KEY LEARNING POINTS
- The development management process is central to the delivery of private homebuilding initiatives – councils should use it to engage constructively with private homebuilders and custom build developers/enablers, so they can enable new projects to come forward
- Councils should use planning conditions and section 106 obligations in a positive way to help deliver well designed homes as quickly as possible; they should avoid imposing too many conditions and obligations
- There are a range of approaches available to manage the build-out on custom and self build housing sites once they receive planning permission – how they are applied and by who depends on the type of site and the degree of control which needs to be exercised
The development management process forms the front line in the delivery of private homebuilding initiatives. It helps enable well designed and sustainable private homebuilding projects and also plays a crucial role in encouraging and facilitating the speedy implementation of viable new developments.
While councils have a central role to play in this process, landowners, developers, custom build enablers and private homebuilders also have an important role, particularly once a project has received planning permission.
SUPPORTIVE DEVELOPMENT MANAGEMENT
There is a clear Government expectation through the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that councils should approach decision-taking on new proposals in a positive way by: -
- Looking for solutions rather than problems, and approving applications for sustainable developments where possible
- Working proactively with applicants to secure developments that improve the economic, social and environmental conditions of the local area
A private homebuilding friendly approach
Most councils do not currently consider the needs of individual private homebuilders in their development management practices. Development management staff typically deal with them in the same way as they would a professional developer or an experienced volume housebuilder.
Councils need to recognise that the majority of private homebuilders have limited construction, planning or development knowledge. Many of them merge the role of client, project manager and contractor into one; and for almost all of them their new home is their first real building project, and the realisation of a long held ambition. This can also be the case for small builders and package companies who work on behalf of private homebuilders
It therefore helps if councils use jargon-free language and are open to providing advice.
One way councils can support this is to include clear information about private homebuilding on their websites as part of their demand Registers (see Briefing Note Registers and assessing demand).
Development management officers also frequently don’t understand the private homebuilding business model, particularly on larger sites. For larger multi-home projects applicants often favour, and councils should be open to, outline or hybrid planning applications which establish the principle of the development, the location of plots (siting/density) and means of access, taking account of the nature of the site and its context. Design details and landscaping can then be determined as part of a reserved matters application. Given the nature of private homebuilding development, applicants will want to retain a degree of flexibility in the approved design to enable plots to be sold or built out with minimal risk of refusal, or the need to apply for planning permission for relatively small scale changes to the design of their homes. Councils should therefore consider asking for, a Design Code to be part of a planning application for a multi-home self build scheme which, when agreed, can be conditioned as part of the permission. Alternatively councils may wish to adopt a Local Development Order for a site which sets out the agreed form of development, as Cherwell District Council has done for Graven Hill. Further details on the use of Design Codes to manage private homebuilding developments is set out in Briefing Note Design Codes and Plot Passports.
Planning conditions and obligations
Although planning conditions and obligations are important tools to ensure that consented private homebuilding projects are delivered in a timely and policy-compliant way councils should try to avoid imposing too many conditions on projects. This is especially important for outline schemes where individual plot purchasers may be submitting their own proposals at the reserved matters stage of the planning process.
The Government has clearly set out in the NPPF that planning conditions should only be imposed where they are necessary, relevant to planning and to the proposed development, enforceable, precise and reasonable. Section 106 agreements (obligations) should only be used where it is not possible to address unacceptable impacts through a planning condition, and they should be sufficiently flexible to ensure any planned development is not stalled. The scale of contributions also needs to be considered proportionally having regard to the viability of a scheme.
Councils should also be transparent about the type of planning conditions and obligations they intend to impose on applicants. This provides clarity to applicants and avoids protracting negotiations on planning applications. Further guidance on this is set out in Briefing Note Ensuring delivery on developments that have planning permission.
A Briefing Note with guidance on viability considerations will added shortly.
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:
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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.
Proactive early engagement with applicants helps to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning process and enables better outcomes for all parties. The more issues that can be resolved at pre-application stage, the greater the benefits.
