In March 2015 the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 was enacted to “place a duty on certain public authorities to keep a register of individuals and associations of individuals who wish to acquire serviced plots of land to bring forward self-build and custom housebuilding projects and to place a duty on certain public authorities to have regard to those registers in carrying out planning and other functions”. This accorded with the Government’s 2015 manifesto commitment to “at least double the number of custom and self-build homes by 2020” as part of its agenda to increase housing supply and tackle the housing crisis.
As originally enacted, the 2015 Act imposed a duty on authorities to keep a register of persons seeking to acquire land to build a home and, importantly, a duty on the relevant authority to have regard to that register in carrying out its functions relating to planning, housing, regeneration and the disposal of any land of the authority. Local planning authorities have started to respond to those duties in various ways, including the creation of such registers and the emergence of planning policies to secure serviced plots for self-build.
So far the Government’s support for self-build has been of some benefit to developers of self-build plots seeking planning permission, especially when read with the requirements of paragraph 50 of the National Planning Policy Framework to “plan for a mix of housing based on current and future demographic trends, market trends and the need of different groups in the community (such as…people wishing to build their own homes)”. For example, a Planning Inspector in approving a scheme of 4 self-build units on land adjacent to the edge of a village in West Berkshire gave “significant weight” to the delivery of self-build plots in an area where the development plan policies were silent on self-build delivery but where the appellant identified some need for self-build plots. The Inspector concluded the development plan policies failed to accord with paragraph 50 of the Framework and identified that the social role of the planning system (referenced in paragraph 7 of the Framework) includes providing the supply of self-build dwellings.
Whilst the conclusions of the Inspector in that appeal clearly support self-build schemes, it is the coming into force on 31 October of the duty on local planning authorities to “give suitable development permission in respect of enough serviced plots of land to meet the demand for self-build and custom housebuilding in the authority’s area arising in each base period” which is likely to have greater implications for the weight given to the delivery of self-build dwellings in planning decisions.
The duty was inserted by the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and, put simply, requires the local planning authority to grant as many planning permissions or permissions in principle within a base period of 12 months running from each 31 October as there are entries added during that period to the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Register. The Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Regulations 2016, which come into force on 31 October, have slightly watered down the level of “demand” by relating it to only entries on the register with a “local connection” and an ability for authorities to be exempt from the duty where the demand for self-build is greater than 20% of the land identified by the relevant authority but nonetheless it still imposes a duty which could be of assistance to those seeking residential development.
The Act is silent on the implications for a local planning authority which fails to comply with any of the duties in the Act. However, by virtue of the duty to have regard to the register in exercising its planning functions, it must be the case that the demand for self-build dwellings and how the Council is complying with the duty to grant suitable development permissions to meet that demand are material considerations when considering schemes which provide any self-build units or serviced plots, even as part of a wider development scheme.
A failure to keep the register would clearly indicate the inability of the local planning authority to properly have regard to the register in exercising its planning functions and must be failing to comply with its duty to grant sufficient development permissions. That failure could be compounded by a failure of the local planning authority to assess the needs of people wishing to build their own homes within its Strategic Housing Market Assessment, contrary to paragraph 159 of the Framework and a failure to include appropriate planning policies within its development plan contrary to paragraph 50 of the Framework. The result of this would be that the Council is unable to demonstrate that the social role of the planning system is being fulfilled because the need for self-build homes is not being met.
In such circumstances, although clearly a matter for the planning judgement of the decision maker, it is feasible that significant positive weight should be given to the delivery of self-build dwellings where the Council is failing in its duties to grant sufficient development permissions for self-build dwellings especially where the development plan policies are silent on self-build dwellings.
This should benefit not only proposals by owners of plots who intend to live in the self-build dwelling and larger schemes comprising 100% self-build plots but also residential developments which include a provision of self-build plots within the development. Assisting the Council to meet its duties to provide sufficient self-build homes to meet demand is clearly a benefit which should be weighed in the planning balance and may well unlock a difficult residential site.
In addition to the potential planning benefits given to the delivery of self-build plots, the inclusion of self-build plots may well also assist with obtaining political and local support, especially where the local planning authority is failing to meet demands based on entries on the register with a local connection. In addition to the “local connection”, the local economic benefits during construction (it is anticipated that self-build homes are more likely to be constructed by smaller, local builders) and the bespoke nature of the dwellings (as opposed to the perceived “generic dwelling” often referenced by objectors) may well mean that the local community is more willing to support proposals for self-build homes and even residential development which includes only a proportion of self-build homes.
Developers of 100% self-build schemes and those who incorporate self-build plots in a larger development may also benefit from the self-build exemptions contained in the Community Infrastructure Regulations where a charging schedule has been adopted provided they comply with the requirements in this regard including making the application for the exemption before commencement of development.
On the negative side, there are clearly potential issues with self-build homes to be considered such as reduced values for serviced plots (as opposed to the value of the built product) and for securing the delivery of self-build home within a wider residential development. However, it is considered that the potential benefits are worthy of consideration as part of an overall strategy to release sites for housing, especially contentious sites.
It will be interesting to see how local planning authorities respond to the additional duties with regard to self-build homes but, in the meantime, it would certainly be worth consideration of self-build schemes at sites which are likely to be contentious for typical residential development or including a proportion of self-build homes within residential proposals to increase the benefits that the development will provide. Where the decision rests on a balancing exercise between the benefits and the adverse impacts of a scheme, the additional benefit of assisting in the delivery of self-build homes (or serviced plots) in an area where the demand is not being met, may well make the difference in favour of granting permission.