For those of you who do not regularly scan the pages of the Communities and Local Government website you may have missed this very useful statement on Self Building houses. I set out below the full article – with due credit to CLG - however, there are one or two fundamental issues arising from this statement which bear consideration.
Firstly, the predicted rise (by 141% no less) in mortgage availability for self-build projects is marvellous, but 141 times a very low number is not that many in reality. Certainly the demand is there, but the banks are not handing money out that freely for secured mortgages, so the much more risky self-builder is going to need a lot of collateral and/or very deep pockets: especially as the average build price is apparently around £150,000. In my street well improved classic 1930’s 3-bed semi’s (the bedrock of UK housing stock) with decent gardens, garages and an established neighbourhood, are selling for less than that. Or, rather, they would be selling if people could secure sufficient funds from the mortgage lenders to afford to buy them.
We’ve all seen the ‘Grand Designs’ type programmes. I don’t think I’ve viewed an episode yet where the budget wasn’t blown sky high, financial crisis loomed and the house took three times longer to build than planned; and the occupants had to sell their first born to get the kitchen fitted. I exaggerate of course, and probably so too the TV companies for effect. But anyone of a DIY inclination knows that apparently simple, straightforward and well costed exercises can result in drama and more cost and a great deal of angst from 'her indoors' – or is that just me?
From a strategic standpoint I also doubt that this is really going to add significantly to the overall UK housing stock. Most self-build plots are either located on already allocated and consented housing sites, or are replacements for existing property. A good way to upgrade perhaps, and not to be discounted for all that, but it isn’t really adding significantly to the overall supply.
Wholly new, green-field planning permissions are rarer than hens teeth, for very obvious reasons. Most people want to put their self-build in a location that the planners do not. I am contacted regularly about building on plots of land in the green belt, or the countryside in general, and more commonly the request follows a rebuff from the local authority who –quite rightly – has applied normal policy considerations to the proposal.
There are ‘windfall’ sites out there and these are valuable additions to the pot. But the individual is often pitting his bank loan against local builders who may have greater buying power and are generally more adept at sniffing out the workable sites from those which appear sound, but have fatal flaws.
And this brings me to a key issue. Back in the early 2000’s there were a spate of self-build deals involving parcels of land – often around London – where off-the-plan sales of plots was encouraged in return for delivering planning consent. They were all scams, and they’re back. I have recently been advising overseas lawyers on one such and their many clients parted with huge sums in return for a building plot - on an admittedly idyllic site - that wasn’t even owned by the company and was so constrained by planning policy, technical and environmental limitations that I couldn’t find a single aspect of the property that could even conceivably be considered in a positive light. Needless to say there was never any prospect of planning permission and their cash is long gone. You have been warned.
Interestingly the launch line-up of the great and good didn’t involve a planner. Perhaps because following the NPPF (see earlier blogs) planning is now so straightforward that really there is no need for such people, right?
A quick look at the newly launched Self Build Portal – ‘The Gateway to More Custom Build Homes’ – revealed the following in its ‘Red Tape’ section:
“You need planning permission if you are building a new home. You may well need it if you are renovating or extending. Planning matters are dealt with by your local authority planning department. There are fees”.
Succinct and to the point perhaps, but that simple phrase hides a whole mess of action right down to neighbourhood planning issues and the delights of ecological assessment. Legal stuff it may be, but planning permission is the biggest single hurdle you will face after raising the cash and to dismiss it as merely ‘red tape’ is to overlook just how important it is to the whole process.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to be one of those grand-designers, putting up my timber decked, New England style 5-bed detached, with triple garage, and stables in the adjoining paddock, enjoying uninhibited outlooks over the rolling Shropshire countryside, being just a short walk from that quaint old English pub serving real ale and Mrs Miggins pie shop selling freshly baked loaves, with the sound of the church bells wafting across the sunlit morning landscape as I exercise the spaniel to get the Sunday papers and a pint of unpasteurised milk, before the kids go off to the gymkhana. No. I would. Really I would. Call me an old fuddy duddy if you will but quite frankly this just ain’t going to happen in my lifetime – admittedly not that long now, but even so.
