Why I’m craving a spade-ready plot so I can self-build
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Imagine building your next house from scratch with just a plot of land. Nick Conrad can see the positives and thinks it could solve our housing crisis too
The cause of the housing crisis in the UK is simple enough for any primary school pupil to understand: there are too many people chasing too few homes to either buy or rent. Surely a (small) part of the solution is to encourage people to build their own houses?
Channel 4 this week featured the village of Graven Hill in Oxfordshire. This garden village is being built from scratch. Villagers purchase a plot and submit their plans for what they want to build. In theory an architecturally diverse and unique settlement crops up, and a number of new homes enter the market. Across the world large swathes of land have been set aside for this kind of development. I'd dearly love this to catch on in Norfolk.
Mid-Norfolk recently considered, and rejected, a brand-new town. Locals favoured smaller developments dotted around the county, each with their architectural individuality. If this is the chosen way forward, I'd like to see the development of whole new villages and hamlets designed by prospective homeowners.
So, what is a 'serviced plot?' It's simply a plot that's ready to build on. That means it already has the utility connections – water, gas, electricity and mains sewage, high-speed broadband and telephone – as well as access from the highway. All the infrastructure you need to start building your home is already in place. Outline planning permission is usually already granted, but the expectation is that the purchaser will work with the local authority and site manager to adapt and modify the designs with the kind of liberty you wouldn't expect from an individual plot.
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Self-builders don't want a stamped-out identikit house. They dislike the uniformity of modern housing estates, with buildings crammed together, making the most of the space available. Of course, these developments are important; they offer value for money and drive the numbers of new homes released onto the market. However, I believe there are thousands of aspiring self-builders ready to add their own stamp to the housing market.
Channel 4 this week visited the Oxfordshire development. I was a little frustrated. We just don't seem to adopt these forward thinking ideas in Norfolk. Landowners around here have a tendency to hang on to land for generations. They might do big deals with the corporates, but there is nothing for the self-builder. The government and local authorities should offer greater assistance than just a register of interested parties.
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According to Homebuilding & Renovating Magazine, around a million people would like to build their own houses. The biggest challenge is finding a plot. There are only so many infill plots or old houses that need replacing. Currently there are between 1,500 and 2,000 serviced plot opportunities across Britain, but I hope this number will grow.
These sites make building more realistic for those who don't have deep pockets. In Australia, New Zealand, America and France, typically it's anywhere from 30 to 60 per cent of new housing, while in Belgium and Japan, it's as much as 90 per cent. The UK is the exception where the market has been dominated almost totally by the major house builders.
If we want to give people an opportunity, help the local economy and promote a pride in our communities, this idea is a no-brainer. Service plots diversify the house building market and is a positive step in the ongoing battle to meet the demand for homes.