Should Wales become the Self Build Capital of the UK?

We are used to seeing groups of similar houses in new developments

We all know that the House Builders are not really there to provide us with great homes. They are there to create profit for their shareholders and to be able to pay large salaries to the ‘fat cats’ at the top.

They work on a 1/3rd model. Cost of land = 1/3, Cost of building = 1/3 and profit = 1/3.

To maximise this profit they obviously build as cheaply as possible, hence they have resisted any real attempts from Government to impose stricter controls on energy efficiency, sustainability etc. Houses are built with the minimum standards, the cheapest products and quickly. So much so that most of the houses built don’t even reach the minimum standards in practice (a study in 2004 found that 60% of homes didn’t reach building regulations minimum standards)

So is there a different way?

I believe so. I think that if we dealt with land differently we could democratise house building. We have seen the poor value for money that Governments get when they sell off land to developers. In Wales we are experiencing a situation where land has been sold off for around 1/10th of its true market value. What if Government and other public bodies sold off some of this land for self builders, what would happen?

I believe the following benefits would happen:

1. We would help to diversify the types of houses built. This would lead to a completely different feel to our urban landscape as it would be characterful and easy to navigate. “Turn left at the wacky house with a turret and then right at the red house and we are the timber clad house with the raised beds in the front”

Self built homes tend to reflect an owners needs rather than those of the developers

2. The Government would get a better return. It could also incentivise Housing Associations and Co-Housing, Housing Co-ops etc to build on plots. This helps to make new homes more affordable to those with little disposable income.

The Telegraph produced this map showing where houses were more affordable

3. It would encourage a better standard of building. People would demand better standards if they could see their house being built. This would help drive the supply for low carbon homes, 

4. It would help to embed low carbon skills in SME’s rather than larger construction companies, as it would be they who were building these new homes. These SME would also be employing local people and keeping the wealth in Wales.

5. It would provide more work for local architects as each house would need to be designed separately in order to fulfil the needs of the client and the environment. Again this keeps the money here in Wales.

6. It would help to drive a movement across the UK and this would help Welsh business, as we would be at the vanguard. We desperately need skills to export and this could be a way forward.

7. It would encourage people and companies to move to Wales if we had a culture of self build. We would soon be seen as the place to do business. Build your own home and your own life afresh in Wales – the way that you like it. We are not so limited by location anymore and Wales has lots to offer in terms of countryside, natural resources and great culture.

8. It would engage people in their communities more. They would, after all, be building the communities themselves, bit by bit. A strategic masterplan from the outset would control development and ensure that the provision of community space etc. But each household would be embedded into the space it has.

9. It would provide longer term communities. If you have built your dream house, why move out? Sense of place would be created and people would take more ownership and pride in their neighbourhoods.

So lots of positives, but would it stack up?

Well even if you look at £800,000 per acre for some land in Cardiff (it would be much less elsewhere) this would equate to £90,000 per plot. The Solcer House is a net exporter of energy and this has been built for around £1,000 per sq m. So an average 3 bed of around 90 sq m would be another £90,000. So for £200,000 approx. people could be building carbon negative homes if we did it as a self build. 

Average cost of new 3 bedroom house-builder built home around Cardiff is around £250,000.

So it seems to make sense, at least to the point of trialing the idea. Obviously there are lots of potential issues etc – size of plots, Section 106 agreements, planning, ……. but it just might be a way of Wales pulling its own socks up, giving the power to develop to the people and avoiding lots of money flowing out to the large corporations and the City of London.

Wales could be a land of Bio-Solar, Passive, Solcer, Ty Unnos, Wild & Wacky homes built for the future by the people of today. What say you??