The National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA) has released new findings showing that, while the number of self builders signing up to the Right to Build has grown, some local authorities are using “dirty tricks” to make it harder for people to sign up to the Custom and Self Build registers.
The research show that 1,400 new registrations signed the registers in the last year, bringing the total number of people who have signed up to Right to Build to 55,000. However, that total number on the registers is actually lower, due to people being removed for the wrong reasons.
NaCSBA estimates that over 13,000 people build an owner-commissioned home annually, a number which is growing slowly, but which it feels is far below actual demand. According to the Building Society Association over half of us (53%) would like to self build one day.
On Right to Build Day, NaCSBA conducted a Freedom of Interest request to all English councils about the registers to see how many plots had been permissioned, against the numbers that signed up in the first year of the registers (a part year running from April to October 2016).
The results showed patterns of behaviour that are very concerning, and which NaCSBA will be sharing with Government.
While local authorities are required to promote their registers, NaCSBA believes that both a lack of marketing and a range of “dirty tricks” by a growing minority of local authorities is making it much harder for individuals and groups to sign up to, and remain on, the custom and self build registers.
The research showed three significant areas of questionable activity by some local planning authorities, with more and more councils repeating these as a way to get around managing their duties.
This restricts the opportunity for people to self-build, acting as a restrictor in the market that limits activity to those with enough money or equity to commission their own home – the very people who didn’t need the support of the legislation in the first place.
Barriers to signing the registers
Constraints: Local authorities are imposing unreasonable constraints to signing the registers. This includes the charging of excessive fees to sign up to, and stay on, the registers. It also could be a local connection test that denies those living outside an authority the chance to build a home there – despite no such restrictions being in place in the wider market.
Miscounting: Local authorities must demonstrate how many self build plots they have granted permission for, to compare to people on the registers each year. Many councils are counting plots intended for building on by housing developers as potential self-build plots – even though they have were never marketed as such.
Removals: Some councils have removed many people from their registers for the wrong reasons, thereby reducing the number of plots that they must permission. Examples include restarting registers with new conditions, removing people as part of GDPR data protection exercises and so on.
Right to Build Day
The 30 October 2019 was the first date ever when local authorities had to demonstrate that they had ‘permissioned’ enough plots to reflect the demand evidenced by the registers, for those that signed up in the first year of the registers. Permissioned means the act of granting a self or custom build permission, and each year councils will have to match ‘permissions’ with the number of people that signed up. It doesn’t mean that the council has to create plots itself, nor does it have to contact people on the registers.
Despite permissioning sufficient plots being a requirement of the law, 8% of all authorities said they had not met their duties under the legislation and 37% failed to provide any response at all.
Of all the councils, only 45% claimed that they had met their legal duties, but this figure includes those councils that achieved this by using some, or all, of the limiting factors set out above.
Consequently, NaCSBA believes that the numbers provided are simply too unreliable for an accurate assessment of custom and self build delivery to take place.
NaCSBA is calling on local authorities to act within the letter and the spirit of the law and do better in future, especially as it estimates that at least 8,000 people have been wrongfully removed from registers.
Kevin McCloud, Self Build Champion, said: “It is about time councils got off the fence and positively support this piece of legislation. The launch of the Right to Build register was an encouraging start of the movement to improve the availability of custom and self-build plots across the country, however, authorities still need to offer better service to residents wanting to build their own homes. At the moment, the return on entries to the register is nowhere near as high as it needs to be in order to meet targets and encourage an increase in the number of custom and self-build homes by the British public.”
Andrew Baddeley-Chappell, NaCSBA’s CEO said, “For the first time, local authorities have had to meet a statutory duty to help self builders access the plots that are needed. It is clear that overall they have come up short. In some cases, this is despite the hard work and best efforts of the authority, and we recognise those that have worked hard in this area.
“In too many cases however local authorities have spent scarce time and effort not on delivering plots but rather on seeking to avoid their obligations. This cannot continue, not least if we are to deliver homes in the volume and of the quality that this country needs.”
England has the lowest known rate of owner-commissioned homes among developed economies, and NaCSBA plans to work with government to improve this, giving more people the chance to live in a home designed to suit their needs.
NaCSBA still urges anyone wanting to build, including community-led groups, to sign up to the Right to Build as the registers remain a vital element in demonstrating to authorities how many people want to self build.
Image: Marmalade Lane Cohousing by TOWN.