What high numbers of entries on new self-build registers mean for plan-makers

Latest figures show high numbers of entries on registers for self-build plots but uncertainty surrounds how councils can meet a new legal requirement to provide suitable sites.

Self-build: councils have duty to keep registers of interested people
Self-build: councils have duty to keep registers of interested people

According to research out this month, almost 18,000 people have signed up so far to council registers indicating that they want to exercise a government-backed "right to build" their own homes. The registers are meant to give a steer on local demand for self-build so that councils can match it with a steady supply of planning permissions for suitable serviced plots.

The estimate was compiled by the National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA), a network of companies and individuals promoting the sector’s contribution to UK homebuilding. Its freedom of information request to all 336 English councils produced responses from 248 authorities, showing 14,428 entries.

These results were grossed up to take account of non-responses, discounting the 12 "vanguard" councils selected to pioneer the process in 2014 and the 18 councils that have still not set up registers, a statutory requirement since 1 April under the Self and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015.

The list is headed by Cherwell District Council, which is promoting a self-build development of 1,900 homes at Graven Hill, Oxfordshire, via a local development order. But NaCSBA’s results show interest running highest in London boroughs, which account for five of the ten councils with the most register entries (see infographic, below). Only three northern authorities – Sheffield, Hartlepool and Kirklees – appear in the top 20 councils with more than 140 registrations. The research also revealed 66 councils with fewer than ten register entries.

NacSBA chairman Michael Holmes said the high numbers of registrations in some areas are down to councils promoting self-build sites or supportive planning policies. He urged all authorities to "start consenting serviced plots now" to meet Housing and Planning Act 2016 requirements brought into force in October requiring them to meet the demand revealed by the registers through rolling programmes of site releases over the next three years.

But Richard Crawley, programme manager at the Planning Advisory Service (PAS), said it remains unclear "how we get from telling people that something will happen if they register an interest to actually delivering on the ground". He added: "Even where developers or landowners are offering self-build plots, councils still need to tie down the legal arrangements to make sure they get used for that purpose."

Aspinall Verdi director Ben Aspinall, whose consultancy produced a PAS advice note on self-build and custom-build issued in June, said policy-making in this area is difficult for local authorities because of uncertainty over the roles of different organisations in enabling self-build schemes and over the scope for capturing increases in land value on self-build plots. "There’s also a capacity issue. A lot of councils see this as an area where they’re going to have to put in a lot of effort in to get half-a-dozen plots."

Meanwhile, Islington Council has come under fire from self-builders after becoming the first authority to introduce charges for registration under the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding (Time for Compliance and Fees) Regulations 2016, which came into force on 31 October. The council said the fees, set at £350 for entries in each of the register’s two parts, reflect "reasonable costs likely to be incurred, based on an analysis of officer time," for processing and validating applications and updating the register. But Holmes said Islington’s rates are "disproportionate" and that NaCSBA would press for them to be reduced.

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