Self-build Housing

Part of Health and Social Care – in the House of Commons at 5:36 pm on 13th May 2019.

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Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury 5:36 pm, 13th May 2019

That is really important. Often, those help-to-buy schemes, or similar schemes, are not available to self-builders. They are in my constituency, because of a forward-thinking local authority, but they are not available across the country, and that is of real concern to me. The way mortgage lenders lend money is often not very helpful to self-builders, either.

I come on to Cherwell District Council’s most ambitious project and the one about which we really do want to sing from the rooftops. Graven Hill, which is former Ministry of Defence land, is a 188-hectare site south of Bicester. It is the UK’s, and possibly the world’s, largest custom build site. Plots with services already installed are easy to buy, and planning regulations—I cannot believe that I am saying this sentence—are relaxed and user-friendly. Two thousand custom build homes are being created, and those with a local connection have the chance to buy first.

I encourage everyone, particularly those involved in planning, to watch the fabulous programme, “The Street”, on Channel 4, the final episode of which aired last week during Self-Build Week. It is available to watch on catch-up for the next 30 days. There is a shortened taster programme, but you would miss the full experience, Madam Deputy Speaker, if you did not watch the whole thing. Watching the programme is six hours of your life very well spent.

In the programme, Kevin McCloud—need I say more?—provides gentle commentary on the construction process of the first 10 builds on Graven Hill, demonstrating the positives and the stresses and how these houses meet the specific needs of the young, the old, the disabled and the unwell. These homes are definitely cheaper—around 20% cheaper—than other new builds. They are definitely ecologically sound. Just as the build quality is much better when a person does it themselves, individuals are consistently keener to take risks and try new ecologically interesting ideas in a way that big developers simply will not. So far the site as a whole has saved a significant quantity of carbon by sourcing tarmac from a local plant and by recycling aggregate on site. Some 90% of the waste generated at Graven Hill has been recycled, which is extraordinary on a big building site. McCloud does not shy away from the problems—this is very good telly—causing the reviewer of the series in The Daily Telegraph to call for a solid Victorian terrace to live in. However, what is clear is that what has been created is much greater than the sum of its parts. These are not just houses, but Graven Hill custom build houses. Their builders feel a pride in what they have achieved and that really shines through. They will definitely help to build a fantastic community.

There are three major barriers to intrepid self-builders, the first of which is access to land, mentioned by Bambos Charalambous. All planning authorities are required to maintain a register of those seeking to self-build, and to ensure that sufficient permissions are granted. Some 18,000 plots have been promised by Right to Build Day on 30 October. Will the Minister assure me that this is on track and will happen?

The second barrier is mortgage and financing issues. When we inevitably went over budget in our own build, I remember that our mortgage company was distinctly unimpressed by our application for further funding and told us that our plot was worth less with our half-built house on it than it had been at the beginning. That was a low moment. My husband was self-employed, which also caused problems for the mortgage company. Low-deposit mortgages are not usually available to self-builders, and neither is Help to Buy because it relies on the purchase of a completed property by a single payment at legal completion. It is, however, available at Graven Hill for custom built homes. Central Government really could work more creatively with lenders to address those issues, and I would be grateful if the Minister thought further about that.

The third major barrier is undoubtedly planning. At Graven Hill, the council has adopted contemporary planning regulations to ensure a fast approval process of a self-build plot in 28 days. This is revolutionary, and I do not see why every local authority in the country cannot follow suit. I remember the thousands of pounds in rent that we wasted while waiting for planners. I do not really know what they were doing, but whatever it was they did it very slowly. Addressing this issue is critical to the future promotion of self-building.

The Government and the Minister are making all the right noises in policy terms, but real change has to come from creative thinking by local authorities and mortgage lenders. Without it, we will not see the revolution in self-building that I seek. The UK has one of the lowest self and custom build sectors in the developed world, running at about 8% of the market. This is a real way to solve our housing problems, build communities, and ensure good quality and ecologically sound architecture. To Cherwell District Council led by the quietly inspirational Barry Wood, the Graven Hill pioneers and Kevin McCloud —I salute you.