As a self-builder you will have a lot to think about, but for goodness sake take time at an early stage to really check out the intended plot. You can search the planning history of the site online or in the council planning department records. Forensic planning I call it. If it has a history at all, read the officers reports and interrogate any submitted documents.
That rough old plot of land you have your eye on is likely as not to have gone and got itself some ecology. It may be a haven for lesser spotted, great crested, badger newts or some such, and that delightful, tinkly, little stream with the stickle-backs and the crack willows will doubtless be a major thoroughfare for otters and become a raging torrent that floods the site if it rains for more than 15 minutes in the hills 10 miles away. DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
'Read' the site. For example, if there is a wiggly worn path across the land it may just be an old cow track. Equally it could be the local wildlife motorway or even a public right of way. I did have to act once for a builder who unwittingly extended his lounge over an unmarked public footpath. All was OK, until the local ramblers association set up camp in his living room. If there’s a slope to the land, what is uphill that might end up down hill in due course. If there are bullrushes growing across the site it may just be a tad damp!
Never buy on the prospect of planning permission being granted – agree a deal subject to planning by all means but take entreaties of simple planning permissions with a very large pinch of salt. The bank is going to want to see a bit of paper with ‘granted’ on it as security in any event. And if permission has already been given, check and re-check the consent and any associated conditions. The latter could be just as costly to comply with as putting up the house in the first place. And don’t forget to satisfy those conditions before you start building. If you don't it could put a serious crimp in your day!
It’s always about the drains. Whatever you are attempting to do, consult the Environment Agency at an early stage on matters relating to foul and surface water drainage. If there is no mains connection you will need to deal with these matters very carefully. Just sticking in a septic tank or cesspool may not cut it.
I could go on. But you get the picture.
If you are thinking of self-building then have a look at the new self build portal [http://www.selfbuildportal.org.uk] and do take some advice. If you’re uncertain and want an initial desktop opinion of a potential location then see below for a low-cost planning audit.
In the meantime. ‘Dream on’ as they say…in the nicest possible way, of course!
Grant Shapps: Downing Street hosting the self-build boom
Published 19th April 2012
New help for self home builders launched at most famous address in the country.
A package of new support to give as many people as possible the opportunity to build their own homes was announced today at England's most famous address by Housing Minister Grant Shapps.
It comes as a new report predicts a 141 per cent rise in the mortgages available for those building their own homes over the next three years.
The Minister said that going down the self-build route was an affordable option for aspiring homeowners and shouldn't be seen as the preserve of those with deep pockets and grand designs.
A budget of £150,000 is adequate, in most instances, to get a three to four bedroom home built. The average cost of a ready-made home is now over £232,000.
Pledging to double the size of the self-build sector, Mr Shapps was joined by a glittering cast list of TV house-building experts at 10 Downing Street - assembled to offer advice to aspiring self builders on issues ranging from setting a budget and finding a site to practical tips on designing and building their own home.
A growing number of Britons are laying their own foundations with almost 14,000 new homes self-built last year - more than many individual volume housebuilders are building.
However, the self-builder's share of the market - one in ten of all new homes - is still very small by international standards.
Launching a package of measures today designed to turn this into a mass market opportunity, Mr Shapps said that for the first time, anyone wanting to don a hard hat and build their own home from scratch - whatever their budget - will have the help, advice and support they need to get started.
Help to get started
The pros on hand at the Downing Street reception today to offer advice included:
- Architecture Expert, Green Developer and Presenter of Grand Designs Kevin McCloud
- Architect, presenter and independent advisor to the Government on empty homes George Clarke
- TV builder and handyman Tommy Walsh
- Architecture expert Dan Cruickshank
- Writer and broadcaster on architecture Tom Dyckhoff
- Property expert and presenter Michael Holmes, and
- Architectural designer and sustainability expert Charlie Luxton.
Housing Minister Grant Shapps said:
"Last year, self-builders accounted for about 14,000 new homes in this country, more than many large commercial builders. Yet our self-build industry still lags behind much of the rest of the world, with the opportunity to build your own home seen as something only for a select few.
"That's why today, I'm pledging to back the self-build boom and support the industry to double in size over the next few years. As well as a new website giving help and advice, we're working hard to identify more land for development and have reformed the planning rules to stop people's aspirations getting tangled in red tape.
