'Self-built' houses next step for council housing, says LGA chief
Lord Porter says future tenants may be able to help design their future council homes A single episode of the TV show Grand Designs may be enough to deter most people from ever trying to build their own home, but town hall bosses believe tens of thousands of homes in the next generation of council housing should be self-built.
Lord Porter, the chairman of the Local Government Association, told the Guardian he wants to set forth a million builders and give residents a role in the design and construction of as many as 100,000 new council-built homes. The idea would represent a significant change in council housebuilding, which delivered rows of houses and blocks of flats during the boom periods between the wars and in the 1960s and 1970s that were sometimes criticised for their monotony. It comes as the government is expected to confirm the removal of restrictions on council borrowing to build homes, which could pour an additional £10bn into council housing after 20 years in the doldrums. Rather than councils simply commissioning volume housebuilders to erect all of the new homes, Porter said many town halls want to work directly with future tenants to design and construct some of the properties. Let's let people design the thing they want to live in, the Tory peer said. Do we really care if our house is red brick, yellow brick, black tiles, yellow tiles? I don't care. The price for that is some people will build stuff we don't like, but if it meets building regulations, that's all we need to care about. Porter added: If it's a brave new world, why don't we just let people do it? Companies like Taylor Wimpey would love us just to put up three-bedroom boxes but these houses are going to be there for 100 years. Porter said that between 10% and 30% of the new council-built homes “ some of which could be for shared ownership as well as affordable and market rent “ should incorporate elements of self-building, although tenants will not be expected to dig their own foundations or lay their own bricks. Next week, the chancellor Philip Hammond is expected to confirm that from next month councils will be able to borrow more money to build social housing, ending six years of strict controls on how much they are allowed to borrow. The move has been welcomed as a surprisingly bold policy to try to solve the housing crisis by giving councils a lead role in housebuilding again. Forty years ago, local authorities built more than 40% of homes, but that had fallen to less than 2% by last year.
The council is providing the land at a nominal price, a contractor will build the shells and the residents will have a say in designing the interiors and finishes. They feel they are getting a home that matches their requirements. It is a higher specification than most social housing and the rooms are bigger than the private sector would build, said Ted Stevens, a trustee of Rural Urban Synthesis Society, which is behind the scheme. Stevens, a former chairman of the National Custom and Self-Build Association, said injecting more self-building into council housing could change the way people see it. On average, people who move into new homes stay for five or six years, he said. When people design their own home they live for 20 to 25 years and become the bedrock of the community. The housing becomes a showpiece rather than a sink estate. In most social housing today residents don't get any say. It's either take it or leave it, so this is potentially a game-changer. Cherwell district council in Oxfordshire built the shells of 21 shared ownership homes in Bicester and allowed the residents to self-finish. In Norwich and Felixstowe, the Orwell Housing Association built eight homes on similar terms, with the market rate being discounted. In Cornwall, a private developer is selling 54 plots for terraced homes. Buyers at the Heartlands development get to decide on the outside appearance, whether it has an open-plan layout or distinct rooms and whether the living quarters are upstairs or downstairs or at the front or back of the house. The government has set a target of building 300,000 homes a year. Last year private housebuilders completed 159,310 units, housing associations built 32,320 and councils just 3,280, altogether just over 100,000 short of the target.