The house that Jack built. And Jill, and Fred, and...

...anyone else who wants to avoid the profiteering developers and their mock-Georgian estates. Felicity Cannell on the pleasures of self- build
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The Independent Online
The ambitions of many people in this country who wish to build their own homes are often thwarted as the land available becomes as valuable as water in the desert. In many parts of the UK, trying to find a plot big enough to provide house and garden, but small enough to fit the budget, is like a search for the end of a rainbow. It doesn't seem to exist.

Many private speculators own the odd green field here and there in the hope that one day local authorities will relent and grant planning permission, and some resort to all sorts of tricks - a mobile home, followed by a shed, and so on, until, lo and behold, there's a bungalow!

Green belt land is, apparently, sacred. Which is strange when you consider the increasing activity of developers in certain areas of the home counties who are building whole villages which "blend in and enhance the landscape". Not, however, as much as one or two lovingly self-built homes would, surely. Owen Luder, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, has called for more self build houses, as they "provide an alternative to the awful mediocrity " of new estates.

But self builders are a determined breed, according to Build It magazine, who report that over 20,000 new homes were self built in the UK last year. That figure represents an astounding third of all new detached homes built in total, and the trend is growing at a rate of 20 per cent per year.

One appealing aspect of this trend is that the country will contain an increasing number of well built homes constructed with love and care and the personal touch.

Self-builders are calling for their collective voice to be heard in regard to planning and location. And to be heard as audibly as the influential major developers - there are more homes self built than the combined product of the two biggest developers.

In other parts of the developed world, such as America and Australia, self build is part of the housing culture. The problem in this country is that available land is bought up en masse by big developers. The Government's Green Paper, Household Growth: Where shall we live?, which is trying to tackle the problem of producing enough homes for the increasing number of households, was initially biased towards developers as being the ones to build future homes. But more land needs to be available to self builders. Villages and hamlets across the UK could easily take an additional one or two individually built homes. And they would benefit by having new residents strongly committed to the area. Few people take so much time and effort building their own homes to up and leave soon after.

Rosalind Renshaw, editor of Build It magazine, is co-ordinating the "Putting Self Build on the Map" campaign. "Where villages or small settlements are asked to take an extra number of houses, consideration should be given to these being individually built. Local people should be allowed to judge whether they would prefer one estate of ten virtually identical houses, or ten individually designed houses on different plots," she says. Hardly a difficult choice, you would think.

The campaign, launched at the end of last year, has already had a sympathetic response from the new Labour government. The Government is to issue planning policy guidance to all local authorities to recognise the fact that individuals want to self build.

At present, many self-built homes are constructed on infill sites - garden sites between existing houses. This land is expensive and will soon be non-existent, particularly in urban areas, as owners cash in on the demand. If more land was released elsewhere, prices would come down and houses wouldn't be crammed into tight spaces.

If you had the chance, would you build your own home? Pose that question and the chances are the answer will be yes! Our homes define us and many of us would choose to define our homes.

Costs are estimated to be around two thirds that of a similar house built by a developer, who will usually have a 10-12 per cent profit margin, but that similarity may, in reality, be incalculable as imagination and individual style take over. Another money saver is that VAT can be reclaimed on all materials used, for example around pounds 10,000 on pounds 120,000 costs.

Next month, at Alexandra Palace in London, comes the National Self Build Homes Show - a chance to "meet the experts" and, more importantly, meet the guinea pigs who have already done it.

Building "kits" will limit individuality to a certain extent but, otherwise, self build is only limited by finances and imagination. Houses can be customised to suit individual lifestyles. Sue and Martin Lane, who designed and built their own home, say: "The self build has enabled us to achieve a home which really works for us. With a large family constantly coming and going we wanted a fairly substantial home, with open areas to allow us to expand into them when required - thus an open plan design."

The Lanes chose a timber frame for their house in Landford, Wiltshire. As they were building over the winter months, and didn't relish the thought of months of temporary accommodation, a timber frame proved the the quickest option. After the frame was erected (a matter of days), the roofing contractors were laying the roof and the brickies were filling in the walls. It took four months from the first shovelful of earth to completion.

The plot was very narrow, with a main sewer on one side and an electricity cable on the other. With her knack of "fitting quarts into pint pots" Sue Lane designed the house to fit in lengthways. The main house couldn't be over the sewer, but the garage could. An architect was employed to help them through the planning stage, and the couple then oversaw the building works themselves - hands-on from start to finish.

The majority of self-builders choose a timber framed kit, and there are as many companies supplying them as there are designs. With many of these kits, there are no limits other than the size of the land, but not everyone needs or wants a small stately home. For those who are building for themselves to save money with less grandiose ideas a good deal comes from Moorpark Homes.

Based in Scotland, the company has prompted scathing comments from style buffs, by producing boxy looking houses, but they can be sumptuous inside and can be customised according to home-owners' wishes. The external fabric can also be chosen to adapt to the locality - stock bricks, sandstone, brick and flint.

Kit prices are around pounds 20-25,000 for a four bedroom house, and are comprehensive - all windows, doors (internal and external) - floors and ceilings are included.

But of course, before you choose your construction, you need that elusive piece of land. Individual Homes magazine has set up "Plotfinder", a database of building plots, many with planning permission. Average costs are around pounds 40-pounds 50 per square foot.

The Milton Keynes Commission for New Towns sells a combined package of land with planning permission. Prices start at pounds 40,000 for a site big enough for a four-bedroomed house. Try the National Land-Finding Agency (01371 876875) and Landbank Services (01734 618002). And don't forget estate agents, who sell more than 70 per cent of the land bought for self build.

Otherwise, cruise around and find a house with a large garden. Hide the kids and the Rottweiler, present yourselves as the perfect neighbours and ask them if they want to sell a bit.

National Self-Build Homes Show, 18-21 September (half-price ticket hotline: 0171 865 9042).

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