March has been a busy month with the Spring Statement confirming Government’s 300,000 homes target and the draft revised National Planning Policy Framework being released. NaCSBA, Wood for Good and the Right to Build Task Force also held one of their regular Right to Build Expos in Exeter, weaving together the local and national picture of Custom and Self-build.
The latest version of the draft revised NPPF doesn’t actually mention Custom Build or Self-build specifically, so you might be forgiven for thinking that this reflects a waning of the Self-Build dream being supported by Government, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
There’s plenty of scope for sector growth tucked away in there, with NaCSBA’s Chair Michael Holmes commenting that “NaCSBA believes that Custom and Self-build can play an important role in increasing the rate that large development sites are built out.”
Task Force director Mario Wolf summed up the scenario of the NPPF in relation to Custom Build at the recent Exeter Expo, saying, “It’s about the detail… the question is, ‘Does it need to say a lot about Custom and Self-build in order for it to be effective?’”
Paragraphs 62 and 65 do reference the sector specifically, in Chapter 5. Delivering a sufficient supply of homes:
Within this context, policies should identify the size, type and tenure of homes required for different groups in the community (including, but not limited to, those who require affordable housing, families with children, older people, students, people with disabilities, service families, travellers, people who rent their homes and people wishing to commission or build their own homes).
Where major housing development is proposed, planning policies and decisions should expect at least 10% of the homes to be available for affordable home ownership, unless this would exceed the level of affordable housing required in the area, or significantly prejudice the ability to meet the identified affordable housing needs of specific groups.
Exemptions should also be made where the site or proposed development:
So the draft NPPF does make provision for custom and Self-Build, and in England we have the Right to Build legislation and registers to ensure that there is a way to evidence local demand for plots.
The word commission I feel is important too, as this is a definite departure from the view of a Self-builder getting stuck in with sweat equity. This could be an important nuance for Custom Build going forwards.
And one little gem in there is that Custom Builders will, by the looks of it, be exempt from the requirement to make 10% of the homes affordable. This could mean the difference for some sites when it comes to deciding whether or not to be a Custom Build development opportunity or a conventional market offering.
But there are also other opportunities in there.
Not least of these is the fact that Custom Build can be used to deliver affordable housing, so just because it may be excluded from the 10% provision, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t deliver it anyway. And councils do have a statutory duty to provide affordable housing.
Part of the consultation around the draft revised NPPF is the subdivision of large sites into smaller ones, which has the potential to generate significant opportunities for Custom and Self-build, especially in the context of the Government’s continual support of the Small and Medium-Enterprise developer and builder sector.
Paragraph 69 puts forward the argument for small sites, requiring councils to ensure that “at least 20% of the sites identified for housing in their plans are of half a hectare or less”.
It also states that local authorities should “work with developers to encourage the sub-division of large sites where this could help to speed up the delivery of homes.”
This is part of the consultation, with Government canvassing industry to how this should look in policy, as reported here.
In addition, the draft NPPF refers to a new entry-level exception site policy, in paragraph 72. This in regards to First Time Buyers (FTB), on sites “outside existing settlements, on land which is not already allocated for housing,” with qualifying criteria.
This could also offer opportunities for Custom and Self-build, as long as they were pegged at the entry-level requirement for FTB. But it’s a piece of policy that could enable custom homes to be built.
In addition, the guidance for the NPPF is not yet out, and may yet qualify some of the new policy with reference to the CSB sector, and the consultations will also feed into the final version of the NPPF.
Finally, it would seem that Government is empowering neighbourhoods to decide aspects of planning locally, so they could be a more instrumental factor in local development going forwards. And if they see that there is demand and a case for Custom and Self Build locally, they could be instrumental in making it happen.
This could be through small sites delivered by Neighbourhood Plans, or through Community Development Orders or Community Right To Build orders.
And this is good news, as we know that Custom Build and serviced-plots sites win support locally, as there’s a perception that they are providing desirable housing for hte local community, especially where this is tied to affordable models for those with local connections.
Even NIMBY’s are happy to have homes built nearby if there’s a possibility it could get their children or grandchildren on the housing market.