Self-Building Bridges

In a previous post I suggested that mainstream commercial developers and the major house-builders regard selling development land as serviced self-build plots as nothing more than a lot of hassle and a lost profit margin – and that the new self-build clause in the NPPF (Para.159) is intended to enable Local Authorities to make them do it. But there is perhaps a silver-lining to this self-build cloud, from the developer’s point of view.

A few years ago I took part (as a punter rather than a pundit) in a ‘Planning for Real’ exercise organised by the promoters of a potential ‘urban-extension’ (or as we like to say up here in Norfolk, a big housing estate) adjacent to Wymondham in Norfolk, where I live and work. The event was organised by an ‘independent’ facilitator – i.e. a master-planning/community-engagement consultant who had not previously worked on the project…but who was none-the-less in the pay of the developer. As such, it is fair to say the mood of the assembled room of invited stakeholders and interested local residents was fairly hostile from the outset.

Throughout the day the only time I sensed a glimmer of interest or genuine engagement was when ‘self-build plots’ were unexpectedly included in the usual list of ‘goodies’ which are set out on display at that stage of any large housing proposal – schools, health-centre, crèche, allotments, community park. (I’m afraid delivery of these items does not always seem to materialise). The urban-extension in question has long since been shelved, at least for the time being, but I think developers might do well to think what it was about the offer of self-build plots that the otherwise cynical crowd found so different, so appealing…

Well the above list of ‘goodies’ may, to the developer and planners, sound quite impressive, but to a sceptical local resident – who already has a house, and access to schools and healthcare, thank you very much – the offer of more such facilities is the least that should be expected of any new development, rather than a bonus. Developers/house-builders have consistently failed to answer the basic questions thet an existing local resident might ask: ‘What does this new development offer us? Why should we be interested? What positive is there to counteract the obvious negatives of lost open vistas, increased traffic and (usually) additional loading on schools and healthcare facilities? What’s in it for me?’

One possible answer might be: ‘The chance to build your own home, to your own design and specification, on an affordable and de-risked site, no more than a mile from where you live now’. If developers are forced by the new NPPF to provide such plots, they might find that whilst on paper they represent lost revenue, in real life they might actually become narrow bridges across a river of hostility.

Further reading: Self-Build Norfolk – A White Paper by Lucas Hickman Smith

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