Graven Hill, Bicester

Up to 1,900 new homes are planned as part of the Graven Hill development. New schools, offices, retail and other commercial uses will also be included Up to 1,900 new homes are planned as part of the Graven Hill development. New schools, offices, retail and other commercial uses will also be included

KEY LEARNING POINTS

  • Large scale private homebuilding initiatives like this can be organised so that a council recovers all its costs
  • Local Development Orders are a good way of streamlining and speeding up the planning approval process
  • A ‘light touch’ Design Code provides flexibility for private homebuilders to build the homes they want

THE BACKGROUND

Graven Hill Village will be a major extension to the town of Bicester. The development is one of the largest private homebuilding developments in Europe and it aims to provide a wide range of opportunities – from modestly priced plots suitable for affordable homes, through to larger properties and collective apartment complexes.

The project was initiated by Cherwell District Council, which was keen to provide additional private homebuilding opportunities (alongside other more tradition housebuilding developments) to help accelerate the overall rate of local housing delivery. The council decided to manage the development itself so that it could control the mixture of new homes to match the local demand.

Ultimately the council wants to deliver a sustainable urban extension as part of the town’s recent designation as a new Garden Town.

The site was previously a large Ordnance facility, operated by the MoD. Much of the site in now no longer required, so the MoD offered it for sale for redevelopment as residential land.

The original Ordnance depot played a big part in delivering the supplies for the Normandy landings during the second World War The original Ordnance depot played a big part in delivering the supplies for the Normandy landings during the second World War

Cherwell acquired a 187 hectare portion of the site (total area around 600 hectares) in 2014. Since then it has been preparing for the redevelopment in a number of ways. The initial phase is due to be marketed in early 2016, and the first homes should start on site in the summer of 2017 and be complete towards the end of the year.

In addition to the 1,900 homes (30 per cent of which will be affordable housing) there will also be a primary school, community hall and local shops, 100,000 sq m of commercial space, a pub, sports pitches, play areas, allotments and a renewable energy centre. The overall development is also expected to create 2,000 new jobs.

The area identified for private homebuilding will be mainly to the north of the wooded hill in the aerial photograph above The area identified for private homebuilding will be mainly to the north of the wooded hill in the aerial photograph above

SUMMARY

Up to 1,900 new private homebuilding opportunities will be created on the outskirts of Bicester on the former Ministry of Defence (MoD) Graven Hill site. The project is one of the largest and most ambitious schemes of its type in Europe.

Cherwell District Council facilitated the development because it wanted to have more control over local housebuilding. The council borrowed money to purchase the site from the MoD, and it has formed its own development company to drive the project forward. Its aim is to more than recover its costs. The project makes use of an innovative Local Development Order to streamline planning approvals.

Around 30 per cent of the homes will be affordable, and there will be a wide range of private homebuilding opportunities – from modest plots to group build opportunities.

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Initiator: Public Sector

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Scale: Large

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Site: Urban/Suburban

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Affordability: Low Cost, Intermediate and High Cost

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Opportunity: Individual and Group

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Built Form: Detached, Terraces and Apartments


Country: UK

Definitions

For the purposes of this Toolkit we have made the following definitions:

Key Statistics

Completed 2017 to 2025

No. Units 1,900 over next ten years

LOCATION

The Graven Hill site is just to the south of Bicester about three miles west of junction 9 on the M40. During the next five years the MoD will be vacating the majority of the complex.

The development is arranged in a circle, around a wooded hill. To the south of the woodland is an area that is to be retained by the MoD Logistics Corp. Further to the south is land that will be redeveloped for commercial uses. This will come forward from 2019 onwards.

The council believes the development will lead to growth in the local economy with high value businesses such as hi-tech manufacturing, R&D, logistics and business support services being attracted to the area. It also wants to create a major manufacturing facility that specialises in modular housing that is suitable for private homebuilding.

 

WHY IS THE COUNCIL BACKING THE PROJECT?

Cherwell District Council decided to ‘enable’ the Graven Hill initiative for a number of reasons.

There was a strong demand for new housing locally, so by ‘driving’ the development itself it could control the mixture of new homes that are provided to match this demand. The council was particularly keen to facilitate more opportunities for private homebuilding, having been inspired by several of the recent innovative projects undertaken in the Netherlands.

