Is self and custom build the future of housing?

Graven Hill is the UK’s biggest self and custom build community and has been dubbed ‘Grand Designs on an epic scale’.

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We talk to Sue Smith, chair of the Graven Hill development company – and speaker at HOMES (28th & 29th November, Olympia London) – about what she’s learned from this experiment and what is the most extravagant custom design she’s encountered so far.

Sue Smith

Firstly Sue, why did you decide to offer self and custom build?

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The opportunity to self build was first offered by Cherwell District Council, Graven Hill's shareholder, in 2010 to 10 young people who were not in education, training or employment. This first project was very well received, so Cherwell developed a district wide scheme that provided 350 self built homes through a number of mechanisms which included remodelling commercial properties that had been empty for a long time and negotiating land for self build with developers. The Graven Hill development takes the self and custom build approach to an even higher level, with 1,900 homes to be built over a ten year period.

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What was involved in making this happen?

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Cherwell bought some surplus land from the Ministry of Defence in order to make the development happen. Then, having taken legal advice, it set up a wholly owned development company, Graven Hill Village development Company, to deliver the housing, employment space and associated community infrastructure. Discussions with mortgage lenders has opened up the market for self builders and made it easier to obtain a mortgage.

You must have encountered your fair share of challenges! What are the most valuable lessons you’ve gained so far?

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The main challenge is that self build is not widely appreciated and understood in the UK and therefore can be overlooked as a route to owning a new home. In mainland Europe and in particular Holland, Germany and Denmark, potential buyers will be more familiar with the concept. Therefore, awareness raising and marketing has been of vital importance, to raise the profile of the approach and also of the attractiveness of Bicester as a good location to live and work.

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Can this model be expanded across the UK – and how?

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The model could be replicated to other parts of the UK. It requires the council to have a willingness to make it succeed. Government support would really help and whilst the current government seem to have a high regard for self build, they have not backed this up by extending the Help to Buy scheme to include self build.

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Finally, what are the most unique or extravagant custom designs that have been requested so far?!

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Kevin McCloud has filmed the first ten plots being developed and they include a range of designs and building types. All will be revealed when the series is screened in the new year!

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You can hear Sue Smith talk more about Graven Hill as part of the HOMES panel on ‘High quality design: Building better not just building more’ taking place at 4.00-4.45pm on Wednesday 28 November. See the full agenda here.

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Register for your free* pass now!

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*Attendance is free for Housing Associations, Local Authorities, ALMOs, Developers/Builders, Architects & Charities. A fee of £150 +20% VAT per day applies to commercial organisations.

 

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