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Right to Build: How Can It Help You to Build Your Own Home?

2019 Daily Telegraph Homebuilding & Renovating Awards winner
(Image credit: Simon Maxwell)

When it comes to finding the right plot on which to build their own home, self builders can sometimes find it difficult. Thankfully, the Right to Build scheme was launched in 2016 and was designed to help combat the housing crisis and champion self build as a viable alternative to help get people on to the housing ladder.

The Right to Build is a piece of legislation that supports those who want to build their own homes. Prospective self builders were asked to log their desire to build their own home with their local authority via the Right to Build Register. 

As part of this legislation, councils must ensure that they have sufficient plots available to meet the demand, and demonstrate that planning permission (or permission in principle) has been granted on these plots within three years.

And on Right to Build Day 30 October 2019, councils across the UK were required to demonstrate whether they have granted planning permission for those who has signed the Right to Build Register between April and October 2016.

If you are thinking about taking on a self build project, then make sure you are up to speed on the Right to Build scheme and how it can help. This guide explains it all.

What is the Right to Build?

In a bid to boost housebuilding and address concerns about affordability, the Government has passed legislation to make more individual and serviced plots available for those wanting to build their own homes. As part of the Housing and Planning Act 2016, local authorities are now required to help find land for those who have an interest in building their own home. This is done through the Right to Build register.

As of 1 April 2016, councils in England have had to keep a list of people or groups who would like to self build. Local authorities in England have to make enough serviced plots available to meet the demand (which can be ascertained by the number registering for the Right to Build).

Anyone who is interested in building their own home is invited to register their interest on the Right to Build Portal (a site set up by the National Custom and Self Build Association or NaCSBA).

A Right to Build Task Force has also been established by NaCSBA to support local authorities as they work to fulfil their right to build duties.

There is currently no equivalent for Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales. 

However, NaCSBA has visited the Welsh Government to encourage them to adopt the same Right to Build policy, and work is underway with the Scottish Government to bring forward more opportunities for custom and self build.

In Northern Ireland, land supply has always been much less of an issue and 15% of all new homes are commissioned by their owners, compared with 8% or so across the UK.

Is the Scheme Working?

In the year October 2016 to October 2017, 15,174 plots were granted for new buildings and conversions. This is up from 11,850 plots granted the year before — an increase of 28% — and that figure is expected go grow.

“Good local authorities are ensuring the land is available for self and custom builder: some are freeing up council land, acquiring sites for self-builders, working with developers to ensure a percentage of their large sites are available, or working with housing authorities,” says Michael Holmes, chair of NACSBA.

“We are pleased with this progress, but it is still massively underestimating the level of demand. Our figures show that around 60% of people would like to build their own home.”

What Kind of Plots Will Be Available?

When you register for the Right to Build you are asked whether you are applying as an individual or as part of a group. Those applying as a group will get the chance to take on what is known as a co-housing project or community self build. The council will try to provide a plot for the group to build several homes, or flats.

If you apply as an individual (or family unit), you will be asked which areas you would like to build in. You must be looking for a plot to build your sole residence on (so it can’t be used to build holiday homes or a buy-to-let) and you must also be a British Citizen or a national of an EEA or Switzerland. When you apply, the council will ask you to attend their offices with proof of identification.

The application forms also ask what kind of plot you had in mind and what kind of home you would like to build on it. However, what becomes available will largely depend on how many homes are required to be built in your area, and whether you are applying in an urban or rural setting. For example, urban applicants might find that the majority of plots are brownfield or infill and you should expect to see more custom build apartments or flats in these settings.

Many plots will be available as sites of several serviced plots (with utilities connected) so if you are determined to get an individual plot in rolling countryside, you might have to compromise on that dream and accept that you will be sharing it with a few neighbours.

Also bear in mind that the local authority has no legal duty to find a plot to match your personal requirements: they are simply required to make available the right number of plots to meet demand in their area.

And remember that you can register in more than one local authority, or with a different one if you want to move areas when you self build.

Search to find opportunities in your area. The online service provides details of more than 15,000 plots and renovation opportunities nationally.

What If My Local Authority Doesn’t Meet Its Duty With the Right to Build?

Most councils are already embracing this, and having extra money from the Government to carry out this work has helped. However, says Michael Holmes: “the response from local authorities is very inconsistent, with some local authorities being very proactive and some doing nothing at all.”

If your local authority is one of the handful that is not taking on board their Right to Build duty, you need to put pressure on them to meet their legal obligations.Write to them and to your local MP and ask others who are interested in building their own home to do the same.

In September 2019, however, the Right to Build Task Force reported the positive news that more than half of all local planning authorities (58%) now have, or are planning to, adopt local plan policies to support custom and self build housing delivery.

Homebuilding & Renovating, alongside NaCSBA, is campaigning for local planning authorities that have failed to meet their legal duty by signing up for the scheme to take urgent action. It is also working to persuade the Scottish Government to live up to its promise to establish a self build initiative for Scotland as set out in Homes for the 21st Century, its Strategy and Action Plan for Housing in the next decade.

Register for the Right to Build now!