Councils should therefore be open to proactively engaging with landowners, builders, custom build enablers and community groups who want to bring forward private homebuilding projects on larger sites. Where officers in development management teams are unfamiliar with the private homebuilding model, they should involve policy or housing colleagues in discussions with applicants. This will avoid early misunderstandings and ensure proposals do not stall at an early stage.
The use of Planning Performance Agreements is particularly encouraged.
Councils should also consider the production of guidance material for private homebuilders similar to that provided for small scale domestic development, such as householder planning applications. This could take the form of an information sheet, or it could be more formalised as a Supplementary Planning Document, that provides guidance on different types of projects, from private individuals to developer-led schemes. Further guidance on other actions councils could take to support consumers is available here.
Take a supportive approach to private homebuilding projects
Ensure council policy, housing and development management staff work together to manage new private homebuilding projects. Keep planning conditions and obligations to a minimum and use pre-application discussions to resolve issues as early as possible and to provide advice on the planning process
International and local experience has shown that there are a range of ways in which landowners, builders and councils can manage private homebuilding developments on multi-home sites once they have received planning permission.
The extent to which development needs to be managed will depend however, on the interests of applicant, the council’s policies and the nature of the site.
For example where serviced plots are incorporated as part of a larger housing site being brought forward by a housebuilder the controls are likely to be different compared to a site being developed solely for serviced plots. Similarly a landowner seeking to develop a new housing development by offering design and build contracts on some plots without ‘self build’ options, will have different management requirements and objectives. Single units or small sites of just a few homes are likely to have more limited built-out management requirements.
Build-out can be enforced in a range of ways such as conventional planning conditions and obligations that control noise, hours of operation and construction traffic, and planning obligations, covenants or deeds of sale for individual serviced plots that can impose build out-timescales. All of these can typically be imposed when planning permission is granted and/or when the plots are sold.
Councils should discuss how build-out will be managed on a site as early as possible in the planning process and agree the role that applicants and landowners can play to help secure this.
Experience has shown that when private homebuilders buy a plot on a larger site, they do so with the full knowledge that there will be ongoing construction works on site for some time. However, no one likes living on a building site for long periods of time so it is important to ensure that construction work is completed as quickly as possible with minimal impact on the amenity of local residents.
The following section outlines the type of controls that can be imposed to ensure that private homebuilding projects are effectively managed to successful completion.
Commencement and completion of build
A common concern is that privately built homes take considerably longer to construct and can delay the completion of a larger site. This can be effectively managed by imposing conditions on plot buyers, such as: -
- Submission of outstanding permissions prior to commencement - any planning applications and other consents that are needed prior to construction commencing can be required to be submitted to the council within a set time period from plot purchase. This could be three to six months, depending on whether the site has, for example, a Design Code or already benefits from planning permission. The timeframe set could also take into account if the private homebuilder has to submit their proposed designs to the site landowner or enabling developer before submitting them to the council. This approach is commonly applied on larger sites to ensure designs fit with the character of the development, and protect the overall ‘brand’. It can also ensure that designs have a good chance getting council approval
- Start of site - construction start on site can be required within a specified period of time of purchasing a plot (for example four to six months)
- Project completion - project end dates can be set that specify when homes must be completed and occupied. In many cases this is 18 to 24 months from construction start. For example Cherwell District Council’s Design Code for Graven Hill specifies that a home must be completed within 24 months of a plot sale. At Wynyard Park on Teesside the Manorside Estate requires construction works to be started within 12 months of the plot purchase. It also requires purchasers to submit a construction programme. In some cases additional controls are imposed to manage when external landscaping, fencing and boundary treatment must be completed by (for example within three months of building completion). This is sometimes confined to areas facing the public highway. In Continental Europe councils give group projects more time - commonly 24 to 36 months; they also sometimes impose fines when projects are not completed on time
- Managing non-compliance - financial penalties are typically imposed for non-compliance. This can include a daily surcharge payable to the site owner for each day/month the home is not completed. Clawback clauses in sales agreements that require legal, Stamp Duty and administration costs for transferring the plot to be paid back to the landowner are also common
- Exclusion of specific types of development - to minimise delays sales contracts can prohibit ‘DIY self builds’, or they may require a contract with an appointed builder to be in place before a plot can be purchased. This is common in North America and Australia where plot buyers are not allowed to perform or contract any work on their house
- Owner occupation - plot purchasers can be required not to occupy a home until it is completed. It is also possible to require that the private homebuilder lives in the home for a minimum period of time (for example three years as imposed by the CIL Regulations). Experience has shown that this is typically not an issue, as most people who build their own homes live in their property for considerably longer
The extent to which the above conditions will be relevant to custom build enabler-led projects where private homebuilders buy shells or completed package homes will depend on the nature and scale or the scheme.
