For the first time ever, we’ve had a Government that is actively supportive of self build. Its first housing minister, Grant Shapps, was a devotee and did everything in his power to promote the cause and to pave the way for creating self build friendly policies. But despite all this support the total number of self builds has fallen since the Coalition took power in 2010.
However, we are beginning to see many local authorities starting to allocate parcels of land to self builders in ways that wouldn’t have been considered a few years ago. The problem for individuals wanting to build their own home is that all this hifalutin policy stuff is all very well, but what they want is access to single plots at affordable prices, and releasing large tracts of land for self build doesn’t really help them very much. But there appears to be a solution in the offing — a sort of halfway house — which is being referred to as ‘custom build’.
What is custom build?
Custom build can mean different things to different people, but by and large it involves an intermediary who undertakes the work of turning a large site designated for many dwellings into one accessible to individuals. At its crudest, it can simply be described as providing serviced plots, but custom build involves more than that, and it shows signs of evolving into a new way of thinking about self build.
The European model
All over northern Europe, land is routinely allocated by local authorities for housing and, instead of being sold to the highest bidder, is subdivided into individual plots. Across Europe, a fantastic custom homebuilding industry has grown — especially in Germany, where there are hundreds of kit home suppliers competing for the business of individual self builders. This creates more choice and higher quality than we have come to expect in the UK.
The UK’s custom build future
It seems unlikely though that UK local authorities will become proactive in the German way and actively become involved in providing serviced plots. A custom build enabler is thus convenient to both the local authorities and landowners, and to the individuals wanting to take advantage of the new opportunities.
Almere, Netherlands (Photo: Stipo Team, Shutterstock)
The custom build model that has caught everyone’s imagination is Almere, which has an allocated self build zone consisting of around 1,000 homes. Plots are sold by the square metre (at a price of £375/m2) which means they cost anywhere from £25,000 to £250,000. Rather than requiring planning permission, there are a few ground rules in place, concerning issues like ridge heights and overlooking. As long as you stick to these design parameters, you’re free to build whatever you want.
Main Image: Urban Self Build