I have just returned from an interview with a local authority who are currently developing a custom build project. What was particularly notable about this particular scheme is that it will provide opportunities for the development of executive housing that are not otherwise met by the local housing market or by housing developers in the area. The intention is that the local authority will make serviced plots of land – with outline planning permission for residential development already granted – available through auction. At present they are in the process of putting in the services to the plots, and the plots will go up for auction later in the year. As my contact at the local authority explained, there has been considerable interest in this scheme from people who would otherwise not be able to find the housing they wanted in the area, who have moved out of the area, and are looking to return. In most cases they are not people who have built their own homes before, nor is it the case that they are looking to invest high levels of sweat equity in their project.
You might be asking yourself why this is notable. Aside from demonstrating that there is a desire for custom build – where people expect to do very little on their homes themselves, other than to make choices about design and aesthetics – I think that this additionally demonstrates that there is a need to think on a local scale, as well as a national scale, when thinking about housing development through selfbuild and custom build, in particular, how the local field of housing is structured and who it caters for, where there are excesses of housing stock and where there is housing need. In other words, to think which housing niches can be filled with such forms of housing development. While at present there is a broad preoccupation with demonstrating that custom build can satisfy the need for affordable housing or to provide homes for people in serious housing need, this might not be appropriate (or even desired) in some areas. This is by no means to suggest that this agenda should be dropped, but rather that we need to remain astute to local housing markets and needs.