Lord Porter is the Chairman of the Local Government Association.
Whilst you would be forgiven for thinking that Brexit is currently crowding out everything else, important work in other public policy areas is still taking place.
Housing is one of the Government’s key domestic priorities and a number of important announcements have been made over the past six months, including the scrapping of the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), the announcement in the Budget of an extra £500 million for the Housing Infrastructure Fund (taking the total to £5.5 billion to unlock 650,000 new homes) and the publication of the Social Housing Green Paper.
These are all positive announcements and provide the opportunity for central and local government to work together to support new and innovative ways of delivering the different types of housing that the nation so desperately needs.
For their part, councils are committed to delivering housing that is a world away from the monolithic council estates of yesteryear. Whilst there are many different ways of doing so, I want to focus here on two options that are often overlooked: self-build and custom build.
Following the commitment in the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto, the Housing and Planning Act (2016) introduced a ‘Right to Build’ whilst the Housing White Paper reasserts the Government’s commitment to support the self and custom build sectors.
The Government also supported Richard Bacon MP’s Self Build and Custom Housebuilding Bill. Following its Royal Assent in 2016, local planning authorities in England are required to establish local registers of custom builders who wish to acquire suitable land on which people can build their own homes and to have regard to the demand for this on their local register.
In 2016, 12,800 custom or self-build homes were completed – an increase of five per cent on the previous year – accounting for ten per cent of private housing completions. However, this is a much lower rate than other European countries: for example, in Austria they represent 80 per cent of completions whilst in Berlin alone some 190,000 dwellings have been constructed by self-build and custom- build groups.
What is fascinating in Berlin is that the municipality – the local council – actively seeks to help. For example, a group of parents will come together and tell the council that they want to build a block of apartments with a garden in the middle and a school. The parents have a shared interest in developing something that meets their children’s needs and the council responds as positively as it can.
Other countries have clearly maintained their historical commitment to self-build, whilst here in the UK we have lost that capacity for individuals to provide or commission homes individually tailored to their needs. However, these forms of building align with the core Conservative belief that government should provide people with the freedom necessary to allow them to pursue their goals.
Put simply, as we seek to address our nation’s housing crisis through new and innovative ways of building I believe that self-build and custom build will become increasingly important and that it will be Conservative councils across the country who will be leading the way in delivering housing which matches the specific and unique needs of families in their areas.