"This package of measures is designed to ensure anyone looking to build their own home gets the support they need and with the numbers of mortgages available set to rise by a massive 141 per cent, there's never been a better time for people to lay their own foundations."
Supporting a growing industry
Today's website is just one of a number of measures the industry is driving forward with the support of the Government. Today the National Self Build Association reported to Government on achievements since the launch of its Action Plan last year. In particular the report highlights:
- Improved access to finance - Better engagement with lenders, leading to a predicted 141 per cent rise in mortgage availability for people looking to build their own homes
- Making more land available - The Government is continuing to identify more surplus land for self build projects
- More builders offering self build housing - there is increasing interest from builders, developers, landowners and local authorities to support self home building across the country
- Cutting red tape - such as the new support for people wanting to build their own homes in the revised National Planning Policy Framework' and
- Access to better information - More information on prospective sites for projects is now available, and more accessible through the new web portal launched today.
Ted Stevens, the Chairman of the National Self Build Association (NaSBA) said:
"More than half the UK population would like to one day build their own homes, and around two million families are keen to get their projects off the ground in the very near future. The new self build portal will help them figure out what, realistically, they can afford to build; it will explain how their budgets can go further if they team up with other would-be self builders or do a portion of the work themselves, and it highlights the parts of the UK where it can be cheaper to find a site and construct a home.
"The site has lots of great examples, and is crammed with practical advice and tips. We have also worked hard to ensure the information is as authoritative and independent as possible, in may ways it's like a Which Guide to Self Build, so people using it can really rely on the information that's provided."
Kevin McCloud said:
"Self build is sometimes seen as a long, difficult and self-sacrificing process. But with the right planning, help and support it can be enjoyable and on collective schemes empowering. I believe we can become a nation of self builders. With the right support I believe we'd see more customised homes that reflect where they are, built to higher standards and to a better quality. We'd see people sharing skills and saving money. We'd see neighbours working together on community self build schemes and local construction economies thriving. And we'd certainly see more energy efficient buildings and a wider embracing of green technologies."
George Clarke said:
"Id like it to be made much easier for a new generation of younger people to get their self build projects off the ground. Few people realise that it is possible to build a very affordable, custom-designed home for quite a modest amount. And if young people team up with others, it's possible to make even bigger savings - perhaps reducing the cost of a new home by 30 per cent or more. So self build really can be a route to affordable housing. This new portal explains in depth how group self build schemes can be delivered and I'm sure it will help to increase the number of innovative low cost self build projects that are completed in the UK."
Kate Coutts and Alex White, both 30, are one of the would-be self build couples attending the Masterclass. Kate said:
"Currently it's really difficult to find good independent information about how to best get a self build project underway. We're currently renting, and are very keen on self build as a way of getting ourselves on the first step of the housing ladder. When we looked at the portal we found it very helpful - by checking out the interactive guide we've been able to get a much clearer idea of what we might be able to afford, and how to get the most from our limited budget. Before the portal there wasn't a good independent site with all the necessary information and guidelines. The site is really useful especially with so many links to external sites, contractors, etc, and it has hugely cut down the amount of time spent researching."
The link to this article is: http://www.communities.gov.uk/news/corporate/2132907
Desktop Planning Audit:
If you have your sights set on a plot of land or rebuilding opportunity for a self-build project why not have an initial planning audit undertaken so that you know whether it is worth proceeding.
www.ruralurbanplanning.co.uk is pleased to offer a low cost desktop service to provide the following:
- An overview and guide to the current town planning regime
- An initial assessment of the local planning framework for the proposed location
- An outline of and links to relevant planning policies and supplementary planning guidance
- Investigation of and comment upon the planning history of the site (if any) Summary report of planning issues and an opinion of prospects
- Checklist of further actions, investigations and next steps
- Full written report by a qualified and experienced Town Planner / Chartered Planning and Development Surveyor
- UK–wide coverage
Just send us your name and contact details, together with any location plans, property particulars, grid reference or a Google Earth Lattitude/Longitude and a brief description of your intended development to:
firstname.lastname@example.org or the address on the website.
The Planning Audit costs £100 plus VAT
For more information go to: