Reforming planning laws are a necessity to ensure the government’s latest scheme for home builders won’t fall through the roof. Ben Dyer, CEO of Powered Now, a field service management software company, discusses the caveats required to make Help to Build a success.
ANNOUNCED BY HOUSING SECRETARY Robert Jenrick last week, the Help to Build scheme has been designed to help more people build their own homes. Supported by £150 million in funding, the scheme comprises of a number of elements:
- A new Help to Build low deposit mortgage scheme supported by £150 million
- Funding for local authorities to develop public land for custom and self-build housing
- A review into how delivery of custom and self-build housing can be increased and accelerated
- A law review to enable more people to access plots in their localities
The new Help to Build mortgage is very welcome news. Requiring only a 5% deposit the scheme is similar to the Help to Buy initiative that proved popular. Help to Build mortgages are also backed by a government equity loan. This should help open up home building to a part of the market that simply couldn’t consider it before. This is especially so for those trapped in generation rent, young professionals, first time buyers and those on lower incomes.
While a lot of people would love to build their own homes, one would think that many in the trades would welcome the arrival of the Help to Build Scheme. However, there are many caveats that come with this.
Each of these initiatives, the Government says, are there to help solve an issue that prevents people building their own home. Unfortunately, they missed a major one: a review of the UK’s archaic planning laws.
The Green Homes Grant Casts a Long Shadow
The recent failure of the Green Homes Grant is still a little raw with the trades. The scheme was heralded as a green revolution. The reality: it was an unmitigated disaster.
Just to remind you – this was both started and unceremoniously scrapped all in the last 12 months, thanks to being too complicated, too prescriptive and too late.
One might be forgiven for assuming that those behind the policy responsible for the latest Help to Build scheme have likely never tried to get planning permission for a new build. If they had, they would quickly discover why so few homes are built by small and self builders.
Unless you are incredibly lucky, almost all proposals for new builds are opposed by local residents. As local authority planning departments well know, if merely the fact of having opposition prevented building, then nothing would ever get built. But local residents know this, so they tend to become quite creative.
In fact, a large number of them turn out to be surprisingly concerned about the welfare of the local wildlife, such as bats and newts. Locals often point out to planning departments that the poor newts might after all be disturbed by the new development.
So, while we broadly support what the government is trying to achieve, the truth is that doing something practical about planning laws and the objection process would achieve more. On its own the new Help to Build scheme seems a little toothless.
Maybe the Government should provide some funding for new bat and newt habitats? Creating new environments for protected wildlife while skipping the expensive newt and bat surveys would actually lead to both more newts and more houses. But is that too practical?