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Grant Shapps MP: Britain is at the bottom of the league for self-built homes. That must change.

Grant Shapps is Minister of State for Housing and Local Government. Follow Grant on Twitter.

Today I’m on a trade mission to Almere in Holland. This visit is all to do with a rather startling fact.

Now I wouldn’t normally begin an article with a bar chart, but this one is so stark I feel compelled to bring it to your immediate attention.

Screen Shot 2012-05-14 at 05.49.12

So there it is. The UK has the lowest level of self-built homes of any developed nation.

Now I first came across this graph five years ago in Opposition and I have to say I was shocked for two reasons:

  • First, everyone knows that an Englishman or woman’s home is supposed to be his or her castle. It is therefore surprising to discover that we haven’t been playing a bigger role in shaping the way our homes look over the years.
  • Second, given that housing is so expensive in the UK, wouldn’t you assume that self-build would be all the more popular here?  Whilst the average price of a house is £232,000, a self-built home is £150,000 average, including the land.

Yet Self-build still delivers more homes than anyone else

Here’s another fact that completes the picture above. Last year around 14,000 self-build homes were completed. So despite our international rock-bottom comparison, UK self-builders are still responsible for more new houses than any single volume builder in the country.

Doubling up on self-build

When we came into office I suggested that we should focus on doubling the self-build sector in the future.  To this end I commissioned the National Self Build Association to produce a report into the barriers, which they delivered in July 2011 (PDF). This report identified four key issues.

Since that time I’ve taken each barrier and provided a series of Government responses of which these one-liners give a very brief overview:
  • Availability of Land: The new National Planning Policy Framework makes specific reference to space for self-build being considered when Local Authorities draw up their Local Plans.
  • Availability of Finance: The sector has responded well with a far larger number of self-build mortgage products now being made available (an increase of 141% predicted). And today I’m announcing a £30m revolving self-build fund to assist.
  • Disparate nature of the industry: The sector has created the portal which was formally launched at a No10 reception that I hosted.
  • Impact of regulation: We’ve undertaken to reduce the burden of red-tape on house builders generally and self-builders in particular during the lifetime of this Parliament.

Last month the sector provided me with a progress report (PDF) and we’re headed in the right direction.

And so back to Holland

Today I’m launching the next phase of the plan with a trade mission to the home of the largest self-build experiment in Europe - Almere in Holland.

The visit will serve to highlight three new aspects of our drive for self-build.

  • First, I’m being joined on the plane by the businesses who specialise in the UK self-build sector, as well as by Grand Design guru Kevin McCloud, who has agreed to become the face and champion of this expanding self-build for all sector. 
  • Second, I’m announcing details of that new £30million fund to provide short-term finance for group self-builders.
  • Third, I’ve written to lenders to highlight the strong business case for supporting self-builders and offering mortgages to those starting their own projects.  Building Societies Association members have responded very positively with the number of mortgages available for self-build set to rise by a 141 per cent in the next few years.

Self-build is for everyone and Conservatives should lead the way

One of my predecessors as Housing Minister– they came and went so fast under Labour I forget which one I was shadowing at the time – once described home ownership as “The British Disease”. I found this comment telling and extraordinary. It shows how incredibly out of touch Labour is with what mainstream Brits want.

That’s why I was delighted to launch the new re-invigorated Right To Buy with the Prime Minister last month. Not only will council tenants be able to get up to £75,000 discount to buy their social home, but we’ll use the proceeds to build more houses for affordable rent.

And now it’s time to introduce the same sort of house building revolution for other aspiring home owners. Of course the chances are if you find assembling an IKEA flatpack a challenge then the prospect of building your own home may sound daunting. But it's worth knowing that you don't have to lay each brick or board yourself. There are many options out there for you to choose from - from hiring a contractor to build your design or ordering a kit home, to working with a community to build a group of homes together.

Either way it seems to me that people coming together to self-build communities is a fundamentally Conservative approach which can play an important part in solving our housing crisis.

But for now, let me return to my trip to Almere. I'm here on a trade mission with British businesses because we know that we don't have a monopoly on wisdom. We want to know why residents from across the income spectrum in this youngest of towns are so willing to do it themselves. We want to know how they have achieved such rapid growth. And we want to know because we're determined to make today's Dutch self-build dream a self-build reality in the Britain of tomorrow.


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