I have to admit to something that will mildly embarrass me and probably annoy quite a few people. OK, here goes. I’ve always thought of the various self-build associations as something akin to bus spotting — something for people who liked the thought of self-building, liked having meetings about it and were so busy with the latter that they never actually had time to build themselves a home. To me they seemed to accommodate that happy clappy bunch who represented the fringe bohemian roots of self-building rather than the pragmatic mainstream. There, I’ve said it.
However, I now have to retract those thoughts. For the latest incarnation, the National Self Build Association (NaSBA) has recently been doing us proud. And without being disparaging to any of its current members – many of whom have made the crossover from previous associations – it is principally down to the efforts and steerage of one man: the Chairman, Ted Stevens. To watch him work in meetings, pulling all of the disparate interests together and making sense and policy out of the various arguments, is a revelation.
Self-build has existed in a vacuum for so long that governments have remained largely ignorant of the concept. When challenged, they’ve paid lip service to the idea of group self-build, but have been unable to grasp the concept of individual self-build. Now all of that has changed. The current Government has recently started to take notice of our industry and the group it has turned to for advice on how to develop an action plan to boost self-build numbers is NaSBA.
The housing Minister, Grant Shapps MP, has said: “Building your own home should not be the preserve of a privileged few — I want to break down the barriers that many aspiring self-builders often come up against. That’s why I’ve asked experts at NaSBA to work with us to develop an action plan… This will give a real boost to those who have long dreamed of building their own home… I want those people to build their New Year’s resolution with bricks and mortar, and make 2011 the year they make their house building dreams a reality.”
Heady stuff. What the self-build community wouldn’t have given for those sentiments from Government in all the decades I’ve been around. It’s like reaching the last ridge before the summit of a mountain you never thought you’d conquer.
But we need a dose of reality. NaSBA and associated interested parties have been asked to work up more detailed proposals under four main headings based on some initial ideas, which include:
- Planning and land supply: The provision by local authorities of serviced and non-serviced plots for self-builders; Local authorities zoning a proportion of future strategic housing land for self-build; Allowing private housing schemes to meet their quotas for affordable homes by the provision of serviced plots for self-builders; Getting parishes and villages to identify land specifically for self-build; The possibility of the construction of single homes being included within Permitted Development rights; The possibility of garden land being acceptable for single self-built homes; Streamlining planning processes and introducing more consistency; Allowing appeals to continue to be heard by independent inspectors.
- Finance: Support to enable groups or communities to access finance for land purchase; Government support to persuade lenders of the desirability of self-build.
- Expert support: The creation of a self-build portal to disseminate information; The provision of more training for would-be self-builders.
- Regulation: A simplification of the red tape involved in satisfying the Code for Sustainable Homes.
A darned good shopping list and if everything on it were available at this particular supermarket, we, as a self-build community, would have pretty much reached our goals and could look forward to truly becoming a mainstream provider of homes. I’ve never been here before — this is dizzy heights. But a little voice pulls me back from euphoria, telling me that there’s a long way to go and that whilst we may be the current photo opportunity or sound bite, we still need to see action on the ground.