Self build in Scotland – overview

Scotland has its own government with housing and planning devolved, and to date it has not replicated the English Right To Build legislation. However, Scotland has a strong tradition of self-commissioned housing, especially in the Highlands and Islands. 

In 2015 Homebuilding & Renovating magazine reported that Scotland (13%) and N Ireland (9%) had high proportions of private, owner-commissioned home building, compared to the UK as a whole. (Wales had 4%, and most English regions had 6% or below. 


Scottish flag

In 2017 the Scottish Government called for a planning review, which NaCSBA contributed to, where Housing Minister Kevin Stewart MSP confirmed that the Scottish Government supported the sector. However, Scotland was not prepared to create its own version of the Right To Build, meaning individual councils don’t have their own Self-build registers.

Glasgow leading the way

With Angela Doran as its Self Build Officer, Glasgow City Council has led the way as a pioneering authority for custom and self build. Not only has it created its own register of people wanting to self-build in the city, but it ran a pilot for Scotland’s first serviced-plots model in the city – Bantaskin Street, Maryhill. This used redundant public sector land to provide affordable serviced plots, which could become a model for other authorities.

Milestones in Scotland's Custom and Self Build journey

To support its mission to grow custom and self build in all four countries, the National Custom and Self-build Association (NaCSBA) appointed Angela Doran as its Scottish rep, lobbying for change in inclusion in policy. Read the 2016 interview with Angela as she started her role. 

1. Raise public awareness of Self and Custom Build in Scotland 

2. Create a National Register of Demand for Self and Custom Build. with Local Authorities; encouraging them to release more public sector land for the creation of serviced custom and self build plots – including low cost, affordable plots

4. Providing expert help and advice through external consultancy or the creation of Self Build Housing Officer posts within councils. 

5. Providing a revolving infrastructure fund which will enable LAs to service plots for self build. This infrastructure fund could also be extended to Housing Associations and Developers in order to provide serviced plots in areas of demand.

6. Extend the Highland Self Build Pilot across the whole of Scotland or introduce a new ‘Help to Build’ equity loan scheme for affordable self build homes. This would help more people get on the housing ladder and deliver a more diversified supply of new homes.

7. Encourage Councils to simplify the planning process for self and custom builders by adopting design code and Plot Passport approaches.

8. Recognise self build as a form of affordable housing and allow developers to set aside serviced plots on larger sites which can count towards their affordable housing provision or Section 75.

9. Encourage rural authorities to allow people who meet a local connection test to build an affordable home so they can stay in the area.

10. Encourage recommissioning of existing buildings/development of urban brownfield sites as custom build opportunities by providing incentives for improvement works.

A small-scale pilot across four local authorities to bring forward custom and self build plots.

Scottish government provided £120k to support four local authorities to create Simplified Planning Zones as a national pilot: Dumfries and Galloway, Argyll and Bute, Aberdeenshire and North Ayrshire Councils. This was aimed at promoting the diversification of housing types and supply, and the supply of innovative housing delivery through self and custom build.

The aim of the Self and Custom Build Challenge Fund was to test delivery models that could be used to increase the amount of CSB homes across Scotland. £90,000 of grant funding was made available to support a range of self or custom build pilot projects. The Challenge Fund looked for pilot projects that demonstrated and promoted the value of self and custom build housing as an alternative mainstream housing delivery model.

Projects included – Perth and Kinross Council/ Fergus Purdie Architects, Communities Housing Trust, Assemble Collective Self Build.

A £4 million fund was established to provide loans of up to £175,000 to help with construction costs for self build projects. However, applicants needed to own their plot as the fund could not be used to finance land, and also demonstrate that they were unable to access standard bank lending to cover construction costs. This resulted in limited uptake. Originally a three-year fund, it was extended a year until end August 2022 with an extra £2million.

In November 2022, the fund was relaunched with a further £6million extension, with one clear benefit that it offered a mechanism for those that wanted to stay in their local community to build their own home.

The fund is a good example of a pilot scheme testing the waters, as this was originally a much smaller scheme trialed in the Highlands.

The Scottish Planning Act 2019 helped create a legislative background for custom and self build nationally, as it established a planning definition in Scotland of self build.

“Where an individual commissions or (whether acting alone or with other individuals) is personally involved in the design and construction of a dwelling which is intended to be the individual’s main residence once it is built.”

The Act requires planning authorities to prepare and maintain a list (ie a register) of interested Self Builders in their area and to publicise the list in such manner as they think is appropriate. However, unlike in England this is not linked to creating permissions for plots.

Local Plans need to have regard to the list in policy making and for masterplan consent areas (which gives planning permission to a designated area/zone) to include self build housing development.

Housing to 2040 is Scotland’s first long term national housing strategy, setting out the vision and a route map for growth. On NaCSBA’s behalf, Angela Doran fed into the strategy, pressing the case for custom and self build and the levers needed to support action.

This includes a commitment to, “scale up opportunities for self-provided housing so people have more choices about the kinds of homes they want to live in.” This also includes the ambition to “make self provided housing a mainstream option.”

Housing to 2040 references self build as part of the solution to affordable housing in rural areas, offering a route to housing to those who are often priced out of the local housing market due to second homes or holiday lets. The strategy states that self build can be “an important way to help young people stay in the rural areas they grew up in if they want to”.

This recognises that key and local worker housing could be delivered through self and custom build.

Another indirectly supportive statement is the fact that the strategy supports: “planning applications for proposals that result in the permanent or temporary reuse of vacant or derelict land and buildings should be supported in principle.”

The Draft Fourth National Planning Framework was laid in Parliament on 10 November 2021. The consultation closed on 31 March 2022, and in November NPF4 was due to go before Scottish MPs.

The draft references Self Build as a solution to affordable housing in rural areas as it provides access to housing to those who are often priced out of the local housing market due to second homes or holiday lets. It recognises that key and local worker housing could be delivered through self and custom build.

It also creates a link between homes that approve affordability or adaptability and self-provided homes. The document also refers to self provided housing as a catch all for self build, custom build and collective build housing. Read NaCSBA news’ take on the Framework.

Images: Rhys Aspludh/Flickr/Creative Commons