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Monday 14th May 2012 | 07:30
Today I'm on a trade mission to Almere in Holland.
Now there are a few facts worth noting about this city. First, it's the youngest city in the Netherlands. Second, it has risen in a mere 36 years to being the seventh largest city in the whole country. It is home to the largest self-build experiment in Europe - and over the next 20 years it is predicted to double in size.
And the reasons I'm here is simple. I want to know what they are doing right. Because if there's one thing we need to get better at in this country it's building our own homes. Last year, about 14,000 new homes were self-built in England. Looked at in isolation these figures seem pretty reasonable. More self-build houses were put up than by any of the large commercial house builders.
But before you wonder what all the fuss is about, consider this. Where does Britain feature in the table of major countries delivering homes by self-build? Near the top? Mid table perhaps? Just avoiding relegation?
No. Sadly, we're seventeenth. Out of seventeen!
And that's simply not good enough. Not when we're looking to build as many houses as we can to help this generation onto the housing ladder. Clearly self-build will not be the only way to meet the country’s future housing demand – but with more and more people interested in this, I am determined that we can bring this option to the masses.
Half the problem is that we seem to have a basic misconception about the types of people who get to build their own home. Isn't it just for the people with time on their hands and money in their pockets?
Actually, no. The average cost of a home is now over £232,000 and a self-builder can put up a three to four bedroom home for around £150,000.
For anyone interested, there's also money out there to help you get started. The number of mortgages available for self-build is set to rise by a 141 per cent in the next few years. And over the past year the Government has introduced a series of measures designed to help our thriving self-build sector.
Firstly, we're giving the industry a stronger voice. I’m delighted that the National Self-Build Association has appointed the Grand Designs guru himself, Kevin McCloud, to champion the cause. He’s now tasked with raising public awareness of the benefits of self-build, and helping the industry promote services available to those making their first foray into building. Kevin is joining me in Almere today.
Secondly, we're introducing a new £30million fund to provide short-term finance for group self-builders. I’m announcing details of this new fund today.
Thirdly, I’ve written to lenders to highlight the strong business case for supporting self-builders and offering mortgages to those starting their own projects. The Building Societies Association members have responded positively with a big increase in mortgage finance availability for self-builders.
Now, chances are, if you find assembling an IKEA flatpack a challenge, the prospect of building your own home may sound daunting. But it's worth knowing that you don't have to lay each brick or board yourself. There are a whole array of options out there for you to choose from - from hiring a contractor to build your design or ordering a kit home, to working with a community to build a group of homes together.
But for now, let me return to my trip to Almere. I'm on a trade mission here with British businesses because we know that we don't have a monopoly on wisdom. We want to know why residents from across the income spectrum in this youngest of towns are so willing to do it themselves. We want to know how they have achieved such rapid growth. And we want to know because we're determined to make today's Dutch self-build dream a self-build reality in the Britain of tomorrow.
Background to Government approach to the self-build sector
The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP is Minister of State for Housing & Local Government. He commissioned the National Self Build Association to produce a report into the barriers for self-builders which was delivered in July 2011. This report identified four key barriers:
1. Availability of Land: As a result the National Planning Policy Framework makes specific reference to space for self-build being considered when Local Authorities draw up their Local Plans.
2. Availability of Finance: The sector has responded well with a far larger number of self-build mortgage products now being made available. Government is today announcing a £30m revolving self-build fund to assist.
3. Disparate nature of the industry: The sector has created the www.selfbuildportal.org.uk portal which was formally launched at a No10 reception hosted by the Housing Minister.
4. Impact of regulation: The Government has undertaken to reduce the burden of red-tape on house builders generally and self-builders in particular during the lifetime of this Parliament.
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