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The Self-Build Solution to the UK's Housing Crisis

- Housing Today

  The Big Question

Writing in Housing Today, Paul Smith managing director of the Strategic Land Group, asks "Is self-build the answer to tackling the housing crisis?". He then explains that, with 6 million Britons interested in building their own home, initiatives are just starting to cater to this market.

  Massive Task

Delivering the 300,000 homes a year that the government has targeted to start addressing the housing crisis is a massive ask. That level of development hasn't been achieved since the 1960s and 1970s - and not at all in the last 40 years.

  Over Dependence

Private developers were responsible for just over half of completions in that period, compared with around 80% today - one of the reasons the government has looked at encouraging a range of different types of housing development, seeking to reduce the dependence on a few, large housebuilders.

  Encouraging SME's

Broader permitted development rights allowing the conversion of offices and shops to homes are part of those efforts. Exception sites for starter homes, introduced in the updated National Planning Policy Framework last summer, and encouragement of SME developers are other examples.

  European Comparison

An area that the government has given particular focus is custom and self-build housing. The potential for growth in this sector is huge. Around 12,000 homes a year are delivered through self-build in England - just 7% of the total. Compared to the rest of Europe, that is a pitiful performance. In Germany, France and Italy around 60% of all new homes are self-built. In Austria, the figure is 80%. So the government's ambition to increase the delivery of self-build homes to 20,000 a year seems relatively modest.


There is certainly the appetite to build more. Polling work by Ipsos Mori found 6 million people are actively interested in building their own home - and 1 million of those would like to do it in the next 12 months.


There have been a number of new initiatives to try to achieve that objective, starting with the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act in 2015. This obliged councils to both keep lists of people interested in building their own home - known as self-build registers - and to plan to deliver enough plots of land suitable for self-build to meet that need. Those obligations were carried through into the updated National Planning Policy Framework last summer, while the accompanying practice guidance targets councils to deliver a plot to meet the need of a new entrant on the register within three years.


Like most recent planning reforms, this is far from perfect. It's almost impossible to determine what is a self-build plot, for example. It also misses a lot of the location sensitivity of the demand for self-build homes - councils are obliged to deliver only the right number of plots within the borough as a whole, while the demand from each person on the self-build register is likely to relate to a very specific location.
However, it's a start, and one that is already beginning to bear fruit.

  Housing Mix

It is increasingly common, for example, to see new local plans include policies requiring larger sites to make a proportion of the plots available to people who want to build their own home. Other councils have relaxed the location criteria for new homes when they are intended to meet the need for self-build housing, or are looking to increase delivery through the use of housing mix policies.

   Graven Hill

The most dramatic example of all is Graven Hill - famous from Channel 4's Grand Designs - a 1,800 home self-build community in Bicester, Oxfordshire. Cherwell council bought the 188ha former Ministry of Defence site and is delivering a new primary school, community centre and village green alongside the plots of land for custom and self-builders.


Boosting build rates isn't just about increasing the supply of land though - the complexity of the process is another impediment to increasing volume. As a property professional, I find the prospect of building my own home fairly daunting, so I can understand why those without a property background might be all too easily put off by the plethora of acronyms and the array of technical details. Those without a property background might be all too easily put off by the plethora of acronyms and the array of technical details  It's positive, therefore, that the market is changing to address the level of complexity.

   Custom Builders

One way in which that is happening is through the growing prevalence of custom builders – developers who will deliver the infrastructure for a new site and then work with the future occupier to design and build a home to their exact requirements.

   Start-Up Opportunities

Tech companies have also spotted the growth potential in trying to simplify the process. Startup business MyPlot, for example, is the first site to bring together land, specialist suppliers and information all in one place.

   Potential to Deliver

If the government is serious about delivering 300,000 homes a year, new and different routes of delivery will need to make a contribution to supply. Self-build housing offers the potential to play a significant role through delivering high-quality housing on small sites that might otherwise go undeveloped. While self-build alone won't solve the housing crisis, it's a step in the right direction.

   Making the Complex Simpler for Self-Builders

Many Self-Builders recognise the benefit of using Off-Site Construction.  As this matures into Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) this is clearly at the forefront in turning construction workers into technical deliverer and enablers for such delivery. Additionally, new homes will very soon be 'Smart' in numerous ways, including full incorporation of energy saving and TIoT (the internet of things) to deliver major components. This is something that 'Off-Site'. DfMA (Design for Manufacture & Assembly) will need to seriously consider as the industry moves forward. 

   Collaborative Partnering

Greater collaborative 'partnering' between architects, builders and  manufacturers is needed to accomplish this The greater speed, accuracy and quality that can result from manufacturing components in a dry, controlled factory environment, together with the ability tom incorporate (yet to be invented) 'Smart Ware'  gives home builders perhaps the only way of achieving this, together with improved on-site build quality AND controlling costs.

   Resistance Disappearing

While resistance to the change to DfMA has been the norm, the wish of most UK Builders to deliver excellent customer service and top notch homes is now driving an increasing number to choose Off-Site for their developments. Also, as 'OffSite Hub' note, architects and designers are moving toward DfMA, something w have been encouraging for over 20 years. The emergence of LA Developers will only speed up this process.

   Easy Timber Frame

To assist them in doing so our "Easy Timber Frame" now offers standard size modular timber frame elements for them to use as a design base, cutting down on technical design and engineering to produce win-win results.

   Better all-round Savings

Our specialist services and CUSTOM homes division deliver best value and  protect the interests of land owners, house-builder developers, professionals and private individuals seeking to build their dream home. Our off-site construction systems also reduce the amount of material that gets wasted on site, helping to avoid land fill, hazardous waste separation and handling, They also deliver better value for you and your customers.
Call us to arrange a factory visit and discuss your ideas and needs with our in-house team of professionals for your next project. You'll be glad you did!
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