Government has been tinkering with custom build guidance, by Chris Brown

The government has been doing some tinkering with the planning practice guidance (PPG) for custom build housing over the summer.

Planning for custom build is something of a disaster with the very honourable exception of the Petersfield Neighbourhood Plan.

The problem is that the PPG currently says that in "order to obtain a robust assessment of demand for this type of housing [custom build] in their area, local planning authorities should supplement the data from the registers with secondary data sources such as: building plot search websites, ‘Need-a-Plot’ information available from the Self Build Portal; and enquiries for building plots from local estate agents".

This, by the way, was last revised on April Fools’ Day 2016.

This combination of data sources doesn’t amount to a robust assessment of demand. And it has resulted in local plan policies that typically seek one per cent or 2.5 per cent of new homes as self build or custom build when supply is already running at 10 per cent-15 per cent.

The intelligent people of Petersfield, with the approval of the examiner, instead voted to allocate specific sites of sufficient scale to deliver custom build demand.

The government tinkering is now attempting to neuter the foreseen (just not by the government) consequences of legislating to require local authorities to grant planning permission for sufficient serviced plots to meet the numbers on the register. These include having to give permission to inappropriate sites and being unable to meet the test in the absence of applications.

In response, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) have created a get out of jail card. The guidance now says that if the custom build register has more names on it than 20 per cent of the total land available for housing then local authorities no longer need to grant ANY permissions for serviced plots. Not even a cap at 20 per cent.

A more sensible approach would be to scrap the planning permission requirement and rewrite the PPG to put assessment of custom build demand on the same basis as overall demand.

We use demographic forecasts to assess demand and once assessed we should simply divide this between custom build and speculative house building based on consumer surveys of preference.

Pollsters IPSOS Mori do one of these each year. Planners would then allocate sites for one or the other approach to delivery.

On the plus side the PPG includes the advice: "Relevant authorities should consider how they can best support self-build and custom housebuilding in their area".

"Should consider" may not be the strongest encouragement in the world but this is exactly what local authorities should be doing and the PPG makes a number of good suggestions.

The registers have been good at getting local authority attention for custom build but subsequent legislation has created unintended consequences. It’s time to fix this and create a set of policies that will grow a custom build sector and deliver more housing more quickly that most people actually want to live in.

Chris Brown is executive chairman of developer Igloo Regeneration


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