A few people have talked to me recently in various degrees of excitement about the Community Right to Build. Announced last month, this is the Government’s plan – part of its Localism agenda – to allow groups of likeminded locals to get together and build what they want, where they want, without any involvement in the planning process.

Many would-be self-builders got particularly excited about this because it sounds pretty similar to the much-heralded model that many people within the industry (myself included) have been advocating for some time. We’re basically after local settlements releasing small numbers of individual plots on the edge of countryside to facilitate sustainable expansion of our villages and towns. These plots would be available to self-builders or small builders and, the theory goes, would reduce the impact of new housing whilst providing land in areas people want, and houses people need.

The Government’s scheme is different to this, and in truth it’s not very well thought-out. Here’s why:

– it bypasses the planning process, which means that, as long as certain criteria are met, design quality of these new homes will be unregimented.

– it does however require either 80 or 90% local support in a referendum. Which sounds incredibly difficult to achieve and is likely to be the main practical barrier to any of this happening.

– funding. There is no detail as yet on how these schemes are going to be funded but given the current cuts agenda, it seems unlikely there will be any Govt. cash to get these things off the ground. And I look forward to anyone pointing me in the direction of banks willing to lend to individuals major money to buy tracts of non-residential land.

– perhaps worst of all, I’m hearing an interpretation of this scheme that the land will be held in Trust status in perpetuity. This means that all the houses involved in CRTB will be leasehold.

So does it offer a realistic hope for self-builders looking for land? Perhaps a little. But it certainly isn’t the panacea that we were all hoping for and the one we’ve been led to believe is the case.

Comments
  • Nick Molyneux

    I am involved in a community organisation aiming to deliver self-build housing (and possibly other types of housing including affordable housing) in East Hampshire.

    In response to your criticisms of the Community Right to Build:

    “- it bypasses the planning process, which means that design quality of these new homes will be unregimented. ”

    Even if the planning process is completely bypassed (which seems unlikely, when the full details of the policy have been formulated) the design will probably be higher quality than many developments which have been through the planning system… primarily because the people who will be living in them will have had a hand in designing them. I doubt they could do any worse than some of the horrors that have come through the ‘regimented’ planning system.

    “- it does however require either 80 or 90% local support in a referendum. Which sounds incredibly difficult to achieve and is likely to be the main practical barrier to any of this happening. ”

    This is true. However even without 90% support, it is hoped that the general attitude of the Government should help bring community projects forward – with any luck the Govt will be serious about removing red tape and enabling local projects.

    “- funding. ”

    This is a real problem, but not insurmountable. A certain amount of cross-subsidy from market sale may be possible. Major tracts of non-residential land are not necessary. A small tract of non-residential land is not that expensive, and the money could be obtained one way or another. It is possible to buy options on a piece of land, with the full amount payable on grant of planning permission (or on confirmation of bypassing the planning system!). Self-builders may have to take a bit of a risk if they identify a suitable site which has local support. There are various other funding options. Government grant does not look likely, but there have been cases of landowners donating land, or giving land at a discount for local people/people working for landowners.

    “- land will be held in Trust status in perpetuity. This means that all the houses involved in CRTB will be leasehold. ”

    Yes – but why is leasehold such a problem? You can still sell a leasehold. The freehold being held in Trust status helps ensure the right to build is not abused for profit. This should be about people building themselves somewhere to live, not speculating on the housing market.

    Regards,

    Nick

  • Jason Orme

    Thanks Nick for your interesting and detailed response.
    My point on the trust status is not that self-builders are all profit-crazed but ultimately one of the main reasons people put themselves through the process (which, while not as difficult as is often made out, is certainly more involved than buying a house off a developer) is that they enjoy the developer’s profit for themselves. As such self-build is a great way for people who would otherwise not be able to afford it, to live in better housing and move up the housing ladder, which seems a pretty democratic ideal to me.
    I think my view is that this is a good idea in the most general of principles – it’s just that the detail needs a lot more critical development.

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