At the end of November the National Custom and Self-Build Association (NACSBA) held its Right To Build summit, sharing progress on its latest initiatives. The day was pinned around the Freedom of Information request to all English councils that found there were 33,000 people signed up to the Right To Build registers.
Custom Build Strategy was in attendance, so we thought we’d bring you some of the insights and observations from the day.
Television presenter and architectural designer Charlie Luxton shared his vision for the custom and self-build sector.
Essentially, Luxton explained how pertinent self build at scale is right now, as it offers the possibility of bridging some of the imbalances in our housing market. These include:
“Self build can save us from all these things,” explained Luxton.
He explained how these elements of an imploding housing market were made so much worse by our bizarre housing industry that’s been reduced to a handful of companies building the majority of our homes.
“And by their very nature, they’re speculative businesses that are highly conservative and build economically to tight margins to maximise profits.”
As he explained, the decisions these few monopolies make affect us all and actually stifle innovation in design or routes to home ownership.
Equally, they’re not even offering a product that people value, reflected by the fact that most people said they wouldn’t want to live in a developer-built home.
The result of having most of our homes supplied by companies whose existence is dictated by share-holder dividends means we’re not building quality, well-designed homes that actually perform as expected. But developers are just a product of the system that we, as a society, have endorsed.
However, self build offers a route out, and group self build really holds the key to community engagement. But local government must back it and empower the people to build the homes that they would want to live in, that are as much about the space around them as they are about their individual design.
This will reconnect planning to the people and support local residents, business and economy, which can only be a good thing.
“Self build offers the perception that it’s building on a local level – local employment opportunities, supporting local business. It offers a human scale that changes the way people see development,” said Luxton. “It has enormous power to empower people to engage with the planning system.”
We know that self build creates better quality homes with better design credentials, and with more love and attention lavished on them. Equally, people live in them for longer, as from the start they’ve been designed to meet their needs.
He summed it up, quite simply by saying that self- and custom-build homes create, “Fantastic housing, built by normal people who value space and community.”
Author of the Self and Custom Build Market Report 2017, Brian Green gave an address that shared fascinating insight into the data and figures surrounding custom and self build.
However, while the statistics were in-depth, the message was a simple one. Self build is characterised by an aging population that is carrying its wealth with it as it ages, either in income or property wealth.
Green predicted that when these baby boom self-build groups eventually decrease in size, it will trigger a decline in the traditional self-build market.
And there’s no guarantee that this accumulated wealth will filter down the generations to create a new wave of privileged self-builders, as more and more of them will be responsible for financing their own elderly care.
What’s vital for the sector’s survival is that it normalises, said Green. Custom and self-build has to find a way to become relevant to the less financially lucrative generations trailing behind these baby boomers.
While premium self build will always be around, the sector must embrace scale, affordability and ease of process in order for it to flourish.
NaCSBA finance committee member and former mortgage strategist for Nationwide Building Society, Baddeley-Chappell shared his vision for factoring in affordability through the Right To Build.
Practically speaking, the only real way to address affordability is to build more homes, and to have a variety ways of doing this, explained Baddeley-Chappell to the Right To Build Summit.
He pointed out that the Right To Build can be used as an engine of change, especially in light of recent Government White Paper support and the budget’s favouring of small sites and SMEs.
Baddeley-Chappell stressed that NaCSBA is fully committed to scaling up custom build and making it available to more people, referencing its manifesto, in which three out of the 10 points refer to affordability.
Describing a virtuous cycle of research and implementation, he explained how NaCSBA intended to analyse the custom and enabled self-build market, reviewing key constraints, risks and growth limiters.
This would be followed by a period of gap-analysis that would be used to identify challenges and growth opportunities.
The process would be used to inform new processes, with the aim of bringing on more affordable custom and self-build homes to the market. Once this initial cycle had been completed, the Virtuous Circle should continue to share success stories and further refine processes.
Baddeley-Chappell’s Virtuous Circle represents a vastly different approach to housing than the monopolies model. The country will never replace the major housebuilders, and nor should it, but even Government recognises that their business model does not work in the interests of the people.
The cycle that Baddely-Chappell describes is for a far more open and benevolent approach, emphasising innovation and diversification to create more affordable homes. Exactly how much affordability this can deliver is unclear, but it offers a fresh approach that’s to be applauded.
As Director of the Right To Build Task Force, Mario Wolf has been working to ensure the Task Force is meeting its remit of supporting the creation of more custom and self-build.
With a focus on scale and affordability, the Task Force is supporting a range of stakeholders and, most specifically, local authorities, advising them how to bring on custom homes.
Wolf explained that one of the key responsibilities for the RTB Task Force was to showcase its work. It’s already done this with expos at Wellingborough and Aylesbury – both areas where it’s supported the development of new schemes.
And 2018 holds the prospect of a range of road shows that will help facilitate custom build. This is not just in England where the Right To Build legislation applies, but also looking at how Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can bring on their own custom and self-build sectors.
“Local authority knowledge of the sector is weak, and we need to unpack that to create a willingness to support custom build,” he said. Wolf put out a call for action for the sector to help with this, by notifying the Task Force of new projects and also authorities that are open to advice, so it can maximise its impact.
He finished on a cautionary note though, saying: “NaCSBA’s real challenge is that it needs to engage consumers, as currently most people don’t know that the registers and custom build even exist, nor the opportunities it presents.”
Cousins, of housing and planning consultancy Three Dragons is collaborating with NaCSBA on the development on an assessment tool to evidence long-term demand for custom and self-build. This will then complement the more short term register evidence, which in itself should be supplemented by a wider range of tools, such as surveys.
“We need to estimate the size of the market in different areas, to ensure that the market is ready to satisfy the demand,” said Cousins.
“With the tool we’re hoping to support local authorities as they work on their local plans and housing strategies, to ensure they go beyond the real-time picture created by the Right To Build registers.”
As well as supporting local authorities in their housing strategy work, the tool is intended to offer reassurances to developers and landowners that there is a demand for their product in a local area.
“Better informed will mean there’s a common evidence base that all partners can work to,” said Cousins. “This is critical to the question of local plans that have to meet the demands. For example, by answering questions like, where can I find a plot for my self-build or the land to bring on 10 custom build homes.”
The tool will be in three parts, with the first two elements focusing on reporting the national and local context, including Strategic Housing Market Assessments. The third part will focus on the model itself, which will ideally provide data on a set area over a five year basis, but with some form of forecasting.
“There will be refinements on the different types of custom and self build plots, for example sizes, that will reflect income profiles locally,” said Cousins.
“We’re also going to be looking at affordability, both in terms of tenure and the types of plots, such as ones for younger people with lower incomes. We need to assess how we meet their needs, which could include by using group projects.”
The Self and Custom Build Market Report 2017 costs £750 + VAT, click here for more.
The Right To Build Summit offered a fascinating snapshot of where the custom build market is, and Brian Green’s data was incredibly insightful. His warning of the gradual decline of the premium self-build market offers opportunities for custom build. Bringing on homes at scale that also offer better affordability, diversifying the market and giving people more choice all offer valuable additionality to the market.
Rather than being a bleak forecast for the next few decades of self-build, Green’s data offers a clarion call to engagement for custom and group self-build. It’s up to the sector now to collaborate and work out how they can engage.