In the council’s view the provision of additional private homebuilding opportunities, alongside other more tradition housebuilding developments in the locality, could help to accelerate the overall rate of housing delivery.

The redevelopment of the commercial space to the south was also an important factor for the council, as it felt this could potentially bring thousands of new job opportunities to the area.

The council has set up its own development company to manage the project, and it has calculated that the overall development should generate a significant return and produce a new income stream for the local authority in the future.

The council set up the Graven Hill Development Company to manage the project, which it wholly owns The council set up the Graven Hill Development Company to manage the project, which it wholly owns

Other attractions of this approach included the scope to create a new ‘hub’ for offsite manufacturing at Bicester (creating many additional new jobs), and the potential to raise Cherwell’s profile as a location renowned for housing innovation.

As the development unfolds Cherwell will also benefit from the New Homes Bonus it receives, and, in time, it will generate an increased income from council tax and business rates.

Because of legal rules that limit the power of councils to operate in a trading environment, commercial operations such as this must be delivered through wholly owned companies. The council therefore created (and owns) Graven Hill Village Holding Company Ltd and Graven Hill Village Development Company Ltd to own and develop the overall development.

 

THE DEVELOPMENT CONCEPT

Cherwell has decided to co-ordinate the entire redevelopment of the site itself. To do this it has set up its own development company and has hired a suitably qualified dedicated team to co-ordinate the construction and marketing/sales across the whole site.

The development company will arrange for all the infrastructure works and the sales and marketing team will then sell the plots to individuals. The council does not want to sub-contract sections of the sites to custom build developers or other housebuilders, though it expects to work with a panel of housing associations to provide the affordable housing

Much of the knowledge Cherwell has acquired has come from its ‘Build!’ programme. Over the last three years this has delivered about 200 homes, including several innovative self finish and self refurb projects – see our case study on the Newton Close project.

HOW THE DEMAND REGISTER INFORMED THE MASTER PLAN

A Register was established in 2013, and by early 2016 more than 3,000 people had formally expressed an interest. An early analysis of the first 1,000 people indicated the type of demand there was, and this helped to inform the master plan that was then drawn up.

For example, analysis showed there was a lot of demand for three and four bedroom properties (below left).

CS_25-Img6-Graphs

The Register also indicated that only about nine per cent of people wanted to do a full DIY self build; around 24 per cent were interested on ‘self finish’ opportunities, 27 per cent liked the idea of a custom build solution, and 15 per cent wanted to build a kit home. Roughly six per cent were keen to build as a group (above right).

TOP TIP

Use the data on your Register to inform your proposals

Analyse the information on your register so that you can identify the type of homes there is the most demand for and where they should be located

HOW HAS THE COUNCIL FUNDED THE PROJECT? 

Cherwell applied to the Public Works Loan Board for a low interest loan to enable it to purchase the site from the MoD. It has also received financial support from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) under its large sites programme, and the new Garden Towns initiative.

The council also qualified for a DCLG grant of £90,000, as it was one of the 11 ‘Right to Build’ vanguards.

THE OVERALL TIMEFRAME 

In 2010 Defence Estates undertook an initial public consultation exercise to explore potential future uses for the site, and in October 2011 it submitted an outline planning application. This set out proposals for 1,900 homes, a range of community facilities and new commercial accommodation across the site.

Cherwell began negotiating to acquire the site in 2012. The discussions were protracted and formal acquisition was only confirmed in 2014.

The initial demand register was set up in August 2013, and by the end of the year an analyses of the first 1,000 people on it helped to inform the draft Master Plan for the site.

In April 2013 the council approved the MoD’s outline application, and in March 2014 the council announced that it had agreed to acquire the land from the MoD.

In 2015 the Master Plan and Design Code for the overall development was finalised. Grand Designs agreed to film a series covering ten of the first self-builders, and the early infrastructure works commenced. The indicative prices of the first plots were released just before Christmas 2015.

Throughout 2016 significant infrastructure works are expected and the marketing of the first phase will begin in earnest, with the initial plot reservations scheduled for local residents in May. The first properties should be on site in mid 2017, and occupied towards the end of the year, or early in 2018.

