If you’ve been considering a self-build project in the UK, you may have been surprised by how tricky it is to find a good plot. You’ll either pay a lot of money for a decent location or end up with a plot near the local railway line, motorway interchange or sewage works!
With the UK ranking at the bottom of the league table for the number of homes delivered by self-builders (somewhere between 10-15%), you might wonder how the system differs in other European countries.
In the latest podcast I chat to Mark Brinkley, author of the Housebuilder’s Bible. He has been doing some research into the German approach to custom building, which accounts for about 60% of their total housing output. Interestingly, the first key difference between the UK and German system is how land is acquired. In Germany the councils intervene to buy land from the local farmers, who only receive a small premium on top of the value of the agricultural land – it’s almost a compulsory purchase. The plots are then divided up and serviced, before becoming available to local people.
In the UK, with the councils more removed from the process, the value of the land goes through the roof, giving the farmer a windfall. This can create jealousy amongst villagers who are cut out of the process (NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard).
The German system also gives power to the individual, who can choose exactly what they want on the plot and which custom home builder to provide it. This also leads to a much more organic development.
Houses in the UK that are built by developers tend to be mean with space and have next to no gardens. One bonus of this high-density housing is that it ticks a few sustainability boxes. However, on the whole the houses on a given site offer little choice – you either take it or leave it. The competition created by the German system drives up standards.
There are many other aspects that Mark describes in his comparison of the two systems, but it does seem that the starting point is that councils need to be bold and take on board the idea that land needs to be retained for self-builders. An increase in self-build would, however, mean a decrease in spec build and this conflict of interests could make change a slow process!