Discuss with applicants how built-out can be best managed
Councils should discuss with applicants how build-out can be effectively managed on a site as early as possible in the planning process and agree what role applicants and landowners can play
Control of working hours, site access and construction traffic
Councils and landowners may also want to consider how hours of work on sites can be controlled to limit intrusive levels of noise and construction activity for the residents who may have already moved into their homes on a larger site.
Most multi-home private homebuilding projects also have strict controls over when a building site can be accessed and how construction traffic is managed.
Controlling site access may be needed because private homebuilders who have commissioned their own building may want access to their plot outside working hours to inspect progress. Some may also want to do some work on site at weekends or outside of normal working hours.
This can be effectively managed by imposing conditions on plot buyers, such as: -
- Control of working hours - to prevent construction noise affecting local residents in the evenings and weekends standard planning conditions can be used to limit working hours. However councils should discuss the scope of these conditions with the landowner or master developer to enable, for example, some flexibility where private homebuilders may want to work on weekends to fit out a shell finish home. Industrial processes, or larger plant/machinery/power tools used within the plot, could, for example, be restricted; but smaller tools might be allowed once homes are wind and watertight
- Access to plots on larger building sites - some landowners do not permit any access to plots on larger sites outside of normal working hours unless previously agreed with the site management. In these situations access is only possible for a private homebuilder when accompanied by their contractor or the site manager. In some cases contractors or custom build enablers may also want to restrict private homebuilders from visiting their homes when workers are on site
- Fencing - plot owners can be required to erect a 1.8m high temporary security fence around their plot to secure the site and materials. This is commonly imposed when the foundation works commence, through to project completion and is also normally required for site insurance purposes
- Construction traffic - although there is no evidence from larger multi-home private homebuilding projects in other countries that construction traffic poses significant challenges, there are ways of effectively managing traffic. Construction vehicles can, for example, be confined to a separate access road. They can also be prohibited from parking on the verges and public footpaths, or required to park on-plot. The use of wheel cleaning facilities can also be required during the demolition, excavation, site preparation and construction stages of the development, as is common on many building sites. On some sites it may also be appropriate to designate a parking area for white vans to avoid disturbing local residents
- Deliveries - material deliveries can be confined to set times during the week (if necessary). On busy and congested sites a fenced-off temporary materials holding area could be allocated for the storage of limited materials
Storage of building materials and other on-plot considerations
Most multi-home private homebuilding projects impose restrictions on what happens on each plot during construction. This often includes one or more of the following:
- Storage of building materials and plant - construction materials, plant and site accommodation can be restricted to within the plot
- Temporary structures - temporary structures can be restricted to the plot and limited to the construction process (eg. sites offices and lock up facilities for tools). Portable toilets can also be restricted to the plot. On larger private homebuilding projects in Germany, councils or landowners often position portable toilets across the site during key construction phases to avoid the need for all the private homebuilders to have separate toilets on their plots (this cost is recovered from plot sales)
- Living on site - in most built up areas it is rare to allow private homebuilders to live temporarily on site. Planning conditions and covenants can prohibit mobile homes or caravans during construction. Relaxations may be appropriate on small sites in rural areas, depending on local circumstances
- Cleanliness - sites can be required to be kept clean at all times with building waste stored in an on-plot bin that needs to be emptied on a frequent basis. In North America and Australia it is common to require accidental spills of soil, material or waste outside of plots to be removed immediately; and for all surplus materials and rubbish to be removed shortly after the completion of the home (eg. 14 days)
- Pollution controls - it is standard practice for local councils to impose pollution control measures on building sites, and these can also be applied to private homebuilding projects
Health and Safety
Health and Safety considerations are important for private homebuilding projects. Briefing Note Health and Safety provides further guidance.
