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We must collaborate to support custom-build and extend housing choice

David Cowans

The custom-build sector has a vital role to play in fixing the UK's broken housing market, but we must take a more collaborative approach to overcome its growth barriers, says David Cowans, group chief executive of Places of People.

It's been six years since the term 'custom-build' was first tabled when the Government announced in its Housing Strategy for England that it wanted to 'do more than ever to support individuals and communities taking the initiative to build their own home.'

The definition of custom build has since been the subject of some debate, but in simple terms can now be defined as self-build homes that are delivered in partnership with a developer. Compared with a traditional self-build, which is managed entirely by the future owner as showcased on TV programmes such as 'Grand Designs'; a custom-build project can make the process quicker, less stressful and less risky for the purchaser, but still allow a significant level of personalisation.

We know that there is a strong demand for self and custom-build properties in the UK. According to a YouGov survey commissioned by the Building Societies Association (BSA), 53% of people would consider building their own home given the opportunity. But, compared to other European countries, the UK is lagging well behind with  self-build completions equating to around 10% of new builds - in Austria, Belgium, Italy and Sweden self-build rates are above 65%.

In its 2013 study, the University of York concluded that finding suitable land, securing finance, and getting planning permission can be the biggest barriers. The Government has put in place measures to help overcome these challenges, including obliging councils to keep Self Build Registers and ensuring they have sufficient shovel ready plots to match local demand on their Register, but the housing sector needs to step up to the plate too.

We need a more proactive and collaborative approach within our industry to help develop new models, which allow people to create a home that meets their needs and aspirations.  We should be developing sites in partnership with local authorities and communities and ensuring they offer a broad mix of custom-build options that can be tailored to people's needs. These would include affordable plots and flexible tenures as well as the option to self-build if preferred. This is a model we are piloting in Baskingstoke in partnership with the HCA and are seeking to replicate on other sites across the UK. 

We must also aim to deliver custom-build developments at scale, ensuring this option can become a viable and sustainable route for prospective homeowners. Garden cities provide an ideal opportunity for this as local demand can be assessed during the early design stages and suitable land then identified and brought forward in line with people's specific requirements.  

Larger custom-build schemes will also help to promote the benefits to prospective homeowners. There is still a lack of awareness about this option and how it differs from a traditional self-build home. We need to showcase the specialist assistance which is available to help people overcome some of the challenges often associated with building their own home.  

Extending and providing housing choice is key to the success of our future housing market. Custom and self-build forms a key part of that strategy but more must be done to help it grow. The Government has committed its support so now it's time for the housing sector to follow suit and take the bold and important steps towards developing new models that enable people to create their own homes. 

This blog was first published on Inside Housing on 16 May 2017.

16 May 2017