This is the first time I’ve been to Grand Designs – it’s impressive. I should have expected nothing less as Kevin McCloud is involved. My very first visit as Housing Minister was to Kevin’s west country development where they were pushing the boundaries of design and eco-building. And we’ve all seen ‘Grand Designs’ on the TV. Self-build schemes that are almost always startling in scale and ambition.Many of the projects featured involve large budgets, complicated project management, and cutting edge design. It makes for great telly.
But if Kevin’s TV programme was all we knew about self-build, only very brave souls would be foolish enough to try it.
Yes, the results are usually fantastic but the effort and heartache to get there is just plain scary.
Should it really be that hard?
I think everyone on this panel, including Kevin, will agree that we want self-build to be an option for everyone.
Self-build for all
Building your own house should be a common way for people to have a home.
People know what sort of house they want to live in.
But too often they are forced to buy one that doesn’t quite match their needs, let alone their dreams.
Too many people end up living in identikit boxes that wouldn’t look out of place in Legoland. Come to think of it, Lego homes often look better!
Why shouldn’t more people be able to build their own dream?
The overwhelming majority of self-builders choose to do so because they want to create a home they want.
That’s why about 1 in 5 of Britain’s new homes each year are self-built despite the difficulties.
Anyone who has tried it here – is just starting to think about it – or indeed has just watched Kevin’s programme – knows all about the problems people face.
In fact the UK has one of the lowest proportions of self-build in Europe.
In Germany for example, more than half of all homes are self-build projects.
As Housing Minister I want to help make self-build easier.
Self-build working group
So, I set up a industry working group to look at what needs to be done to help more ordinary people build their own home.
I’ve asked them to put together an action plan to address four key barriers.
Firstly, finance – it should be easier to raise the money needed for self-build projects. I want to see what can be done to get more lenders entering the self-build market. We need more specialist finance products in the market. I think there’s a real business opportunity here.
Secondly, land should be easier to find for self-builders. I want to see what action can be taken to encourage the public and private sectors to work together to make more plots available for self-builders.
Thirdly, I want to see what further action is needed to reduce the burden of regulation and simplify the planning process for self-builders.
And fourthly the self-build industry needs to be more joined up and ready to help self-builders.
Ted Stevens, from the National Self Build Association who is playing a leading role on our working group will tell you more about what progress the group have made shortly.
I’ll be interested to hear how they’re getting on and I’m looking forward to their report this summer.
But self-build isn’t a new idea and people are already taking action.
I’m particularly interested in community-led self-build.
Like the schemes promoted by the Community Self Build Agency who are working with homeless ex-servicemen to not only help them build their own homes, but also provide them with a trade. They will be trained so later they can get a job.
Some people say they are puzzled by what the Big Society means.
I think community self-build is a perfect example of what we mean – people getting together to build their own homes – almost literally building the big society.
Community self-build projects will become easier through the Community Right to Build that I’m introducing through the Localism Bill.
Our proposals, which should become law by the end of the year, will enable communities to bring forward the developments that they want.
And it’s not just about small villages in rural areas; the Right to Build will now apply as much in urban areas as in rural areas.
And there are other possibilities opening up.
I am keen to promote the plot concept of self-build where serviced plots of land and development finance, is available to people who wish to self-build.
Individuals could then engage an architect or commission a builder to manage the build of their own home.
And let’s be clear – ‘self-built’ doesn’t necessarily mean DIY. In fact, fewer than 10% of self-builds are DIY. Most self-builders commission architects and builders.
Providing plots reduces the risks for the self-builder and is a tried and tested business model abroad.
I want to help make it work here.
This government is releasing more publicly-owned land to build new homes and I will shortly be announcing what land we will be earmarking exclusively for self-builders.
And if it works I am sure that the market will want to meet the demand.
If we make self-build easier – it will become more common.
If we release the energy and creativity of people’s dreams, we will create a self-build revolution in this country.
We will also see how self-build can enhance the quality of design and encourage more sustainable buildings.
If done right, self-build can contribute to diverse places that meet high standards of sustainability.
We all have different needs, different ideas, different dreams.
People don’t want to live in identikit homes.
That’s why people want to build their own homes to their own designs.
And if we succeed in helping them then we really will have ‘Grand Designs for all’.
The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (Minister of State (Housing and Local Government), Department for Communities & Local Government) on 31 May 2011 at the ExCel, London
(The above is a transcript of the speech, exactly as it was delivered).