Main access road to the site- many of the current MoD buildings on the site will be demolished in 2016 Main access road to the site- many of the current MoD buildings on the site will be demolished in 2016

Development is expected to commence around the middle of 2016, when the existing MoD buildings are due to be demolished and a sales suite and project offices will be constructed. A number of show homes are also expected to open by the end of the year.

By 2020 the pub, retail units, school, nursery, community centre, allotments and sports pitches are all due to be completed. Around 500 homes should also be finished by about this time, too.

TOP TIP

Major developments take many years to progress

On larger sites it can take five years or more to get all the planning, finance and other issues resolved. Be careful what you say about the plot release dates in the early stages so that potential private homebuilders are not frustrated if there are unforeseen delays.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

The council’s development company expects to deliver the new affordable homes by working in partnership with a number of housing associations. At the time of preparing this case study (February 2016) it was anticipated that it would trial this approach on the first phase, and if it proves successful replicate it on future phases. Details of the housing associations that are likely to be involved are not currently available.

The affordable properties will be available to rent (at 80 per cent of open market value) or via shared ownership (part buy-part rent), and they will be reserved for people with a local connection to the area.

The current intention is that 70 per cent of the affordable housing will be available on a rental basis with the remaining 30 per cent marketed as shared ownership.

The properties will be arranged across the whole site, in clusters of up to 15 homes, and will be available in all phases of the development.

Residents who opt for shared ownership will be able to typically purchase between 50 and 75 per cent of the property on a leasehold basis and pay rent of the remaining percentage of the property. The leases will usually be available on a 99 to 125 year lease. Purchasers will have the option to increase their equity in the property over time, until they own it outright.

The affordable housing will be provided as a mixture of apartments, houses and extra care housing for older people. It is expected many of the homes will be completed to a watertight shell standard to enable future residents to undertake some self-finish work themselves.

Priority will be given to those with a local connection – for example, existing residents, employees or those with relatives living in the district council area. Residents will need to be registered on the council’s general housing register to be eligible for the affordable rented homes.

 

PLANNING ISSUES 

There are a number of ‘layers’ to the planning framework developed for the site.

Outline Planning Permission: This was formally granted in August 2014, and effectively secured permission in principle for the whole of the land acquired by Cherwell District Council. As part of this permission the council imposed a range of conditions and obligations (on its own development company, which was acting as the developer) including making contributions to local infrastructure and the need to deliver the new school.

The Master Plan: This was finalised in March 2015 and sets out the road layout and landscaping plan etc.

The Master Plan The Master Plan

The Design Code: This identifies the levels of design freedom across the site and the character of the different neighbourhoods. It serves to communicate site-wide principles to designers and stakeholders to ensure the development as a whole is coherent and has a strong sense of place.

The Local Development Order: This pioneering planning initiative - the first time a new build housing LDO had been employed in the UK - came into force on 15 December 2015, and it grants planning permission in principle for the 198 custom and self build properties in the first phase of the development. Provided this LDO works as expected it is likely to be extended to the remaining 1,700 homes.

The Plot Passports: Plot passports govern the key elements of each plot including maximum ridge height, the minimum number of parking spaces, the perimeter within which a home can be built and minimum standards for sustainability. This is the key document for the 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.

 

WHY OPT FOR A LOCAL DEVELOPMENT ORDER?

The idea of the LDO is to streamline the process by removing the requirement for individual private homebuilders to submit a planning application for their plots.

The LDO should also create greater certainty for plot purchasers – as it spells out, in advance, what can and what can’t be built on each plot; this should save time and money for all those involved.

Plot purchasers will simply need to design and build their home within the requirements of their Plot Passport and they will then automatically comply with planning.

The area covered by the LDO The area covered by the LDO

Cherwell decided to opt for establishing an LDO, rather than relying on reserved matters approvals attached to each outline planning permission. Its analysis suggested that the LDO approach would allow for innovation and would remove some of the bureaucracy for people building or designing their own homes.

