wants to make it happen.

What do you predict for the self and custom build sector in 2020 and beyond?

The imagination and creativity that comes with bespoke homes has almost limitless possibilities. We can create more dwellings for people across society, many of whom have perhaps never thought they could ever buy their own place.

That is something we need to change. An imaginative and broad-ranging self and custom housebuilding offer, with a Help to Build finance package, is a vital piece of the puzzle to making sure that ordinary people on a normal salary can afford to own their own homes.
We’re already seeing more interest in the sector.

The increasing attendance at exhibitions like Build It Live and to the National Self Build and Renovation Centre () suggests that people are serious about building their own houses. No one is going to spend their Sunday afternoon looking at solar PV if they’re not serious about it! The government has a tremendous opportunity to facilitate self building – if they take
the right steps, we could see a huge boom.

More information about self building and the Right to Build Task Force

Main image: Build It Education House 

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