30 May 2017

Government policy is too weak to enforce, says one SME developer

Government policy is too weak to enforce, says one SME developer

Custom Build Strategy spoke to one custom build SME developer who’s struggling to get planning permission granted on his sites, largely down to resistance from the local authority. He chose to remain anonymous in order not to prejudice appeals.

“Being a developer means you have to be on page with planning legislation to ensure that any site you intend to bring on stands a good chance of gaining planning permission.

“On paper, my business represents exactly what the Government says it’s trying to support: we’re a local SME business bringing on small units of housing, offering an alternative to the volume builders’ sites in the area.

“Several successful smaller developments led me to pursue custom build as a route to homes.

I’ve done my homework, know about the legislation and canvassed local interest, which was considerable.

“Plus, we encouraged all those who showed an interest to sign up to the council’s Self and Custom Build Register, as a way of evidencing local demand.

“Our original application for a large site of self-build and custom build homes was initially refused by the local authority. It was unsuccessful at appeal; in spite of the lack of policy to deliver for people wishing to build their own home, the considerable demand we’d demonstrated, and the introduction of the Housing White Paper Fixing our Broken Housing Market.

“On publication we thought we’d be in a strong position as the White Paper clearly supported small-to-medium custom build and also adjoining settlements (point 1.35 of the Paper), which this site was. It seemed that much of the Paper backed up what we were setting out to achieve.

“We knew the council couldn’t demonstrate a specific policy detailing its own self and custom build plans, and we were optimistic that it would be allowed at appeal.

“But the appeal failed, because it was maintained we couldn’t provide justification for custom build outside of the settlement boundary.

“Instead, it was claimed the council could provide self and custom build opportunities through its policy relating to type and mix of housing, part of its Core Strategy Development Plan Document. However, this did not allow or plan for self or custom build serviced plots.

“Equally, the local authority will be unable to enforce custom or self build on a site as they have no policy to do so currently in their Local Plan.

“Furthermore, it was suggested in the past that we were trying to use custom build as a way of circumnavigating the planning system, which puts the application at a disadvantage from the start.

Personal interpretations of custom build

“Personally, I feel that the council refused mainly because of a lack of understanding of what self-build and custom build is. The inspector’s decision was equally puzzling due to the clear demand demonstrated and the council agreeing they had no policy to deliver for self and custom build homes.

“The local authority in questions appears to be largely of the opinion that custom build equates to nothing more than traditional build market housing. And more specifically, that knock-down-and-replace dwellings represent self builds.

“The lead on the appeal insisted that a custom build is not self built, therefore is not a self build, and the policy relates only to self builds in the most traditional interpretation.

“This couldn’t be further from the Government’s support of custom build as a way of delivering more housing, rather than replacement dwellings that do nothing to alleviate the housing crisis.

Disregarding the particulars of this site refusal, our experience reflects a worrying reality that getting permission for custom build can be at the whim of the dominant culture within your local planning office.

“This frustrated me so much that I raised the issue with the Homes and Communities Agency, whose response amounted to, ‘it’s not down to us how planners implement the law’.

Frankly this is a tragic situation – they even suggested I try developing in an alternative council’s jurisdiction that’s more receptive to custom build.

“My response to the White Paper was initially jubilation at the level of commitment it showed for custom built homes. But the reality is, if the legislation is far too weak and lacks teeth, as it makes no difference to your case if you fall under the jurisdiction of a council that’s resistant to change.

“If the White Paper doesn’t have any weight behind it, it doesn’t matter what it supports. The reality is that sites like ours, which satisfied practically all conditions, and had over half the plots reserved, subject to planning, do satisfy a local demand, and will boost housing supply, but only if councils let them.

“Meanwhile the council in question is left with a significant number of people on its register, with the clock ticking until they need to actually supply or provide evidence of supplying serviced plots to the people on their register.”


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