Grand Designs becomes reality? Think-tank says selling off land to first-time buyers for self-builds is answer to Britain's housing crisis

  • @NigelpMorris

For most would-be property-owners, the idea of building your own home is confined to watching the extravagant creations of Grand Designs take shape on television.

But the concept could be an answer to the nation’s housing crisis by enabling first-time buyers to get on the housing ladder, according to a report published today.

Under the plans, councils that failed to achieve targets for building new houses would be required to release land to local residents that wanted to design and build their own homes.

The centre-Right think-tank Policy Exchange argued that the land would be relatively cheap as it would be sold at auction and be subject to fewer planning fees than a conventional new property. It said that homes which might be put on the market for £220,000 by a developer could be “self-built” for £130,000 – with the added bonus that they would be specially designed for the family which moves in.

Last year work began on just 100,000 new properties – far short of the demand for housing – but Policy Exchange insists the policy could almost immediately double the number of homes built annually. As a bonus, widespread work would be created for the construction industry.

Just over ten per cent of new British houses are “self-built”, compared with more than 50 per cent in most European countries and about 45 per cent in the United States. However, research suggests that some six million Britons are interested in designing their own homes.

The think-tank acknowledges the need to prevent bizarre-looking buildings blighting communities and suggests design guidelines for any new property should be agreed by residents. They could, for instance, stipulate that only local materials are used or that concrete is banned.

Parcels of available land would be allocated through a lottery to interested individuals or families who would then construct a property on the site – or who could pass it on to a close relative, such as a child wanting their first home or a grandparent keen to downsize.

The only proviso would be that houses could not be built as holiday homes – and residents would have to live there for at least five years to stop people using the developments to make a quick profit.

The report’s author, Alex Morton, said: “Grand Designs depicts self-build homes as playthings of eccentrics. They don’t have to be. Under our proposals, local people would be able to choose a beautiful thatched cottage or Victorian house which would also boost the value of nearby properties.”

He said: “This self-build scheme is the last real option to raise private housing numbers before 2015. It also would be popular with people and elected officials.”

Ted Stevens, the chairman of the National Self Build Association, said: “There are literally millions of Brits keen to build their own home. But currently only a tiny fraction of those that are keen on the idea are able to realise their dreams. The main problem is obtaining a reasonably priced plot of land. If this solution took off it would transform the housing landscape of the UK.”

Grand Designs - Bespoke boltholes

Channel 4’s Grand Designs, presented by Kevin McCloud, inspired people to build their own homes. However, the new study says new-builds don’t have to be eccentric or ground-breaking, just practical family homes.

Woodsman’s cottage

Woodsman Ben Law’s cottage in West Sussex was a labour of love while conforming to strict planning rules. In 2003 he used medieval techniques to create a “lovely, light-filled” home made almost exclusively wood from the surrounding forest.

Beautiful bungalow

Lucie Fairweather and her husband Nat McBride envisioned a “modest home” in Woodbridge, Suffolk, in 2010. The resulting three-bed sustainable chalet bungalow was described as a “wonderful new exploration of the form”.

Green and pleasant

Architect Richard Hawkes designed a cutting-edge home in the Weald, Kent, in 2009. Packed with green technologies that would provide all the energy he required, the house’s distinctive brick arch was praised as an “elegant and clever” design.