Help to Build, doomed to fail without wholesale changes to planning

Our view on the latest government support for home builders

Designed to help new home builders

Announced by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick over the weekend, 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 including:

  • A new “Help to Build” low deposit mortgage scheme supported by over £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 local areas

Each of these initiatives, the government say, are there to help solve an issue that prevents people building their own home. Unfortunately (in our view at least) they missed a major one, a review of the UK's archaic planning laws.

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 to be incredibly popular.

This mortgage is also backed by a government equity loan and should help open up home building to a part of the market that simply couldn't consider it before, especially those trapped in generation rent, young professionals, first time buyers and those on lower incomes.

However, while a lot of people would love to build their own homes you would think that Powered Now would welcome the arrival of the Help to Build Scheme? Well, we do, but with some caveats.

The Green Homes Grant casts a long shadow

Sadly the recent failure of the Green Homes Grant is still just a little raw.

The scheme was heralded as a green revolution, the reality, it was an unmitigated disaster. Just as a reminder this was both started and unceremoniously scrapped all in the last 12 months.

It was too complicated, too prescriptive and too late.

We suspect that Robert Jenrick, the government minister responsible for the latest Help to Build scheme has likely never tried to get planning permission for a new build. If he did he 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.

Doomed to fail? We hope Newt...

In fact a large number of them turn out to be surprisingly concerned about the welfare of the local bats and newts. The poor newts might after all be disturbed by the new development. Isn't it nice that so many people are so concerned about the environment?

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. But we hope we are wrong!

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?

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