Government updates Planning Practice Guidance on Self-build and Custom housebuilding

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has today (Monday 8 February) published its long-awaited revisions to the Planning Practice Guidance related to custom and self-build housing.

The Guidance, which was first published in April 2016 and updated in July 2017, plays an important part in the implementation of the Government’s Right to Build legislation and national planning policy under the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015, which was amended by the Housing and Planning Act 2016.

The intention to revise the Guidance was flagged by the Housing Secretary, Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, in his letter to all local authorities in October last year and trailed in the Government’s recent response to the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission ‘Living with Beauty’ report.

Notable changes to the Guidance, include:

  • Clarifying that self-build and custom housebuilding (CSB) can cover a wide spectrum of projects, including customised housing where the home is built ready for occupation (‘turnkey’). It also puts helpfully beyond doubt that off-plan housing is excluded from the definition.
  • Clarity that CSB multi-unit and communal schemes can qualify for the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) exemption.
  • A stronger message that self-build and custom housebuilding registers are likely to be a material consideration in planning decisions.
  • The need for councils to consider the evidence of demand when carrying out their housing functions, including the need to ensure that CSB is an integral part of their housing delivery strategy.
  • Underlining the importance of using public land to ensure sufficient sites come forward to meet demand and that it can help in regeneration objectives.
  • That serviced plots of land can provide an opportunity for converting an existing building to residential use (rather than a new build).
  • Clarity on the relationship to assessing housing need and that councils should use the demand data from the registers in their area, supported as necessary by additional data from secondary sources, to understand and consider future need for this type of housing in their area. Importantly it also makes clear that demand assessment tools can also be utilised when planning for custom and self-build housing.
  • That councils should consider how local planning policies may address identified requirements for CSB to ensure enough serviced plots with suitable permission come forward.
  • Much needed clarification around the use of registers, including that councils can choose to work with a private sector supplier to maintain the register provided the relevant authority holds and publicises its register in accordance with the legislation; that councils need to demonstrate a rationale underpinning local eligibility; and, that any tests need to be proportionate, reasonable and be regularly reviewed.
  • On financial solvency tests, it sends a clear signal that CSB can provide a route to affordable home ownership which should be taken into consideration and that a community group’s collective ability to purchase a site needs to be considered.

The Guidance also strengthens the messages about how councils should record suitable permissions under the legislation. Newly included are that councils need to consider whether an application, permission or development is for CSB; whether developers have identified that self-build or custom build plots will be included as part of their development and that the initial owner of the homes will have had primary input into its final design and layout; whether a planning application references self-build or custom build and whether a CIL or Section 106 exemption has been granted for a particular development. 

It also, for the first time, includes a clear signal that CSB can bring benefits such as diversifying the housing market, increase consumer choice and bringing innovation in design and construction.

Disappointingly, the guidance has failed to provide clarity on how viability considerations affect CSB housing. This is considered a missed opportunity to provide much needed clarity in this area and challenge gaming by those developers and landowners who want to avoid bringing forward plots in response to proven demand and local policies. The Guidance could also have offered more advice on how the CIL exemption for CSB works for multi-unit schemes.

Custom Build Homes will set out a full analysis of the changes to Guidance and its perceived impact on the self and custom build sector as soon as possible. The analysis will clarify and identify in more detail the main changes and their practical effect for custom and self-build housebuilding.

Commenting on the revised Guidance, Custom Build Homes’ Director of Planning and Strategic Engagement and former Director of the Government supported Right to Build Task Force, and ex-civil servant, Mario Wolf said:

“The need to bring the Guidance up to date has been pressing for some time, as Councils and practitioners have grappled with the Right to Build and questions around the application of national policy and the law in this area.

“Although we are seeing a lot of sites coming forward now for this form of housing, our clients remain frustrated by inaction and game playing by some Councils in how they exercise their statutory duties and unnecessary debate around the meaning and intentions of the Government’s policy. The changes that the Government has made to the PPG should therefore be welcomed.”

Also published alongside the Guidance for the first time is a new MHCLG Data Release which provides the figures reported by local authorities under their self-build and custom housebuilding duties for the periods 2016, 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.

RTPI planners, Mario Wolf and Andy Moger, Associate Director at Tetlow King Planning who is a Member of the Right to Build Task Force, will be setting out their views on the Guidance changes and the published data in a detailed analysis shortly which will be published at

The revised Guidance can be found here and the Data Release here.