One of the biggest concerns of my constituents is housing. Although Newcastle Council has made good progress reducing the figure, there are still thousands on the housing waiting list.
An innovative way to deliver more affordable housing is through building our own homes. It’s not something we do well in Britain, but for our neighbours on the continent it’s commonplace. In Austria over 80% of homes are self-built, and the same goes for more than half the homes in Scandinavia, Germany and Belgium. Not all of these new builds are the expensive projects we see on Grand Designs. A lot are affordable homes that meet the needs of different people.
Self-build housing groups are growing across the UK. They are made up of families, couples and individuals that join forces to build around 6-15 new houses for themselves. By working together people can typically save 40% on plot purchase and an extra 10% on building costs like machinery, materials, and specialist help. It also tends to lead to closer-knit communities because the group works together from the beginning and people usually stay in a home they have built for longer than average.
Newcastle Council has made a start encouraging these projects. They organised a self-build seminar last year so like-minded people could meet to discuss the possibilities and barriers. It looked at what exactly would have to go into a self-build project. The response was incredibly positive and was followed up in March of this year by a seminar on how to finance your own new build, which featured a range of speakers offering advice.
There was further good news in June when 39 plots of land were made available at Great Park for people to construct their own homes. The developer made sure the size of each plot reflected that people have varying budgets, showing that self build can be for anyone. Newcastle Council’s Fairer Housing Unit is also exploring options to use its funding in a way that would help encourage further self-build progress.
The Ouseburn Trust is a local organisation that values people having more influence over their living space. They are working with residents to convert a former canvas factory in the Ouseburn Valley by installing 6 self-finish live-work units and potentially a community garden on the site. Self-renovation is a movement that can turn the empty buildings we already have into affordable homes that meet the individual needs of local people.
Clearly Newcastle welcomes community-led housing projects. I hope this lays the foundations for innovative and affordable house building in our area. I’d love to see more people in Newcastle seriously consider these increasingly popular housing options.
If you’re interested, a good way to start is with the Community Self Build Agency (http://www.communityselfbuildagency.org.uk/index.html). They offer a friendly service that gives advice on the funding available, what is needs to be done, and may have details of self-build groups that are being formed in our area. You can also see what the Ouseburn Trust has planned and get involved at www.ouseburntrust.org.uk.