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The self build trend

01 Dec 2011

Last year only one in ten new homes in Britain was self-built. Plots are difficult to find, and finance and mortgage products are becoming more difficult to secure, while regulations and planning permissions are onerous. Faced with bureaucratic hurdles and frustrations, many potential self-builders abandon projects, sometimes after months of planning.

However, these restrictions may start to ease, as the government is planning to invest £30 million in the hope it drives the development of 100,000 homes over the next decade, after identifying the main barriers to self builders – lack of land, limited finance and mortgage products, restrictive regulation, and lack of impartial information.

The investment, which was announced on 21st November, is an integral part of the new ‘Laying the foundations’ housing strategy that looks to provide short-term finance to the self-build sector, that will have to be re-paid.

In addition to committing the £30 million of funding, the government is aiming to ‘kick start a revolution’ in which local authorities will, for the first time, be required to take self-build seriously. The scheme is asking councils to establish the demand for self-build housing in the local area, making efforts to allow builders access to state-owned land once released, as well as promoting its ‘build now pay later model’.

It is a different story in many European countries where the self-build trend is flourishing, as 50 per cent of all homes are self built.

The Homeruskwartier district in Almere, Netherlands, is a shining example. The city, built on reclaimed polder land, has a population of 180,000 and is the first self-build project attempted on truly large scale. Since 2006, self-builders have successfully erected 800 homes; with thousands more on the way. The scheme operates with the local authority drawing up a suitable street plan, then making plots available at a standard commercial cost. Local people, freed from any further planning restrictions, can then design and build homes specifically tailored to their individual specifications.



Homeruskwartier has received mixed reviews; enthusiasts call it a model of sustainable development, a Grand Designs for the average man, whereas critics describe it as ersatz city, a soulless architectural Legoland.







Building costs in Almere vary depending on how much the buyers do themselves, on average from €800 per sq m to €1,800. That's around £72,000-£160,000 for someone wanting the same floor space as the typical British three-bed semi (around 105 sq m).

Keeping homes affordable is key to the Homeruskwartier project, which means creating plots for self-build flats as well as houses. One group of 25 individuals built a block of flats. The cost of each flat including the plot and building was just £69,000 without any subsidy. Cutting out the developer's profit – helped to considerably reduce the overall cost, as there was no need for expensive marketing campaigns and showhomes.

Here in the UK, ministers believe there is ‘huge untapped potential’ for self build, despite the noted restrictions, there are already examples of successful self-build schemes in Britain, within large towns and cities. In Ashley Vale, Bristol, an action group succeeded against the odds to self-build 26 detached and semi-detached homes in 2001. Six further flats were completed last year, which won a CABE Building for Life Award.



Today, many think that self-build properties are cost-prohibitive, but as Ted Stevens, chair of the National Self-Build Association (NaSBA), recently stated: "Most people think building your own home is very expensive. In fact the vast majority of self build homes cost less than £150,000 to construct - and for that you can comfortably build an attractive, energy-efficient, custom-designed three or four bedroom home. We believe the actions taken by this new self build group could potentially make it much easier for people to build thousands of new, affordable homes each year.”

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