Once the council decided on the LDO approach, it set out to construct the Order in a way that would ensure that future buildings would be of acceptable quality. Drafting the LDO was made slightly easier because the site already had outline planning permission in place – this meant the council didn’t need to go through the whole process of scoping the impact of development and examining issues such as contamination or drainage, which was already captured through the outline consent and its conditions.

Council planners gave careful consideration to the way the LDO document was structured and worded. The team decided to use the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) as a template and followed its layout and language.

Another key stage was to formulate the parameters and constraints within which individual private homebuilders would be able to operate. The council instructed an urban designer to help it work up a Master Plan - this focuses on the site’s overall layout. Consultants also prepared a Design Code governing such matters as building footprints and heights, vehicular access, parking and waste management.

Throughout the process one of the biggest tasks was to persuade the planning team to accept that some of the control normally exercised by the local planning authority would be removed.

Two areas that are clearly set out in the Master Plan and Design Code are the quality of public realm, and the pallet of materials that can be used across some parts of the site. With these in place Cherwell was confident that the LDO would deliver a development it could be proud of.

Before plot buyers can proceed with building their homes they have to seek ‘prior approval’ for their project by submitting their plans to the council (via its development company), which then has 28 days to confirm whether or not it complies with the LDO criteria.

The Order moved swiftly through Cherwell’s decision-making processes. The draft was approved by the Executive in early July 2015. Following informal discussions with key stakeholders, it ran a formal consultation in September and October, producing largely supportive responses that merited no significant modifications to the Order’s contents. The Executive voted to adopt the LDO on 2 November.

Once the first 198 homes have been delivered the council plans to review the LDO approach to consider whether or not it is the appropriate mechanism to deliver further phases of Graven Hill.

LESSONS FROM CHERWELL FOR COUNCILS PLANNING TO INTRODUCE A LDO

  • Political leadership and a readiness to compromise are key to success. Councillors’ support ensured that once the decision to produce a LDO was taken, officers could press on with the technical tasks at speed
  • Council teams need to embrace innovation and think outside the box. Planners and members needed to accept some relaxation in the degree of scrutiny to which housing proposals are normally subject
  • Dialogue with individual plot purchasers is necessary to make clear what they can do under these simplified control procedures. To make it easier for plot buyers to understand what they can and cannot do, the council has introduced Plot Passports that set out the design rules and requirements for each plot

Several of our Briefing Notes on planning issues refer to the use of LDOs to help deliver quality private homebuilding projects quickly.

The Design Code

The Graven Hill Design Code is a very detailed document that extends to more than 50 pages, and it provides a wealth of information, including a background to the 12 character zones that will be featured across the development. It also gives an overview of the planned private homebuilding process, together with a description of the Plot Passports.

After this general introduction the Code then sets out the requirements for each character zone in more detail, describing the qualities desired, the level of design freedom available and the design principles to be applied.

The Design Code encourages high levels of design freedom The Design Code encourages high levels of design freedom

The aspiration for Graven Hill is to support community creativity by encouraging maximum design flexibility. This key visionary driver has informed the need to employ a ‘hands off’ approach to all ‘on-plot’ features (for which the plot purchasers are responsible) wherever possible. Only those specific features deemed critical to establishing the desired ‘sense of place’ are going to be regulated - but nothing else.

In many parts of the site there will be very high levels of design freedom; in other more sensitive areas additional constraints will be applied.

In the yellow areas there is a high level of design freedom; only in the red area are more significant constraints applied In the yellow areas there is a high level of design freedom; only in the red area are more significant constraints applied
The Design Code sets out those parts of the site that are the responsibility of the plot purchaser, and those that are the responsibility of the council’s development company - the “off-plot developer” The Design Code sets out those parts of the site that are the responsibility of the plot purchaser, and those that are the responsibility of the council’s development company - the “off-plot developer”
Plan showing the 12 character zones. For each of these the Design Code generally spells out a set of principles, and identifies which issues have to be addressed by the plot purchaser, and which by the “off-plot” developer Plan showing the 12 character zones. For each of these the Design Code generally spells out a set of principles, and identifies which issues have to be addressed by the plot purchaser, and which by the “off-plot” developer
An example from the Design Code, that explains the basic rules that need to be followed in the ‘Community Streets’ zone. In some of the more sensitive zones additional constraints are required, or a preferred palette of materials is specified An example from the Design Code, that explains the basic rules that need to be followed in the ‘Community Streets’ zone. In some of the more sensitive zones additional constraints are required, or a preferred palette of materials is specified

