Monday, October 24, 2022

Custom-building and custom-splitting

I am writing this waiting for the dust to settle on the new administration led by Rishi Sunak and starting tomorrow 25 October 2022.  having wasted my time and yours addressing Greg Clarke and then Simon Clarke/Lee Rowley we don't know who will be put in charge of housing.  What we can anticipate is a renewed commitment to building 300,000 houses a year but, possibly, increasing the difficulty by giving more powers to local areas (ie those in blue wall constituencies like Amersham and Chesham that punished the Johnson Government threatening to adopt measures proposed by the Policy Exchange planner moved into Downing Street.

I feel fairly safe in saying that the 2022 administration will say all the right things about self and custom building but lack the imagination or knowledge of the planning system to give this the necessary boost. The custom building champion Richard Bacon MP is on record as describing the planning system as a "thicket". That a good description from somebody who lacks the energy or ability to sort out the wood from the trees.  When properly understood even the current and badly thought out legislation could be used to lift the numbers from under 10k to over 50k. Unfortunately there is not an MP who has the ability to do that.

By far the most read DanthePlan blog is that on custom building and the subject deserves an update since 2016.  The lack of progress could be evidence to support the contention that the is insufficient understanding at local and central level.

The first thing to do is to get onto the Council(s) register that provides the scale of the demand for serviced plots that the planning authority is legally required to be meeting. But, given that custom builders should, be definition, be prepared to go it alone, my next suggestion is to have conversations any housebuilder operating in the area of search. Would they reserve or sell a plot and build a house to my design?  They could be reminded of the Housing and Planning Act that places the responsibility  LPAs to ensure the supply of sufficient serviced plots but the housebuilder will mostly interested in offloading a plot at an acceptable price without depreciating any other.  Asking as a group about a contained part of a site might be more fruitful.  Agreeing the customising of the design(s) should be straightforward, but the involvement of your own labour less so.

An important- no very important - point to make is that there is provision for non-material amendments to be accepted by LPAs without the need for fresh applications.  The judgement of what is non-material one for the LPA but has to be made in the context of the permission as a whole.  In the case of say development of 50 dwellings it would be entirely reasonable for the LPA to agree that a change to a house type (or two or three) would not require a fresh application.  This would remove one of the objections from the housebuilder.

On larger sites the builder might only be expecting to build 30 to 40 units per year so the sale of plots in a discrete part of the site should not interfere with progress over the rest.  I am not going to predict how long or deep the recession might be affecting property prices but now might be a good time to be speaking to builders with unfinished sites.  The investment would have been made in the roads and drains and the prospects of achieving the projected prices for completed houses might have taken a dent.  Any delays might mean additional costs incurred in meeting the new Part L building regulations

Sunak might renew the Help to Buy scheme but might also have become aware that this has maintained and raised house prices mostly to the benefit of housebuilders. Without this kind of incentive (bribe) plot sales to custom builders could make economic sense.

Limited new build should only be encouraged if it is zero carbon in both building (inc materials and services) and then in operation (heating, lighting and appliances). Even if custom-builders are traditionally better than the housebuilders they might have to be better at building terraces that makes the net zero job much easier.  It is easier still for the custom-splitter.  This is more fully explained in a number of other blogs over the years, but starts with finding the owner of a larger house wanting to downsize-in-place and being prepared to partner in the physical sub-division of building and garden on the promise of well insulated, efficiently heated and accessible space suitable for their later years. This could result in the sale or a rent to buy of the new dwelling. The terms could and should be better than the equity release being touted by the finance industry.  I am waiting to see any other suggestions as to how housing needs can be met within carbon budgets or how 20 million existing dwellings can be retrofitted to net zero standards by 2035 (actually many fewer sub-divisions would be adequate to meet most if not all housing needs)?

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