Proposals for radical reforms to the planning system need to deliver as intended, warns Andrew Baddeley-Chappell
There is a major consumer market in the UK where most people don’t want to buy the latest product and yet, despite its output being lower than many other sectors, the suppliers are generally amongst the most profitable companies in the country.
This is a market that is chronically under supplied with quality product. It lacks competition and innovation. Its product has barely changed in 100 years. It is a market where the provision of the key scarce raw material is overseen by the state in ways that limit choice and supply.
Akin to a Soviet master plan, consumer choice is removed, the need for quality abandoned, and the opportunities to exploit an imbalance in power over the individual are multiplied.
As I am sure you will have twigged, I am referring to our new homes market and whilst change is happening the government has acknowledged that this is “a problem that will not solve itself”.
However, this status quo continues because, with time, the population (ie us) has come to believe that this is how things are, and that we must live within the system - for all its flaws.
Yet, if we open our eyes and look further afield we will see that this does not need to be the case. And nowhere is this more apparent than with self build. Intervention and action are needed and it is for this reason the government made diversifying the market one of the three key pillars of its housing strategy.
It says: “The way in which the new build market operates constrains the supply of new homes, because there is insufficient competition and innovation. We want to diversify the market to achieve the amount, quality and choice of housing that people want.” I agree.
"More is needed if we are to catch up with the rest of the world when it comes to choice over the design and specification of the new homes that we build."
There have not been just words. For anyone wanting to commission a home, the Right to Build legislation and the exemption from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) for selfbuilders are important and welcome benefits to the sector.
But more is needed if we are to catch up with the rest of the world when it comes to choice over the design and specification of the new homes that we build.
Help To Buy
For example, the Help to Buy scheme, which supports the purchase of a new home with a five per cent deposit, excludes nearly all custom- and self-build homes and has made it harder to bring self build into the mainstream.
The government’s focus on delivering quantity through larger housebuilders and through the conversion of offices has done nothing for quality or to increase public support for new homes.
Right now, our three largest housebuilders are being investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which is concerned that “homeowners may have been unfairly treated and that buyers may have been misled by developers”.
It is good to see, therefore, that the proposed shake-up of the planning system is intended to produce “a significantly simpler, faster and more predictable system” and “aims to facilitate a more diverse and competitive housing industry”.
The National Custom and Self Build Association believes that such changes will benefit those wishing to build their own homes. The proposed changes are radical but include moves to ensure that land is allocated to selfbuilders in “growth areas”, and that public land is used to deliver more self-build homes.
As with any major change, care is needed to make sure that the legislation acts as it is intended and NaCSBA is on the case. NaCSBA represents the interests of self- and custom-builders, and is working with community-led housing and small to medium housebuilder organisations to secure a better outcome that gives more people more choice.
However, once the reform is agreed it will require changes to primary legislation and, therefore, a transition period, and so will take many years for the full effects to be felt.
However, we do not want to wait that long; coronavirus has accelerated key trends changing the ways in which we work and shop. These have a direct influence on where and how we live.
The Welsh government has said its ambition is to see around 30 per cent of the workforce staying at or near home in the long term. The more we use our homes, the more important it becomes that they reflect our individual needs and circumstances. The more we need custom and self build. It’s time to man the “virtual barricades”.
Andrew Baddeley-Chappell is CEO of the National Custom and Self Build Association.