Six baseline constraints are applied to all plots. These are:-

  • Build zones (that set out the siting of homes within plots)
  • Maximum building heights
  • Boundary heights
  • Vehicular access requirements
  • Vehicular and cycle parking requirements
  • Waste management requirements

Plot Passports

Summary of the main requirements in a typical Plot Passport Summary of the main requirements in a typical Plot Passport

The Passports are closely based on those employed in The Netherlands. They are mostly set out over two pages of A4 and they spell out exactly what can and can’t be built on each of the 198 plots in the first phase.

The Passports explain that prior to starting any construction work purchasers have to apply to the local planning authority to check if their proposals comply with the Master Plan and Design Code.

Each document identifies a ‘build zone’ (the only part of the plot where a home can be built) and it sets a maximum Gross Internal Area (GIA). The footprint of the homes does not need to fill the entire build zone, and can be positioned anywhere within it.

No works or storage of materials is permitted outside the curtilage of the plot without permission first being obtained (these areas are subject to adoption either by the Highways Authority or District Council).

Some passports limit the number of bedrooms; and most make it clear that the merging or subdivision of this plot is not permitted.

A maximum roof height is stipulated – in the example shown above it is 8.1m (circled in the centre of the build zone).

Homebuilders have to provide bin stores and secure storage for a minimum of two bicycles. Bin stores must be big enough to accommodate three 240 litre wheelie bins.

In the example shown above no building is permitted within one metre of the plot boundary - this is to retain a maintenance zone between plots and allow bins, bicycles etc. to be moved from the rear of the plot to the front. Two car parking spaces must be provided on the plot at 2.4m x 4.8m in size. The position of on plot parking bays is flexible and to the discretion of the plot purchaser. The position of vehicular access is fixed and must be located as shown on the plan. The minimum internal dimensions for a single car garage are 3m x 6m.

The main elevation of the home must front the highway. Any upper-floor windows located in a wall or roof slope forming a side elevation of the home and facing a boundary with a neighbouring house must be: -

  • obscure-glazed unless the window is more than 1.7m above the floor of the room; and
  • non-opening unless the parts of the window which can be opened are more than 1.7m above the floor of the room

Any part of the home that is more than a single storey and would be within two metres of the boundary with a neighbouring house, must not extend beyond the rear wall of the neighbouring house by more than three metres.

The precise co-ordinates of each plot are set out on the passports The precise co-ordinates of each plot are set out on the passports

A minimum area of 50 per cent of the plot frontage (the area between the highway and the front wall) must be permeable (i.e. grass/shrubs/gravel etc.). On the remaining area provision must be made to direct run-off water from the hard surface to a permeable or porous area within the curtilage of the home.

All applications for prior approval must be accompanied by: -

  • A written description of the proposed home
  • A plan indicating the site/plot and showing the precise location of the proposed development
  • Plans showing the detail of access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale of the proposed home
  • The applicant’s contact address, telephone number and email address
The Plot Passport also includes details of the thermal/energy performance standards that homes have to meet The Plot Passport also includes details of the thermal/energy performance standards that homes have to meet

All the new homes also need to comply with Building Regulations.

The council says homes may be inspected at certain stages by:

  • Building Control, to ensure it meets the correct standards
  • Lenders (if a mortgage is required) to approve stage payments

Homebuilders will not be allowed to park a caravan on their plot during the construction phase, though the council is currently looking into setting aside a small area of the site for caravans so that builders can live close to their plots during the construction stages. The council also plans to build 18 apartments that it will temporarily let to homebuilders that need to sell their existing homes to fund their projects.

The Plot Passports contain two additional sections – one dealing with service connections; one addressing the local ground conditions.

The service or utility connection addendum to the Plot Passport The service or utility connection addendum to the Plot Passport

The utility connection document specifies exactly what is required for electricity, gas, water, telecoms and drainage connections, and it sets out who is responsible for doing each element (and who has to pay for what). This document also makes reference to the ‘Golden Brick’ (see later).

