More relaxed planning rules would help

Colin Dale, head of lending, Skipton. It may be hard to believe, but government figures released last year show fewer houses were built in the UK in 2001-02 than at any time since the end of World War II. Even more interesting is that of the 129,000 homes built, 15% (or 20,000 homes) were self-builds. If you were to count these self-builders as a single entity equivalent to a construction company such as Barratt or Wimpey, self-builders would be the biggest single source of new housing in this country.

But as much as self-building is growing in popularity, Britain is still far behind its European counterparts where the equivalent figures for France and Germany are 40% and 50% respectively. It is clear that we have a long way to go to catch up although it seems that the momentum to do so is there.

The factors supporting the continued growth of this market are all in place: Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has announced that, due in the main to changes in the make up of our population, a further two million homes will be needed by 2013; the number of homes being built by developers continues to dwindle; an environment of low inflation has led to a housing boom where escalating prices have snatched the chance of owning a home from many people&#39s grasp; and competition in the traditional mortgage market is fierce meaning that new sectors are being addressed, leading to greater flexibility in the funding of house-building projects.

Would-be self-builders have come to recognise that to be able to have the house of their dreams in the area they&#39d like to live in, taking matters into their own hands may be the only option. But unlike in the days when people had to sell their house to fund the work as well as try to manage the project themselves, self-builders are no longer alone.

Specialist companies such as Scotland-based BuildStore have appeared, offering a one-stop shop for those looking to create a home of their own. Working with many UK lenders, including Skipton, it provides funding packages that remove many of the financial problems associated with this area; caravans are a thing of the past as mortgage funds can be released before the build starts rather than afterwards, allowing people to stay in the comfort of their current home until the project is finished.

There is a healthy and thriving self-build market out there, one that not only helps provide consumers with an alternative choice of housing but also helps to stimulate changing housing designs and local labour markets. If the government could also contribute with a more relaxed planning approach, the market would benefit even further.