It is somewhat misleading to talk about custom build in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, as so far it has largely remained an English model, although that will hopefully change.
As a piece of English legislation, the Right To Build has not been replicated in the other UK countries, where housing and planning is devolved.
Equally, the programmes that support the sector, such as the Home Building Fund apply only in England.
However, the National Custom and Self-build Association (NaCSBA) lobbies Government and campaigns on behalf of the sector, work that directly contributed to the founding of the Right To Build legislation in England.
But NaCSBA also has a clear remit to extend its support and knowledge to other countries within the UK, not least through the Right To Build Task Force.
NaCSBA’s appointed representative for these countries, Angela Doran, started her work with a focus on Scotland. Since then headway has been made with Wales, while N. Ireland remains firmly on the agenda.
In addition to NaCSBA’s work, the Right To Build Task Force supports local authorities and a range of stakeholders to help bring on self-build and custom build homes at scale, with an emphasis on affordability.
As part of this activity it hosts regional expos to showcase its work and share best practice, and will be holding one in Scotland, N Ireland and Wales at some point in 2018. Keep an eye on the Right To Build Toolkit for announcements.
Research by Homebuilding & Renovating magazine in 2015 revealed that Scotland and N Ireland both had high proportions of private home building, in the context of the UK.
It found this to be 13% in Scotland and 9% in N Ireland, as opposed to Wales’ 4%. For comparison purposes, the most active UK regions were the South East (17%) and East of England and South West (both 12%) with most other areas 6% or below.
However, populations in these areas vary widely, and both Scotland and N Ireland have a tradition of people self building their own homes.
Out of all three countries, the most progress in advancing custom and self-build so far has been in Scotland. Doran, who is also Self Build Co-Ordinator at Glasgow City Council, has put considerable effort into stating the case for sector growth, building on the existing tradition of self-building.
In 2017 the Scottish Government called for a planning review, with Doran working with senior Government officials to open up the discussion about self- and custom build.
Meetings between Housing Minister Kevin Stewart MSP and NaCSBA confirmed that the Scottish Government supported the sector, but was not prepared to legislate to create its own version of the Right To Build.
This means Scotland won’t have a legal requirement for local council registers. However, an unofficial register of people wanting to self-build is already in place in Glasgow, with 180 people signed up without it being publicised.
Part of the discussion was to see how a revised planning system could support self-build in Scotland and simplify the process for those wanting to do it.
One result of the review work is that four pilot authorities (Aberdeenshire, North Lanarkshire, Dumfries & Galloway, Argyll & Bute) are planning to pilot a Simplified Planning Zone (SPZ) to support development and inform any potential legislative changes.
Part of the remit of this is to promote diversification of housing types and supply, with self-build and custom build as innovative delivery models. This will also review the use of plot passports with design codes to permission sites.
Glasgow is definitely leading the way with custom build innovation, with Bantaskin Street, Maryhill, the pilot for Scotland’s first serviced-plots model (main picture). This is a Glasgow City Council initiative that uses redundant public sector land to provide affordable serviced plots, which could become a model for other authorities.
Scottish finance options
The Scottish Government has committed to legislative support in the form of funding, albeit somewhat limited in scale. In 2016 it trialed the Highland Self Build Loan Scheme to boost affordable rural housing, knowing that there was a lending gap for self-build.
The £4 million revolving fund was a success, prompting the launch of a new £4 million self-build loan fund for the whole country, from Autumn 2018 for three years. While this is good news for the sector, £4 million will soon be exhausted.
However, this was bolstered with the announcement of a new Challenge Fund to support planning departments develop new ways to better respond to the needs of people undertaking a custom or self-build home.
This has now closed, with announcements yet to be made which projects were funded. But it does show a commitment to innovation and diversification.
In addition, for land provision, Scotland has new community rights to buy land and acquire public assets, introduced by the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. These can be used for housing, which may be a route to plots for rural communities and cohousing groups.
Devolved since 1999, and with a nationally evolved planning system, the Welsh Assembly Government is working on a new National Development Framework that will define its planning strategy for the next 20 years.
NaCSBA held positive meetings with the Welsh Government’s planning policy team to put forward the case for custom and self-build to be included in the framework.
This has resulted in the draft Planning Policy for Wales including a reference that planning authorities must consider opportunities for self-build and custom build options to contribute to the delivery of the proposed housing. Although at draft stage, this is fantastic progress, with consultation being the next stage.
The Welsh Assembly does have the option to implement the Right to Build legislation, or a version of it. However, at this stage this looks unlikely, as it’s unofficially felt to be a bit too top down in its approach to housing that doesn’t reflect the Assembly’s current ambitions.
This means that Wales is unlikely to adopt any form of custom and self-build registers.
Welsh Government is supportive of new housing models, and has backed the Housing Association-led community co-operative model.
This has seen several schemes go live where residents move into new-build homes and manage the development themselves, paying affordable rent. Often this comes with the option to progress to ownership of their home.
Visit the Wales Co-operative Centre for more details about these schemes, including case studies on Home Farm Village and Loftus Village Association.
In addition, several local authorities are showing local interest in the custom homes route, such as Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, which has had initial discussion about the possibility of using council-owned land to bring on self-build housing.
With a strong tradition of self-build throughout Northern Ireland and Ireland, N Ireland is supportive of self-build in general.
New dwelling statistics from District Council Building Control mix self-build with all new builds, which makes figures for the sector hard to pin down.
Land & Property Services (LPS) division of the NI Department of Finance reported that these figures increased in the second quarter of 2017 to levels not seen since 2010. This points to a return to a healthier market for N Ireland, although it’s still a long way from the pre-recession housing-start highs.
It is to be hoped that the current situation of not tracking self-build properties will be remedied, to enable the country start to compile a true reflection of the market.