How we did it: Producing policy to boost self-build homes

A Devon council has established a blueprint requiring developers to provide self-build housing. David Dewar reports.

Self-build policy ground-breakers: Teignbridge Council planning team members Fergus Pate, Kati Owen, Trevor Shaw, Michelle Luscombe, Simon Thornley, Alex Lessware, Helen Williams and Charles Acland
Self-build policy ground-breakers: Teignbridge Council planning team members Fergus Pate, Kati Owen, Trevor Shaw, Michelle Luscombe, Simon Thornley, Alex Lessware, Helen Williams and Charles Acland

Project: Teignbridge Supplementary Planning Document on Custom and Self-Build Housing

Organisations involved: Teignbridge District Council, with support from the Homes and Communities Agency and the National Custom and Self-build Association.

This year’s Housing and Planning Act introduced new duties for councils to plan for for self and custom-build homes. However, one local authority in Devon has already been taking a pioneering approach to encouraging this model of housing through local policy.

This summer, Teignbridge District Council said it had become the first in the country to adopt a supplementary planning document (SPD) promoting self and custombuild homes. The document, adopted in July, sets out how the authority intends to secure provision of such homes through conventional housing schemes.

The SPD is based on a local plan policy that the council adopted two years ago. This requires developers of schemes of more than 20 homes to supply at least five per cent of plots for sale to self and custombuilders. "We are trying to help small house builders and selfbuilders to maintain or increase their proportion of the market, which will benefit the local supply chain and increase the variety of approaches and designs," says Simon Thornley, the council’s business manager of spatial planning and delivery. While preparing the local plan, the council gathered evidence for the policy to test the market for self-build housing.

The results convinced the authority that there was sufficient demand for the product. "The figures looked really strong and suggested that there was a pool of people out there who would be interested," says Thornley. The council was encouraged by paragraph 50 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which advocates incorporating selfbuild homes into the housing mix.

The resulting "Teignbridge rule" – the five per cent requirement – was drafted as a local plan policy and met with minimal objection, Thornley recalls. "Developers didn’t seem too concerned," he says. "For them it means selling plots rather than houses, so it’s not about viability so much as certainty." But with the local plan adopted, the council decided that such a new area of policy required further detailed guidance to assist developers, development management officers and custom and self-builders. It quickly produced an SPD to "give a bit of a route map for the various actors in the process", says Thornley.

The SDP covers potentially tricky issues such as how to avoid triggering the Community Infrastructure Levy, from which self-build homes are exempt. Design codes are also a key topic. Charles Acland, the council’s self-build project officer, says: "Design codes need to be flexible enough to allow a designer to create a bespoke home, while assuring the buyers of adjoining plots that the design will be of a sufficiently high standard not to devalue their property." The document also sets out situations in which the council will accept off-site delivery of self-build plots or a financial contribution – set at £77,500 per plot – from developers. The SPD provides an example of the "plot passport" required from developers to provide clear information to custombuilders on the characteristics of their plots. The passport sets out key details including area, location, taxes, charges and the site’s key planning issues and constraints.

Teignbridge’s work in developing the policy and the SPD has been supported by the Homes and Communities Agency and the National Custom and Self-build Association (NaCSBA). Thornley says that the association’s advice and online toolkit have taught the authority some key lessons and the association has welcomed the publication of the SPD. "When it comes to encouraging, supporting and growing the opportunities for people to build their own homes, Teignbridge has been one of the most proactive councils in the country," says NaCSBA chair Ted Stevens.

"This document will make it easier for local people to self-build and I’m sure many other councils in the UK will find it helpful, too." With the local plan policy having been in place for two years, sites that have been through the system are only now starting to be delivered. The first site incorporating self-build and custom plots – a 205-home scheme in Bovey Tracey containing 20 self-build plots – is expected to be marketed in the coming weeks, says Thornley.

"We have 11 sites permitted that incorporate the self-build requirement, and the total number of plots coming forward from those is 102," he adds. Thornley says that the most difficult aspect of the project has been the long wait to see the fruits of the Teignbridge rule. "It’s going to be great when we start to see these developments coming out of the ground," he says. 


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