Birmingham at the cusp of a self build revolution?

Duckweave WikiHouse by Richard Woods

After discussions with a few council representatives it appears that a new self and custom build process and policy is being drawn up and due to be presented to the City Council Cabinet soon. This could be a really interesting turning point for the city and I hope they make sure this policy is bold, innovative and ambitious and offers a way for more people to benefit from the potential cost savings available from self and custom build. Land cost is often the most prohibitive element of any self build project and as the largest land holder in our city the City Council has the ability to radically alter the model. 

Currently difficulties arise when engaging with the opaque process involved in identifying land and then being able to bid for, lease or buy land. This results in a lengthy and confusing process of building up trust, where connections and contacts appear to trump everything else. Mechanisms are needed that afford more transparency in the ownership of public land and micro-development opportunities. 

For far too long the financial contribution of land sales has been the biggest driver in disposal of surplus land. The traditional route of sale by auction lends itself to the cash rich and those with the security to go through a speculative process. This process often leads to land banking and very few homes actually being built on the land sold. If we are to have a more inclusive housing system in our city then then any new policies should be written to champion people and communities who actually want to put building homes ahead of making a profit. 

The council could mobilise a movement of self builders and community led housing projects across the city and allow them to benefit as our city grows whilst contributing to, rather than, destroying the richness of their communities. But for this to happen the council needs a new framework within which to work with self builders and community led housing groups.

The usual single plot price for small sites disposed of at auction over the last few years has been between £20,000 and £50,000. A nice little earner for the council but we feel that this short term view of 'best value' needs to be addressed in order for a wider societal benefit. By leasing these land assets the council could create greater financial returns whilst building stronger cultural returns and holding onto an asset which increases in value. 

Over a 50 year lease with a £1,000 upfront contribution and £1,000 yearly ground rent this would create a return of £51,000. Along with this would be an uplift in land value after construction which is still owned by the council, a value with can be realised at a later date or paid in phased periods by the home builders. There are many ways in which the council can capture land value without having to sell to the highest bidder with the deepest pockets.

There is going to be a window of opportunity over the next few years where Birmingham can learn from cities which have gone down the normal route of redevelopment and regeneration and the problems that come with this. We can, as a city create the conditions for all citizens to benefit from regeneration rather than the usual developers. If the council is serious about the notion of inclusive growth then it needs to extend the opportunities of self and custom build to our communities and allow them to play an active role in their city as the redevelopment train  heading into the city at high speed arrives. 

All local authorities have a statutory duty to create and promote a Local Self Build register, which you can sign here for Birmingham, and to try and provide plots for people in this list. So I would encourage you to sign up and show how much demand there is for self build across the city, it's a bit long but it's needed. The bigger the list the more we can show that a self build revolution is possible in our city.