RECENTLY I made the case that major development is desecrating large swathes of our area of outstanding natural beauty and has consistently failed to build to local need, particularly affordable homes for locals to buy.

The conclusion being that we need a completely fresh approach to planning in The South Hams.

I believe the key to unlocking this conundrum is far simpler than you might imagine. If we value the appearance of our towns and the older housing of the past, why do we find it so hard to see the solution staring us in the face? Our towns evolved gradually house by house. Those houses were usually built next to the previous one and it is no surprise they looked quite different from their neighbours. This is because each house was built for a local family with their own unique tastes and, because that house was potentially their forever home, an enormous amount of love and attention was applied to the details.

In fact, looking at our beautiful old towns it suggests there was quite the competition to build the most attractive house on the street.This is exactly what we should be going for. The advantages of local self-build don’t stop at the improved outward appearance of homes either. Let’s take a look at the numbers.

A mainstream developer roughly works on a model of “thirds”, meaning a third for land costs, a third for build costs and a third for profit. So, if a local self-builder wants to build their own home the cost should be at least a third less than a home built for them by a developer for profit. But we can go further still.

The land itself only becomes worth a great deal once planning permission is granted, which is in the gift of SHDC. However, if we look at what is happening, that uplift is also passing by our community.

For example, I understand the Marlborough neighbourhood plan had an “evolving” vision for their village on land that they identified on their outskirts.

However, once it was adopted into the JLP it was snapped up by developers and a 50-home major development scheme was submitted ready to go.

Now, if the council were to have bought this earmarked land before it became officially adopted into the JLP, then the council would gain control of it at a time when it also costs significantly less, before planning is granted.

Even if the council had purchased the land and simply sold it off to today’s developers, at least that financial uplift would remain with the community and the council. Also, as the seller, they would at least have some leverage over the design of what would be built there.

Let’s assume we don’t insist on any local covenant or primary residency either, then the on-market value would not be hindered at resale. This means all the capital passes through our locals’ first, instead of by passing them altogether, as happens now. If mainstream developers don’t have restrictive covenants, why should our locals who are building to their local need first and far more beautifully? And there’s more still. Regional developers invariably bring their own team of builders in from out of the area, but our local self-builder would almost certainly use a local builder they know and trust, providing jobs for residents.

We’ve all seen what our own tradesman can do when they are supporting their local community and building with social purpose.

Just watch an episode of DIY SOS.

It’s time we stopped this generic major development that simply by-passes our communities and is in contradiction to our own planning policies.

Instead, we must favour smaller local schemes and self-build projects, which allow our towns to evolve as they should, meet local need completely and return our towns and villages to their residents, who have been disenfranchised for too long.