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What is community self-build?

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

What is community self-build?

The term "housing crisis" has been a headline topic of debate for the last few years, and to some, this can seem that the housing problem is a relatively new phenomenon, however, it is the worst consequences that are now being revealed.

Put simply, there are too few homes available and those homes that are on the market are out of reach for the majority because they are far too expensive. The UK housing crisis has been decades in the making and is a direct result of the lack of new houses being built. Since the 1980s, when council houses were sold in their millions, public bodies have, partly through policy and partly because of a lack of funding, have been unable to embark on large scale housing construction projects.

In an attempt to unlock a fairly untouched housing solution, people are starting to look at the prospects of community self-build. This is where like-minded people, who are in housing need, join forces and become involved in the planning, design and building of their own homes.

The TV programme Grand Designs has led most of us to think that self-build is only for the wealthy – or at the very least, someone who already well established on the housing ladder. However, community-led housing can offer a range of different models which all aim to provide well-designed homes that are affordable for local people.

Keeping homes ‘affordable’ usually means finding ways to reduce the costs of land and/or construction or subsidising the costs of buying into a scheme, while also having a long-term strategy to limit the price that homes can be sold or rented for into the future.

“Community self-build covers a range of custom build projects and describes a group of local people with a need or desire for housing, who form a community and build their own homes together.”

According to the Community Self Build Agency:

“As the concept of community self-build becomes more widely known, it is more likely that projects will be initiated by potential self-builders, rather than other organisations. Some projects have already been initiated by groups of individuals. Those without building skills, participate on the basis that they are prepared to make the necessary time commitment and be prepared to learn new skills.”

A model that works?

We only have to look at some of our European neighbours to see how the pioneering concept of community self-build and custom build can open opportunities in addressing the housing shortage by throwing the market open to far greater competition.

Thomas Feary, The Guardian Housing Network says:

“Both of these types of housing are economically sustainable models, yet in Britain we still lag far behind our northern European counterparts when it comes to alternative housing.

One source of inspiration is the Dutch city of Almere. Located in the province of Flevoland, Netherlands, Almere is one of the fastest-growing cities in Europe and has a history of pioneering social planning. Over the past few years, it has embarked on a hugely ambitious plan to turn the housing market on its head, challenging the status quo of volume housebuilders controlling provision.

Initiated at the height of the financial crisis when housing providers had virtually stopped building, Almere Poort is a project built on council land as part of the city plans to provide affordable housing for low-income households of €20,000 (£14,500) a year.

Individuals can purchase a plot designated by the local authority. Once the plot is secured and a mortgage in place, the buyer is free to customise their home from a wide variety of different “ready-made” homes, many designed by in-house architects.”

NaCSBA’s Self Build Portal provides a wealth of information on standard self-build, community self -build and custom build projects. They also champion the Right to Build legislation. Everyone in England is entitled to sign up to the Right to Build registers in their neighbourhood, under the Right to Build legislation. Councils must ensure they have sufficient ‘shovel-ready’ plots to meet this demand, and they have three years from signing up, measured from the end of October each year.

To do this, they need to give suitable development permission (planning permissions or permissions in principle) for these serviced plots.

Anyone can exercise their Right to Build by signing up to their local self-build registers. NaCSBA can help with registration with the relevant local authority through their Right to Build Portal, which links you to all the registers near you.

The process of building as a community group

Initiating a project could be broadly outlined as follows –

Establish the Group: Recruit some reliable like-minded people; a private group who want to build, or people who have a more community minded approach.

Develop your Vision: Work together to decide what you wish to achieve, how you can go about it and what your priorities are.

Register as an Organisation: Set up an appropriate legal structure with stated objectives, rules and procedures for making decisions and accounting for money.

Find a suitable site: This is the hard part; what is available, who owns it, how big, what cost, good location?

Consider finance: how much at what stage and what are the resources of the group and what additional loans and grants may be required.

Obtain help and advice: carry out research, visit other projects being planned, under construction or occupied. What professional help will you need and where to get it.

Develop a Business Plan: What type and number of dwellings on the site, what tenure, what cost, how paid for, what design and layout, how long to build?

By pooling skills and resources, it is possible to create one of the lowest cost routes to Self-build – typically saving 40% on plot costs and an extra 10% on building costs. It’s also good for your social life as the community comes ready-made, as you get to know your neighbours as you build.

The variety of house types, sizes apartments etc are there for all to consider. A group project can open up opportunities to obtain access to land from local authorities for example, which would not be available to individuals. Larger sites generally work out less costly per dwelling.



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