Right to Build legislation, implemented in October 2016, requires all local authorities to prepare registers of all residents wishing to self-build or custom build their own home. Councils then have to provide enough planning permissions for serviced plots to meet the demand on their register. However, last week Mario Wolf, director of the Right to Build Task Force that was set up by companies and individuals aiming to promote self build and custom build, accused some councils of overcharging for registration.
Speaking at the Planning for Housing conference, organised by Planning, Wolf said: "Fees range nationally between about £20 to as high as £300-odd. As an individual, would you register with a local authority that charges you £300? All a local authority really needs to do is count the number [on the register] and make a decision on whether to bring forward some allocations on serviced building plots". He claimed that high registration fees "suppress demand quite considerably".
So what explains the huge disparity in costs charged by different authorities for registration? According to trade body the National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA), surveys show that around 60 per cent of the UK public would like to self build and 61 per cent would like a custom build home. However, this level of interest, it says, is not reflected in the number of entries on council registers, with just 33,000 individuals and groups of individuals signed up by October last year. Michael Holmes, NaCSBA chairman, said: "There is a small but significant minority of councils who have set out to discourage anyone from signing up on the Right to Build registers to avoid the duty to delivery serviced plots - those charging high fees definitely fall into this category."
Planning has discovered that two local authorities in London are charging residents up to £350 for inclusion on their registers. Both have divided their lists into two sections, making use of discretion permitted by the legislation. One is for long-term residents, for which the councils are required to provide enough plots to meet demand. The other is for non-long-term residents, where the requirement does not apply. Camden Council charges £350 for its long-term residents and £175 for others, while Islington Council charges £350 for both categories.
When contacted by Planning, both councils insisted that their fees have been set in line with the government's Planning Practice Guidance on self build, which states that fees should be proportionate and reflect genuine costs incurred. A statement from Camden said: "The fees have been set on a cost recovery basis in line with the legislation, and relate solely to the officer time involved in administering the register and assessing whether applicants satisfy the national and local eligibility conditions." A council spokesman also said that, compared to the minimum cost of buying a self-build plot in Camden of about £360,000, the registration fee was modest.
Meanwhile a spokesman for Islington said: "We believe this fee is reasonable and will cover most of the costs likely to be incurred when processing these applications. The assessment of applications, particularly determining whether each meets local eligibility conditions, is likely to be complex and will involve officers from both planning and legal departments."
Elsewhere in the country, however, councils are charging much lower fees. Teignbridge District Council in Devon is actively encouraging residents to join its register and charges no fee. Its register uses a third party provider’s free online survey form to allow applicants to sign up. Charles Acland, self-build officer at the council, said: "Our registration process does not require a huge amount of administration resource because it is largely automated – people get an automatic response when they register on our website allowing us to focus our staff resource on consenting and delivering plots."
The urban location of the two councils identified as charging high fees is a key factor, according to Acland. "In London, land prices are significantly higher and opportunities for self-build often scarce so I imagine it’s challenging for authorities to identify land and consent plots in those areas."