South Norfolk MP calls for a self-build homes revolution to limit dominance of major housebuilders

Diss, Norfolk. Diss On View at the Park Hotel - opened by Richard Bacon MP with Ed Nottingham and Mike Bardwell ENGANL00120120708103654
Diss, Norfolk. Diss On View at the Park Hotel - opened by Richard Bacon MP with Ed Nottingham and Mike Bardwell ENGANL00120120708103654

Why, when it comes do buying a shirt do we have almost infinite choice, yet when it comes to investing in a new home, we seem to have hardly any?

The current new-build housing market, dominated by a few large-volume companies is “intellectually bankrupt”, according to South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon.

Roydon, Norfolk. Construction underway at the half finished site of Persimmon Homes estate, Denmark Lane which was the old C Zero site. ANL-140419-224808009

Roydon, Norfolk. Construction underway at the half finished site of Persimmon Homes estate, Denmark Lane which was the old C Zero site. ANL-140419-224808009

The answer? Empowering more people to be able to build their own homes.

It could be a revolution waiting to happen. An Ipsos MORI poll in January estimated that seven million people in the UK were researching building their own home.

Mr Bacon is the chairman of the new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Self-Build, Custom-Build and Independent Housebuilding, made up of MPs from each political party, and with the aim of promoting the further development of the self-build housing sector, including custom-build and independent house-building.

“I hope we are operating in the fag-end of a tradition which is intellectually bankrupt,” said Mr Bacon, of the current new-build housing market.

“If the system worked as it should, then we would have enough houses.

“The reason prices have gone up and up, is that there are not enough houses.”

But it is not only quantity, it is also choice.

Mr Bacon said that it was ridiculous that people have so few options when it comes to buying a new home, when in other markets, people have so much.

And that is where self-build can come in. So what is it?

Often people mistakenly believe that self-build housing is all about DIY - laying foundations, learning how to lay bricks, plaster walls and paint woodwork.

In fact, you can self-build your own home without so much as touching a bag of cement.

That is why the terms custom-build and independent house building are sometimes used.

It is possible for people to self-build simply by hiring a main contractor to do all of the work, to their own specification.

But relatively speaking, few people self-build. Figures from publication Homebuilding and Renovating estimated just 11,000 self-build projects were completed in 2012. Before the 2007-08 credit crunch, there were 17,000-18,000 completed.

As a percentage of new homes built, self-build accounts for a little under ten per cent of the national total.

The advantage of self-build, according to Mr Bacon, is firstly, that you can design a home to your requirements - within a budget.

Often the home will be more spacious than a national house-builder alternative, and probably worth more than was spent on the plot and in construction, said Mr Bacon.

So what is stopping people? Two main issues are land, and finance, and Mr Bacon acknowledges the problem.

Companies do exist which help prospective self-builders find plots, and lenders do offer self-build mortgage packages, but it is not yet mainstream, and that is the problem.

There is also a perception, perhaps in part from television shows like Channel 4’s Grand Designs, that self-build is always about an elaborate project with big six or seven-figure budgets.

Mr Bacon said: “A few people assume, wrongly, that it is a nice little hobby for the eccentric few, and that it is not going to make a difference to the housing problem. 
“This could not be more wrong.”

Persimmon Homes is a major house-builder which has undertaken numerous developments around Diss, Harleston and Long Stratton, for example.

Mr Bacon is keen to stress that these major builders are not the ‘bad guys’, but is clearly not impressed by the design of many of developments - describing the homes at times as “identical boxes”.

He said: “Large house-builders can buy large amounts of land that may be suitable for building and can afford to take the risk - in some cases for decades . It leaves much less land for everyone else.

“When the national large volume house-builders build their houses, they are normally built to the requirements of the accountants, who are trying to do the job for as little money as possible.

“You can’t blame them in the financial environment in which we operate or the system we are in. I’m not knocking them, but I think we could be doing better.”

The government is hoping its £150 million injection into what’s known as serviced plots, announced in the recent budget will help kickstart the sector.

A serviced plot is a building plot which has various infrastructure in place, such as water, electricity, sewage and gas, as well as planning permission, to make the self-build process less of a headache.

This would equate to about 10,000 plots nationally, with the money repaid by the self-builder on completion to be recycled into creating more serviced plots.

Mr Bacon said that major housebuilders should also start looking converting banked land into these serviced plots.

The Diss Express asked Persimmon Homes Anglia if they would consider offering the plots.

Andrew Fuller, managing director, said: “Following the success in the North East we are considering selling self-build plots at some of our locations in Norfolk and Suffolk.”

He also said that new home buyers did not have a lack of choice with Persimmon.

“On Greenacres (off Denmark Lane) in Diss we have two, three and four-bed houses and two and three-bed bungalows, therefore catering to most people’s needs.”

Another piece in the jigsaw is the planning system and how it can cater for the demand for self-build.

Mr Bacon said: “Since the National Planning Policy Framework (central government planning policy for England) came along, one of the things that has been assumed is that there is now a duty on a local authority to measure the demand for self building and set out to do something about it.”

National Self Build Association chairman Ted Stevens said that a main challenge was to get those in their 30s and 40s into self building, where currently it is mainly the preserve of those in their 50s and 60s, whose finances are often less tight.

“How do you make it doable for the new generation of self-builders?”, he said.

Independent building also has potential in the rented sector. Long Stratton’s Saffron Housing is looking at its potential currently, working with South Norfolk Council.

Those interested in self-build are urged to visit the Self Build Portal website: