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It's time for self-builders to be heard The govern­ment re­cently is­sued a con­sul­ta­tion pa­per for the re­vised Na­tional Plan­ning Pol­icy Frame­work (NPPF) and has asked for com­ments. You may re­call that the orig­i­nal NPPF came in 2012; it whit­tled 1,000 pages of pol­icy guide­lines down to just 62 and en­shrined the ethos of a pre­sump­tion in favour of push­ing sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ments. Since then, an­nual fig­ures for new home build­ing have in­creased. How­ever, this has been nowhere near enough to meet the chronic hous­ing short­age in the UK.

At the mo­ment, ev­ery­one con­tin­ues to shift the blame for the prob­lem. The govern­ment points at the de­vel­op­ers for sit­ting on large sites with plan­ning per­mis­sion un­til the mar­ket of­fers the best re­turn. The lat­ter group, how­ever, takes lo­cal plan­ning au­thor­i­ties to task for putting too many pol­icy hur­dles in the way of le­git­i­mate de­vel­op­ers. The pub­lic are cas­ti­gated as NIMBYS for not want­ing new dwellings any­where near them, and so they lam­bast their coun­cil­lors for al­low­ing con­struc­tion in their lo­cal ar­eas with­out a cor­re­spond­ing in­crease in in­fra­struc­ture by way of more hospi­tal beds, school places, roads and pub­lic trans­port.

On top of all this sits the re­al­i­sa­tion that the UK’S ra­tio of house prices to av­er­age in­come is the least af­ford­able in the western world. Fur­ther­more, the def­i­ni­tion of an af­ford­able home (one that costs less than £300,000, or £450,000 in Lon­don) is noth­ing of the sort for most peo­ple, let alone first time buy­ers.

To­day I read through the sum­mary of the re­vised NPPF pro­pos­als look­ing for in­di­ca­tions of how self- and cus­tom build might be pro­moted as a pos­i­tive and ac­cept­able means of con­struct­ing new homes, with­out the usual ar­gu­ments about con­cret­ing over the coun­try­side and the loss of green belt.

There is a clear push to­wards greater use of small sites and recog­ni­tion that these could sup­port di­verse prop­er­ties that can be de­liv­ered quickly, which should help self-builders. The sum­mary also hints that lo­cal plan­ning au­thor­i­ties should en­sure that 20% of pro­posed sites are half a hectare or less. This will be help­ful to cus­tom build en­ablers and could use­fully be ap­plied to make in­di­vid­ual sites avail­able for self-builders. The un­der­ly­ing theme is clearly one of in­creas­ing den­sity of hous­ing in ar­eas with the most de­mand, which could ben­e­fit com­mu­nity and co-hous­ing groups.

An­other in­ter­est­ing sug­ges­tion is to al­low only two years from plan­ning ap­proval to the start of works (down from three) – a move de­signed to name and shame slow de­vel­op­ers and al­low coun­cils to iden­tify the worst land bank­ing firms across the coun­try.

Lastly, there seems to be an ac­knowl­edge­ment that there is a case for more ex­cep­tion sites – land for af­ford­able hous­ing and starter homes. NACSBA has been push­ing for the use of more ex­cep­tion sites for self-build in gen­eral, so I hope this will pro­vide for in­di­vid­u­ally de­signed houses, too. We shall just have to wait and see.

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