New research by NaCSBA has found that the number of people wanting to self build annually has grown, with an estimated 55,000 people now signed up to Right to Build register. However, it also found that a growing minority of local authorities was using a range of “dirty tricks” that make it more difficult for individuals to sign up to, and remain on, the Custom and Self Build registers.

Each year NaCSBA sends a Freedom of Information request to all the local authorities in England with responsibility for planning, and the total figure of 55,000 people having signed up since the registers started on 1 April 2016 reflects a continuing appetite across England for people to secure a plot to design and build their dream home.

The research indicated that, in the last 12 months around 11,400 new registrations have signed up, which represents a small increase on the previous year, many of whom did so via NaCSBA’s Right to Build Portal. However, while NaCSBA is happy to see the registers growing, it firmly believes that the numbers remain far short of actual underlying demand.

Barriers to signing the self build registers

Local authorities are required to promote their registers, but NaCSBA believes that both a lack of promotion and an increasing use of “dirty tricks” by a growing minority of local authorities is working together to make it much harder for individual people and groups to sign up to, and remain on, the custom and self build registers.

The recent Freedom of Information research found three significant areas of what NaCSBA considers unacceptable practice by local planning authorities. These restrict the opportunity for people to sign up to the custom and self build registers, working against the spirit of the legislation and Parliament’s intention. In effect, this restricts the opportunity for people to create an owner-commissioned home to those with sufficient resources, or equity, to not require the support that the legislation was created to help in the first place, and thereby acting as a limiter to sector growth.

  1. Local authorities are imposing unreasonable constraints over joining the registers. Poor practice includes the charging of excessive fees to sign up and denying those living outside an authority the opportunity to build a home there – despite operating no parallel restriction on new homes built by developers.
  2. Local authorities counting plots intended for building on by housing developers as being potentially suitable for self-building, when they are fully aware that this will not be the case.
  3. Local authorities removing names of those who have already joined a register to justify reducing the number of plots that they must permission. Examples include restarting registers with new conditions, undertaking data protection exercises where those who do not reply are struck off and introducing fees for those already on registers to remain.

The 30 October 2019 was Right to Build Day, the first date when planning authorities had to demonstrate that they had ‘permissioned’ sufficient plots to reflect the demand evidenced by the registers, for those that signed up in the first partial year (from April to October 2016). Despite this date being framed by the legislation, nearly three months on only 45% of all local authorities claim that they have met their legal duties, 37% failed to provide any response at all, while just 18% recognised that their duties under the legislation have not been met.

The 45% that claim to have met their obligations includes those authorities who have only achieved this by employing the limiting factors set out above. NaCSBA believes that the numbers provided are simply too unreliable for an accurate assessment of custom and self build delivery to take place.

Consequently, it is calling on local authorities to act within the letter and the spirit of the law and do more to ensure that more plots are permissioned. In fact, NaCSBA estimates that at least 8,000 individuals have been wrongfully removed from registers after the registration period has closed, but believes this should not impact the number of plots that need to be permissioned, as set out by the legislation.

England has by far the lowest known rate of owner-commissioned homes among developed economies, and NaCSBA looks forward to continued government support to help rectify this and build diversity and choice in the market. The Conservative manifesto pledged to do more to help “people who want to build their own homes find plots of land and access the Help to Buy scheme”, something that NaCSBA is keen to discuss.

Kevin McCloud, Self Build Champion, said: “It is about time councils got off the fence and positively support this piece of legislation. The launch of the Right to Build register was an encouraging start of the movement to improve the availability of custom and self-build plots across the country, however, authorities still need to offer better service to residents wanting to build their own homes. At the moment, the return on entries to the register is nowhere near as high as it needs to be in order to meet targets and encourage an increase in the number of custom and self-build homes by the British public.”

Andrew Baddeley-Chappell, NaCSBA’s CEO said, “For the first time, local authorities have had to meet a statutory duty to help self builders access the plots that are needed. It is clear that overall they have come up short. In some cases, this is despite the hard work and best efforts of the authority, and we recognise those that have worked hard in this area.

“In too many cases however local authorities have spent scarce time and effort not on delivering plots but rather on seeking to avoid their obligations. This cannot continue, not least if we are to deliver homes in the volume and of the quality that this country needs.”

While proving to be a mixed source of demand for housing need – depending on how the registers are managed, NaCSBA still urges anyone wanting to build to sign up to the Right to Build as the registers remain a vital element in evidencing demand for custom and self build appetite locally. However, good practice indicates that the registers should always be viewed with wider indicators of demand for owner-commissioned homes.

Sign up to the Right to Build via NaCSBA’s portal. 

About the survey:  NaCSBA issued a Freedom of Information request to all 327 English Planning Authorities on 1 November 2019 requesting details as to the operation of their registers and of the numbers of people and groups of people on their registers. Just under 80% of these have now responded. The overall result has been extrapolated based on past years’ responses received, although NaCSBA continues to seek responses from those yet to reply.

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