Whilst it is always hard at the time to spot it; I believe that we will look back on 2019 as a pivotal year for the sector. Key of course has been the first Right to Build Day on 30 October 2019. This was the first date when laws passed by parliament required local authorities to ensure that sufficient serviced plots were permissioned to meet the demand, as represented by the registers maintained by every local authority.
Whilst this was a day of celebration when we opened the new Build It Self Build Education House on Graven Hill, our research has also highlighted how much there is still to do. As Winston Churchill once said: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Not least, we must ensure that the legislation is tightened up to prevent some of the poor practices and the lack of focus that we have seen from local authorities often struggling to give planning and quality home building the focus it requires.
We were pleased therefore that the Conservative manifesto noted “We will support community housing by helping people who want people build their own homes find land and access the Help to Buy Scheme”, clear recognition of the further help we need. Despite these constraints and the lack of action by some councils well over 50,000 people have joined registers by 30 October 2019.
The reference to Help to Buy is also key to the growth of our sector. We have always believed our exclusion from the scheme was unintended but the delay in levelling the playing field has made it much harder for the sector to compete and to become a mainstream part of housing supply as in everywhere else in the world. Our work with the Federation of Master Builders confirmed that over half of their members who had built a house last year did so to the designs and specifications of the houseowner, highlighting the support our sector gives to local firms and local artisans.
Bringing serviced plots to TV
The potential for the sector was demonstrated by the Grand Designs – The Street, again from Graven Hill. We witnessed a street of self-build homes emerging, highlighting the benefits the sector brings- quality, value and personalisation. The Street also demonstrated that harmony does not mean all of the same, and that self build is an option for all. We understand the search is on for the next Street, and we look forward to more exciting and rewarding homes.
There remain too many unnecessary complexities when self commissioning but it was good to see one of those addressed this year. NaCSBA was able to get the Government to ease the cost of an unintended non-compliance with the technical Community Infrastructure levy exemption process.
Progress has not only been made in England. Wales is progressing with its Self Build Fund and Scotland has passed legislation to require its local authorities to establish right to build registers.
Campaigning for Self Build
Whilst progress has been made, this has not been an easy year for the sector with wider uncertainty around Brexit a hindrance to activity. Despite these difficult conditions NaCSBA membership continues to grow, however the income we receive to do our work for a full year is around the profit that a single large housebuilder makes every hour.
We are the only body actively campaigning for more self commissioned homes and we continue to call on those who benefit from our work to help us to help you.
At the end of December, Mario Wolf (above) who set up and ran the Right to Build Task Force will be returning to Government and the regular support that the Task Force has received from the Nationwide Foundation will come to an end.
It is hard to overstate the contribution both have made to advancing the case for more affordable better homes. My huge thanks to them both. There is much still to do and the Task Force will continue with the support of the Government and in the capable hands of Bryony Harrington who has been promoted to head up the ongoing work.
Whilst housing ministers come and go, I thought I would end my review with the words of Kit Malthouse who concluded the second of two parliamentary debates on our sector by saying:
“I want to finish by paying tribute to the National Custom and Self Build Association, which continues to provide leadership, expertise and experience to overcome sectoral barriers and challenges, and to my honourable Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Richard Bacon MP) and the Right to Build Task Force, who have done sterling work in banging the drum for custom and self-build, helping authorities and community groups to bring forward large affordable custom and self-build projects and demonstrating that that is possible.”
My best wishes for a rewarding and successful 2020.