It's Being Built and They are Coming

19 December 2017 Paul Newman, Self Build Director
Image_CustomBuild_Graven Hill_3
Two years ago I wrote an article for a trade publication, mentioning one of my favourite films, expounding my views on the status of the self and custom housebuilding industry in the UK and got very excited about a very large, revolutionary self and custom build scheme that, for nearly 2,000 families, would solve the age old problem of not having a plot to build on.

Today, our collective desire to self-build has been recognised and supported with legislation and the large scheme, Graven Hill in Bicester, is now a reality.

Once completed Graven Hill will be the UK’s largest self and custom-build development.

The scheme, which is arranged around a wooded hill, is one of the largest of its type in Europe and provides a broad range of opportunities – from smaller, modestly priced plots suitable for starter and affordable homes, through to larger detached houses and apartment blocks.
In each case customers are able to construct their own homes, choose from a range of tailored finishes or purchase a completed shell which they can then complete.

The project was initiated by Cherwell District Council, who were keen to accelerate the overall rate of local housing delivery and believed that a self / custom build approach could help do this.
The Graven Hill site was previously a large ordnance facility, operated by the MoD and when it became apparent that much of the site was no longer required, the MoD offered it for sale for redevelopment as residential land.

Rules that restrict the ability of councils to trade commercially meant that the council had to create a holding company and a development company to bring the scheme forward.

The development company has arranged for the infrastructure works to be completed so that plots can be sold to individual self builders. The council doesn’t intend selling sections of the site to custom build developers or housebuilders, though it expects to work with a panel of housing associations to provide affordable housing.
The approach to planning at Graven Hill site is innovative and flexible with several constituent ‘layers’ to its implementation:
  • Outline Planning Permission was formally granted in August 2014, and effectively secured permission in principle for the whole of the land acquired by Cherwell District Council.   
  • The Master Plan was finalised in March 2015 and sets out the road layout and landscaping plan for the scheme.   
  • A Design Code identifies the levels of design freedom across the site and the character of the different neighbourhoods. It communicates site-wide ideas to designers and ensures the development as a whole is coherent and has a strong sense of place.   
  • The Local Development Order is a pioneering planning initiative - it grants planning permission in principle for the properties it applies to. The LDO streamlines the process for self builders by removing the requirement for individual planning applications.
  • Plot passports govern key elements of each plot including requirements regarding ridge heights, parking spaces, the are within which a home can be built and sustainability standards. The Plot Passport is the key document for plot purchasers to refer to as it captures all the information from outline planning, Master Plan and Design Code relating to a particular plot in an easily understandable and bite-sized format. Plot purchasers simply need to design and build their home within the requirements of their Plot Passport and they will then automatically comply with planning.
One of the challenges faced by the team at Cherwell was the potential impact of charging VAT on plot sales – as in most cases, the plot purchaser would not be able to reclaim this.

To address this Cherwell is using a ‘Golden Brick’ solution which enables the plot to be sold without VAT provided the development company undertakes some of the house construction work. To do this the company has to construct the foundations of each home, and lay the first brick.

The development company will therefore organise the construction of the foundations and slab for each purchaser, and charge for this - in addition to the basic plot cost.
Plot purchasers have 32 months from reserving their plot to occupation. They are allowed 8 months for design, planning and specification works, including the Golden Brick element, and a further 24 months to build their new home.
Potton have completed designs for several customers at Graven Hill and our first units will be on site early 2018! We have several more designs in progress already so it looks as though there could be a community of Potton homes within the Graven Hill community. In case you were wondering, my favourite film is Field of Dreams!

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