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Welcome to Selfbuild Central


Houses in the Field of Dreams, Findhorn Foundation

This site is aimed at UK self builders who want to incorporate green features into their project. The range spans small home improvement jobs right through to community self build.

Self builders have something of a tradition of trying out new and emerging techniques, not least with green technology.

Over the last decade or so the green building movement in the UK has gone from being fringe to mainstream. Architects, builders and suppliers are falling over each other to declare their green credentials

Domestic buildings in the UK account for more than 12% of carbon emissions and have a huge ecological impact on the building materials industry.

Continental companies are queuing up at trade fairs to sell us their green building products.

Our present government may be quite good at the libertarian end of encouraging self build but seems to have little serious intention to green it. But hey!  Let’s stay upbeat!

All change

Now is the time to look at progressive and emerging trends in selfbuild and custom build. Standards are on the change. Anyone relying on old thinking about environmental standards is liable to get left behind. Even the current building regulations are greening up rapidly!

In 2012, Grant Chapps, the then Minister of State for Housing and Planning, announced a government initiative to encourage more activity in the self build market with a follow-up of pilot schemes and funding.

click for more on government plans

The government has made a series of commitments to encourage self build, kicked off by the (erstwhile) housing minister, Mark Prisk, summed up in this BBC news item

Grant Shapps: UK’s first self-build community to fast-track new homes (7 July 2012)

Dedicated land and £30 million fund will offer tailor-made support for self build groups

Plans for the nation’s first ever dedicated large-scale self building community were given the green light today by Housing Minister Grant Shapps.

Mr Shapps announced a wide package for aspiring self builders, offering exclusive access to £30 million funding and Government-owned land to help them turn their housebuilding dreams into a reality.

The move is part of wider efforts to help double the size of the self-build sector – with backing from experts including Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud, who has agreed to be the industry’s champion.

The Minister named seven sites across the country being set aside specifically for groups of people looking to work together to build their own homes. These sites, together with many more opportunities being identified by local authorities, will create hundreds of new self build opportunities across the country.

He also praised the work of councils including Cherwell District Council, who are looking to give as many local people as possible the opportunity to build their own homes – including on dedicated sites.

And with Datamonitor predicting that the numbers of mortgages available to self-builders will increase by 141 per cent over coming years, Mr Shapps today wrote to major lenders urging them to consider how they can make the most of the business opportunity that a growing self-build sector can offer.

Government land to host nation’s first self build communities

Today, he announced that enough surplus previously-used public sector land for up to 60 homes will be made available in Trevenson Park, Pool, Cornwall – making it the nation’s first-ever large-scale self-build plot.

He also confirmed that six other sites are being made available. They are:

  • Kingsweir and Torpoint, Bristol
  • Spencers Park, Hemel Hempstead
  • Pleasley Colliery, Bolsover
  • Upper Tuesley Milford, Surrey
  • Wilson Road, Hanford, Stoke-on-Trent; and
  • Chase Avenue, Walton Park, Milton Keynes

This is just the first step in a self-build surge. Mr Shapps has also asked the Homes and Communities Agency to continue identifying sites to be dedicated to group self build projects.

The move follows the Minister’s recent mission to Almere in the Netherlands – Europe’s largest low-cost self-build project. There, he was able to see the difference that can be made when a council gives help to local aspiring self-builders.

He praised the work of Cherwell District Council in Oxfordshire, who are following Almere’s lead by offering specific sites to local people looking to build their own home.

As councils across the country draw up their local plans for development, Mr Shapps urged them to follow Cherwell’s example and consider the needs of self-builders in their area.

Financial support for self build start-ups

In addition to offering land, Grant Shapps also published details of a new £30 million investment fund to offer people the money they need to lay the foundations for their self-build projects – the first time this has been done in the UK.

This new fund will offer short term loans to community groups, builders and other small organisations looking to start self-build projects.

The money could be used to pay up to 75 per cent of a project’s land and early construction costs, and will be available to organisations planning to build five or more homes at a total cost of up to £3 million.

In his letter to lenders, he highlighted a new ‘toolkit’ from the Building Societies Association, which provides information and advice to lenders looking to expand into this growing market.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps said:

“We are witnessing a self-build surge in this country, with more people than ever looking to construct their own home. As I saw for myself in Almere, the self-build capital of Europe, this shouldn’t be a niche interest for the select few – anyone with a dream to build should be able to do so.

“So I’m delighted to be able to announce the first seven sites with plots available exclusively for self-builders, as well as £30 million to offer short-term loans to help communities get their projects off the ground.

“This first-ever package of self-build support will help to achieve our goal to double the size of the industry over the next few years, but I want us to go further still. The new national planning rules require councils to consider the needs of self-builders in their area, and I would urge authorities across the country to look to Cherwell and the innovative work there as an exciting example of how this can be achieved.”

Ted Stevens, (former) Chairman of the National Self Build Association (NaSBA) said:

“This fund is very welcome. It should help small builders and developers who are active in the custom build sector to get projects away that have been ‘mothballed’ because of the difficulties they often face getting finance from the banks. And it should also be great news for groups of people who want to tackle a self build project collectively. They should be able to use the fund to buy a larger site and split it up into much more cost effective individual plots. We know that one in four would-be self builders are attracted to the idea of building together so it should be of real help to them.

“The announcement that more public land is to be set aside for self builders is fantastic news – finding a plot is the biggest challenge for most would-be self builders. I’m confident this will be warmly welcomed by the huge numbers of people keen to build a custom build home.”

The industry’s self build champion, Kevin McCloud, said:

“Across the UK there are scores of communities keen to work alongside each other to build their homes collectively. By pooling their talents on group self build projects, they can construct great custom-designed homes at a fraction of the normal cost.

“Until now, it has been difficult for groups of people to secure funding from conventional lenders to buy larger chunks of land to split up into individual plots. Similarly, it’s difficult for collectives to obtain finance to cover the initial infrastructure costs on group self build sites.

“This fund will be widely welcomed, and should lead to many pioneering group self build projects taking off. It should also be applauded by small builders and specialist self build ‘enablers’ as they too can apply for finance to help kickstart multi-plot self build projects.”

Or not…..

The government originally stated its intention that by 2016 all new homes shall be “nearly zero energy” in line with EPBD legislation which sets a 2020 deadline. It has now backtracked on that plan with very little on the horizon in terms of green intentions. It remains to be seen how the raising of standards will progress. Either way this will be a huge challenge to anyone building a house, given the present low level of commitment, expertise and skill within the house building industry.

Anyone achieving a high rating such as Passivhaus standard, AECB gold standard or (the recently withdrawn) CSH6 will not only have moved sustainable building forward but should have made a sound financial investment and have a place they can be proud to live in. This is not ‘rocket science’ (most of the building techniques such as Passivhaus, and funding institutions such as the Ecology Building Society have been around for a decade or two). What is new is the awareness that what is good for the planet can be good for the pocket, good for the soul and extremely comfortable.

New or retrofit

An even greater challenge than building a new house is the refurbishment of an existing one. There are only a relatively few examples in the UK of older houses which have been brought up to a high standard. (and see Enerphit, which is the Passivhaus version of retrofit)

Self build / Custom build can mean many things to many people; from doing every last detail yourself through to commissioning an architect to achieve what you want.

Whichever way, this web site assumes that there is an imperative to reduce energy usage, protect natural habitats, reduce pollution, increase the quality of living and have a great time building a house.

Self build houses at Ashley Vale, Bristol