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Top tips

Charlie Luxton's
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Self-build can save us, says Charlie Luxton

Architectural designer and TV presenter Charlie Luxton spoke at the NaCSBA’s recent Right To Build Summit about the potential self-build has to inject some much-needed change into the house building industry.

Luxton summed up what he sees as the key problems of the housing industry in the UK, a market that’s not reflected in comparable industry in Europe or northern America, where self-build is a viable choice available to most people.

The issues in the UK housing market:
  • housing market dominated by a handful of developers, who decide what they want to build, and where, based on what will deliver the highest profits,
  • poor quality in mainstream, developer-built homes,
  • a generational split between those who have housing wealth, and those that don’t,
  • a tradition of opposing building locally, and
  • a lack of engagement by normal people with planning policy.

But on a hugely positive note, Luxton put forward the theory that, “self-build can save us from all of these things.”

A keen advocate of self-build, Luxton explained that self-build enfranchises people and involves them in the planning process, and therefore it offers an antidote to the toxic housing market based purely on profit.

Self-build and especially group builds, offer a solution as it holds the key to community engagement. 

But in order for this to happen, local government must embrace it and empower the people to build the homes that they would want to live in, where they want to live in. With this, they need to make it easier for the public to realise these homes, too.

And the Right To Build is the tool through which they can do this.

Self-building offers the opportunity to reconnect planning to the people, and support local residents and local business and economy through the process.

“Self build offers the perception that it’s building on a local level – local employment opportunities, supporting local business. It offers a human scale that changes the way people see development,” said Luxton. “It has enormous power to empower people to engage with the planning system.”

Luxton also pointed out that we have some of the oldest housing stock in the world, and that we have a very poor track record of replacing this with improved, higher-density homes.

While this can be contentious, he’s not proposing removing swathes of much-loved period housing, even if they are incredibly poor performers in  terms of energy usage.

But he made the point that every town in the UK has its share of poorly-built houses and estates of little architectural merit and poor energy performance.

The potential such developments have for replacing with better homes in greater numbers is huge, but planning must enable this process.

And there’s no reason why these sites can’t be brought on as self-build opportunities, empowering people by giving them control of what’s built locally, so that it reflects their needs and values.

Luxton has personal experience of this, having previously had cohousing developments that he’s worked to bring on turned down at planning. But he remains committed to the idea that local residents are best placed to decide what gets built locally, as they know the area and the needs of the local people. Working with local planning departments means they can deliver transformative results. 

He summed it up, quite simply by saying, “Self- and custom-build homes create fantastic housing, built by normal people who value space and community.”


#1 John Cattermole 2018-01-03 18:02
Love what you're saying but please contact me to hear about a real example that illustrates the issues. It would make an interesting tv show I think.

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