• Councils are supporting private homebuilding projects in a range of different ways to reflect their local objectives and circumstances
  • Percentage policies that require a proportion of all larger housing developments to be reserved for custom and self build homes are being adopted by more and more councils, and this seems to be an effective way of generating significant numbers of plots where there is established demand
  • Private homebuilding developments are being supported through local affordable housing policies
  • Exception Site policies are a good way of generating opportunities for a steady stream of affordable privately built homes in rural areas
  • Land disposals and acquisitions for private homebuilding are becoming more widely used. Many councils are including private homebuilding opportunities when they identify and allocate new sites and areas for housing


A number of councils across England are exploring different approaches to bring forward land and opportunities for private homebuilding. The information in the examples provided here was correct as of June 2015.


Amber Valley – on sites of 100 or more homes, developers are asked to supply at least 5 per cent of them for sale to self-builders or custom builders. The council may require projects of five self-build or custom build dwellings on a single site to be developed in accordance with an agreed Design Code. Where plots have been made available and marketed appropriately for at least six months and have not sold, the plot(s) can either remain on the open market or be built out by the developer.

Fareham – asks that a proportion of homes on some sites are delivered as plots for sale to individuals or groups wishing to build their own home. The number of custom build plots within any given residential phase needs to reflect up-to-date evidence of demand, and must ensure that the character and nature of that phase is not compromised. At least 1 per cent of all homes at Welborne should be delivered as custom build plots. Plot development needs to comply with relevant policies, the Welborne Design Guidance and any relevant and approved strategic Design Codes.

Huntingdonshire – has emerging policy that asks proposals of 200 or more homes to make 5 per cent of the plots available for self-build. It says plots should be spread across the development, and actively marketed and that they should be reasonably priced reflecting prevailing market values. Plots that are not taken up by self builders within three years of becoming available should be built out by the site developer.

Lincoln and North Kesteven – has emerging policy that asks developers of 100 or more homes to provide plots for sale to custom builders; it will typically seek to secure around 5 per cent of the net developable land for these plots.

South Gloucestershire – asks developers on residential and mixed-use sites of more than 100 homes to supply at least 5 per cent of the plots for sale to custom builders. On sites where the council has agreed it is not viable to provide S106 contributions (including affordable housing) developers will be asked to demonstrate if it is viable to provide custom build plots instead of some affordable housing. Homes will generally be restricted to 85 sq m. Proposals for sites of generally no more than five custom build dwellings will also be allowed.


This is one of many Briefing Notes that explain resourcing, planning, land, finance, demand, marketing, consumer support and various technical issues. To see the full range of guidance click here.


For the purposes of this Toolkit we have made the following definitions:

  • ‘self and custom built homes’ are properties commissioned by people from a builder, contractor or package company (this is known as ‘custom build’ housing). When people physically build themselves, sometimes with help from sub-contractors, this is known as ‘self build’ housing. We call all these people ‘private homebuilders’.
  • ‘serviced building plots’ are shovel-ready parcels of land with planning permission, laid out and ready for construction with access and utilities/services provided to the plot boundary. Some private homebuilders just purchase a plot; others opt for a ‘shell’ home (that they then finish off), or they select from an extensive menu of options offered by developers/builders.
  • ‘group projects’ mean homes built by private homebuilders who work as a collective.

Statutory definitions are provided in section 9 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 section 9  which amends the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015.


This Briefing Note will be revised when the Regulations to support the commencement of the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 and the Government’s Right to Build policy are finalised.

One of the first projects to come forward in Teignbridge. The new policy is generating about 100 self and custom build opportunities each year for the council
Teignbridge – on sites of more than 20 dwellings developers are asked to supply at least 5 per cent of the plots for sale to private homebuilders. On developments of more then ten plots the council asks for a Design Code. The council requires homes to be completed within three years of a private homebuilder purchasing a plot; and where plots have been made available and marketed appropriately for at least 12 months and have not sold, the plot(s) may either remain on the open market as custom build or be offered to the council or a housing association before being built out by the developer. Teignbridge is also working with affordable housing providers and other partners, including The Land Society, to provide affordable self-build plots for local people in housing need.