Implementation and Monitoring
Much of the control and management across a construction a site can be effectively regulated by a Construction Method Statement. This can form part of a Construction Phase Plan that is agreed with a council prior to a project starting. The following actions can help with monitoring: -
- Site supervisors - building supervisors and customer service representatives can assist in monitoring progress, facilitate private homebuilder access to a site and deal with any issues that arise. Their appointment is common on large serviced plot projects in North America where ‘Construction Field Managers’ monitor project progress and advise sales managers of delays
- Landowner access to plots - it is common for landowners on larger sites (and those authorised to act on their behalf) to be given access to plots during construction. This enables them to inspect progress and the quality of the development and to check that the build complies with any agreed covenants (for example a Design Code)
- Private homebuilder monitoring - plot purchasers can be required to ensure that work is carried out in accordance with agreed terms, and to keep landowners updated at regular (specified) intervals
- Breaches and compliance Bonds - private homebuilders can be required to fully and effectively indemnify the landowner against any breach of any covenant and against any losses, actions, claims or demands that arise. Some plot providers require a Bond payment from purchasers to ensure that any damage done to access roads and kerbs during construction can be recouped. The Bond can also be extended to cover the wider site – for example, to repair damage to drains if a builder pours left-over cement down them or damages off-plot features such as street trees. In Australia builders or landowners often impose ‘compliance bonds’ on plot purchasers which are placed in a trust fund that is refunded on completion of the home (for example $2,500)
Other possible controls
Landowners can also impose other restrictions on private homebuilders. One of the most common is a restriction on the resale of a vacant plot or any plot sub-division. This is typically controlled by requiring the private homebuilder to obtain prior written consent from the landowner of the site.
Landowners can also require compliance with local Design Codes (see Briefing Note Design Codes and Plot Passports).
Additionally landowners can restrict changes to the external features of a consented property, or the construction of new structures on the plot, such as sheds, greenhouses and gates.
Councils also often remove Permitted Development Rights to control extensions or other structures where sites are in sensitive locations - such as in a Conservation Area.
Durham Gate’s ‘Design a Home’ plots
Durham Gate’s ‘Design a Home’ plots near Spennymoor, County Durham, are governed by strict construction requirements set out in its ‘Design Code & Contract for Self Builders’. These set out the following construction requirements.
During the construction phase private homebuilders have to ensure that all plant and material storage is contained within the boundary of their plot, and that all surplus materials and rubbish are removed within 14 days of practical completion. They also have to agree not to allow activities that would adversely affect neighbouring properties.
Homebuilders have to allow Durham Gate Planning Committee access at all reasonable times, for inspecting the progress and quality of their home and adherence to the covenants.
Additionally the homebuilders have to agree to strictly monitor the work to ensure it is being carried out in accordance with the rules, and they have to indemnify Durham Gate Planning Committee against any breach, losses, actions, costs, claims or demands that might arise.
There are also restrictions imposed on the disposal of land.
Although the controls outlined above set out various ways in which private homebuilding projects can be effectively managed to successful completion it is important that any restrictions that are imposed are appropriate to the project and proportionate. For example what may be appropriate for a project where a landowner is selling serviced building plots may not be appropriate for a custom build enabler-led project.
The following Case Studies offer useful insight into the issues discussed in this Briefing Note:
Engage with applicants to agree appropriate and proportionate build-out controls
There are a range of approaches available to manage build-out once a private homebuilding project have received planning permission – engage with applicants early to consider which are the most appropriate for the site and type of development
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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