West Lyndsey – seeks, where appropriate, housing developments of 100 or more homes to supply plots for sale to custom builders (typically around 5 per cent of the net developable land).


Percentage policies

These are being adopted by more and more councils, and they seem to be an effective way of generating significant opportunities for self and custom build plots


Cornwall – enables private homebuilding under its affordable housing policies. The council recognises that self-build housing can be included in affordable housing led schemes, provided it satisfies specific criteria.

Dartmoor – recognises that most affordable housing will continue to be provided by registered providers, but other local organisations such as self-build groups and community development trusts can also play an important role, provided the homes remain affordable for local people into the future. The council acknowledges that the private sector can help with the development of small infill sites where the sale price or rent, size and occupancy are controlled through a Section 106 agreement. The council will allow privately built (intermediate) and ‘self-build’ housing subject to meeting local affordability criteria and there being a restriction on the rent or sale price of the property each time it is re-let or sold. Cross-subsidy with market housing may also be acceptable on exception sites, including open market self-build.

Eden – is introducing policy for rural settlements and areas that seek to deliver new homes in identified key hub locations. The policy states that 30 per cent of all new homes will be made available at affordable prices or rents, including self-build housing. The council is also introducing a ‘Self Build Housing and Community Land Trusts’ policy that supports innovative methods of delivering affordable housing in rural areas.

New Forest – on greenfield sites released specifically to meet an identified local need for affordable housing, the target will be a minimum of 70 per cent of affordable homes. In applying this policy the council requires a minimum of 40 per cent social rented housing and 30 per cent intermediate affordable housing. The council says the remainder should be developed for low-cost market housing, which could include starter homes, self-build units and extra-care housing.

Tendringwants to promote aspirational or self-build homes to provide opportunities for larger properties of bespoke architectural design. Proposals for a single group of between two and six homes like this will be approved outside of settlement boundaries provided they are within 800m of the edge of an urban settlement, or 400m of the edge of a key rural service centre. They will also be approved on previously developed sites elsewhere, provided the criteria are met.

Purbeckhas no specific planning policy but its ‘Affordable Housing SPD’ (April 2013) offers advice to local people on how they might finance an ‘affordable’ self-build project. The council encourages developers to provide affordable housing through the discounted sales model or for self-build as part of intermediate housing provision. The SPD sets out a self-build Rural Exception Site policy for single plots or group builds. The council says it will continue to explore ways of supporting self-build, either as individual bespoke properties or group projects, as part of achieving mixed and balanced communities. Households wishing to build a self-build affordable home have to be on the council’s housing register. Home sizes are restricted to 100sq m gross internal floor space and plots to 0.1 hectare. Resale is also subject to the council’s allocations policy.

Shropshire’s single site Exception Policy is delivering 25-30 new affordable homes each year
Shropshirehas a well-established ‘Build your own Affordable Home’ scheme for single plot Exceptions Sites. This positively encourages local people to build their own affordable home to meet their own housing needs – so long as the site is in a recognisable settlement and its future value is controlled so that it remains affordable to other local people in the future. Sites may be permitted outside of the main towns and villages as an exception to the normal planning policies that restrict housing development in such areas. Restrictions are that the value of property will be capped at 60 per cent by a section 106 agreement, size is restricted to 100 sq m gross internal floor area and the home must be of good design and Code level 3 construction. Permitted Development Rights are withdrawn. The council is also bringing forward a site of 50 serviced plots on public land. Plots will be sold, and the capital recycled to fund the infrastructure for further phases.

Stratford-upon-Avon’s Local Choice initiative encourages communities to bring forward private homebuilding opportunities
Stratford on Avon – has a ´Local Choice´ initiative for rural villages enabling communities to promote development that would meet identified local needs. The initiative enables local communities to bring forward proposals to meet identified needs for new housing – especially affordable housing. Small-scale housing schemes (particularly for affordable housing) that meet local needs identified by a local community are encouraged. ‘Self-help’ housing schemes such as single dwellings for household members on family-owned land and self-build housing schemes are included. The council will also consider the allocation of specific sites for self-build projects and community land trusts.

Torbay supports the work of The Land Society – a not for profit organisation that is helping local people to build affordable homes
Some of the locations where The Land Society is helping to deliver affordable housing solutions across South Devon
Torbay – supports projects initiated by The Land Society and seeks to maximise the provision of affordable housing. Where there is a demand for self-build housing, including that identified through neighbourhood plans, an element of self-build plots will be sought. A specific local policy that promotes self-build affordable housing and exception sites asks for at least 5% per cent of plots for sale to self builders as an element of affordable housing provision. This applies to sites of 30 dwellings or more and is controlled by a series of criteria.

West Oxfordshire – identifies locations where new housing will be encouraged through partnership working with local communities, landowners and self-build groups. Developers will be required to demonstrate how their proposals help to meet the needs of these particular groups, including self builders. Commuted sums received from developers will be used to subsidise the provision of affordable housing throughout the district including the potential acquisition of land to facilitate community self-build schemes in appropriate locations.

The council is also committed to supporting access to both affordable and market housing for local people and supports private homebuilding; it encourages developers of large sites to designate a proportion of the plots for self-build or ‘self-finish’ opportunities. It also wants to exempt private homebuilders from having to pay a commuted sum towards affordable housing, and it encourages the re-use of empty properties through self-build projects.


Exception Site Policies

Introducing Exception Site policies can be an effective way of creating a steady stream of affordable self-build homes in rural areas


Cherwellpurchased the former MOD site at Graven Hill and is now building the largest single private homebuilders development in the UK (1,900 homes). The council also has a custom build housing programme called ‘Build!’ which is delivering 250 homes in Banbury and Bicester on a shared ownership, outright sale, or to rent at 80 per cent of the open market value. A number of projects in other locations are also being progressed.

West Oxfordshire – identifies a range of opportunities as part of large housing sites in various special development areas.

St Albans – as identified some major extensions for at least 4,000 homes, with private homebuilding opportunities included within these.

East Northamptonshire, Welling, Corby, Kettering – identify various opportunities for private homebuilding in strategic development areas.

Fareham – identifies private homebuilding opportunities as part of a planned new community north of Fareham.

Huntingdonshire – identifies private homebuilding opportunities as part of four large potential housing sites.

Ipswich’s proposed Garden Suburb on the northern edge of the town will provide opportunities for private homebuilding
Ipswich – identifies private homebuilding opportunities as part of its Ipswich Garden suburb initiative.

North Hertfordshire – identifies opportunities as part of a range of strategic land allocations.

One of many small sites identified by Plymouth City Council
Plymouth – is actively disposing of a range Council owned sites as part of it ‘Get Plymouth Building’ programme.

Sheffield – has identified 21 council owned sites for disposal for private homebuilding.

St. Edmundsbury – identifies a range of opportunities as part of its strategic growth areas and key local service centres.

Teignbridge – is looking to acquire sites for self build plots.

Tendring – has identified opportunities for aspirational or self-build homes outside of settlement boundaries on the edge of urban settlements or key rural service centres.

Liverpool – has identified opportunities on a range of small sites across the city.

South Hampshire/South Downs National Park – identified a strategic opportunity at a key location to deliver sites for private homebuilders.

Stratford on Avon – has identified a strategic site that can accommodate private homebuilding opportunities.

Wyre Forestencourages private homebuilding opportunities in a range of locations and on windfall sites of five or less homes, subject to proposals being on previously developed land and within areas allocated primarily for residential development.


Land allocations

Larger new housing developments provide significant opportunities to support private homebuilding projects where there is established local demand


Cheshire East – is introducing a residential mix policy which requires new development to maintain, provide or contribute to a mix of housing tenures, types and sizes to help support the creation of mixed, balanced and inclusive communities. This could include self build and key worker housing. The council also facilitates private homebuilding on Rural Exception Sites, and it has locational policies with criteria that include the need to provide private homebuilding opportunities within the masterplan of schemes. 

Corby – supports a range of policies, including individual and community custom-build developments that accord with the spatial strategy and the identified network of urban and rural areas. A proposed housing mix policy asks private homebuilding opportunities should be provided as part of sustainable urban extensions and other strategic developments. Neighbourhood Plans are also encouraged to identify specific sites where custom built housing could play a greater role in the delivery of housing in North Northamptonshire.

East Staffordshireencourages the inclusion of a suitable number of private homebuilding plots within housing developments. It argues that this will provide an opportunity for residents to choose their own home design and that this will foster innovation and housing diversity. It identifies Tier 1 settlements as candidates to provide an appropriate mix of market housing and it encourages the inclusion of self-build plots within developments in these locations. The council does not require affordable housing from self-build plots of less than 250 sq m because these are considered accessible to a wider range of lower income households. Sustainable urban extensions are also asked to provide an appropriate proportion of self-build plots.

Malvern Hills – says that all new residential developments of five or more units should contain a viable mix of sizes, housing types and tenures to help meet the identified range of locally evidenced housing needs. These developments should provide a choice of housing, including the provision of more low cost, smaller homes and bungalows. These could be of different tenures and include, where appropriate, bungalows and custom-build homes.

Swindon – asks larger developments to consider how self-build units can be incorporated so as to contribute to the mix and type of new housing. No threshold or percentage is applied, but the council says it will work with developers to agree a suitable approach to delivering self-build homes as part of larger schemes. It will also work with the self-build community to further understand its requirements and to promote opportunities on its behalf.

Wychavon and Worcester – these councils have emerging policies that ask all new residential developments of five or more units to contain a viable mix of sizes, housing types and tenures to help meet the identified range of locally evidenced housing needs. These developments should reflect local need and provide a choice of housing, including the provision of more affordable, smaller homes and bungalows, and custom-build homes, depending on the suitability of the site and the viability of the development.


Promoting housing mix

Policies supporting private homebuilding as part of encouraging housing mix are widely used but they are a vague and blunt policy which can be resource intensive to implement and ineffective in meeting demand


Canterbury – its Housing Strategy identifies almshouses as an attractive option for some older people who wish to downsize. The council is planning to work with almshouse trusts to enhance their role as a tenure of choice. The strategy also says that there could be a bigger role for other small-scale tenures such as co-housing, co-operatives and self-build groups.


South Lakeland – has a community scheme in early stages. It has created a Register for people interested in custom and affordable housing and says it may be possible to offer a service to match those with plots to sell with those wanting to self-build.


Cherwell – under the ‘Build!’ programme the council can signpost people to mortgages that are specifically tailored for self-build properties.

Dudley – is looking at options for bridging the affordability gap for households – this may include using council-owned land for housing schemes, encouraging self-build schemes, working with local lenders, encouraging more use of ‘First Buy’ schemes or other forms of shared ownership. The council will also consider if it is feasible to provide council-backed mortgages, returning as many empty properties to use as possible, and exploring any other options.

Liverpool – seeks to improve housing choice as a Mayoral priority by building 5,000 new homes and funding a mortgage indemnity scheme. As part of this the council will also work with communities to bring forward self-build projects.

Newcastle – its ‘Fairer Housing Delivery Plan’ (2013-2016) commits £1m to support community-led housing options such as self-build. This will be used to gap fund development costs, and will be repayable and recycled on future self-build projects. It is also working with lenders to provide mortgages.

Further Reading

The following Case Studies offer useful insight into the issues discussed in this Briefing Note:

Orwell Housing Association – affordable self-finish

Broadhempston CLT, Devon

Third sector private homebuilding projects

Newton Close, Bicester

How Shropshire’s Exception Site policy delivers affordable privately built homes


The NaCSBA Research & Development Programme is funded by the Nationwide Foundation and aims to promote the self-build and custom build sector as an affordable route into housing for a greater number of people in the UK.

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