The Ground Conditions information sheet reveals the results of site investigations/trial boreholes, and again sets out who is responsible for what when it comes to the design and specification of the foundations and slab. Where necessary it also sets out what sort of material can be used to make up ground levels, and it specifies the grade of concrete that should be used for any buried concrete. Reference is also made to radon gas and other possible hazards that may need to be taken account of.

Our Briefing Note on Design Codes and Plot Passports provides more detail.

TOP TIP

Plot Passports are an effective way of communicating what can and cannot be built

Look at the many Plot Passports that have been developed for projects in the Netherlands, and examples like the passports now in use at Graven Hill. There is no need to re-invent the format – they provide a good template

THE ‘GOLDEN BRICK’ APPROACH 

One of the challenges faced by the team at Cherwell was the potential impact of charging VAT on plot sales – this would have boosted the cost by 20 per cent, and the plot purchasers would, in most cases, not have been able to reclaim this.

To avoid this Cherwell is using the so-called ‘Golden Brick’ solution. This effectively enables the plot to be sold without the 20 per cent VAT provided Cherwell’s development company undertakes some of the house construction work. To comply with the VAT rules 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.

The council also argues that if it is responsible for the foundations across the entire site it can ensure they are all built to a consistent high quality. This approach also means any spoil is removed and disposed of correctly.

The ‘Golden Brick’ package comprises the foundations, insulation, substructure walls, drainage and ground floor slab, constructed to the plot purchaser’s required design. Drainage, both foul and storm, will be extended from the disconnection manholes, located just inside the plot boundary, to termination points through the slab and to suit rainwater pipes, again all to a purchaser’s required design.

By selling the plot and the ‘Golden Brick’ foundations together (defined as the ‘grant of the first major interest in the property’) this avoids VAT becoming payable so the overall price is kept as low as possible.

Cherwell’s development company will provide a free quotation for undertaking the work needed up to ‘Golden Brick’ stage, based on each plot purchaser’s specification. This, along with the plot price, then becomes the total price due.

Once the design/specification and price is agreed for the ‘Golden Brick’ work, exchange of contracts can take place, at which point the purchaser pays a deposit of 10 per cent of the total price due.

As part of the work needed to deliver the ’Golden Brick’ the development company will carry out earthworks in accordance with the ‘Specification for Highway Works’, published by the Stationery Office (formerly HMSO) as Volume 1 of the Manual of Contract Documents for Highway Works. It will also remove topsoil from each plot and, if required, import and compact topsoil in layers, in accordance with the Specification, to raise the finished level of the plots (primarily for road and surface water drainage purposes).

Our Briefing Note on Taxation issues explains the application of VAT to private homebuilding projects in more detail.

How long do people have to design and build their homes? 

Plot purchasers have a maximum of 32 months from the day they reserve their plot to get their home built, ready for occupation.

The first stage involves getting the design prepared and approved – six months is allowed for this. When the design has been agreed there is then a two-month period to get the specification and cost agreed for the ‘Golden Brick’ works.

When work begins on the ‘Golden Brick’ work the 10 per cent deposit needs to be paid.

This is then followed by a 24 month ‘Build-Out’ stage. Currently the development team plans to introduce contractual clauses to ensure completion of homes within the 24 month window. One of the clauses will allow the team to step in at 24 months and finish buildings that are behind schedule (and charge the private homebuilder accordingly). The council is also looking to incentivise homebuilders who finish their builds within 12 months – details of how this may work have still to be finalised.

Plot purchasers will be expected to submit information to the council’s development company at each stage (for example building designs, specifications etc) and to complete the activities required within the timescales provided.

All designs must accord with the parameters set out in the Design Code, the Master Plan and the outline planning permission. The Plot Passport will act as key reference points throughout the process.

Priority for people with a local connection

The council is keen to ensure that those people with a local connection have some priority. Therefore a 30-day pre-release reservation period will be offered to those who currently live or work in the district. After this period has passed, reservations will be opened to everyone on its database and the general public.

The council says that it’s not keen on people building to sell or rent, as its vision is all about creating a strong supportive long-term community. To avoid speculative development it plans to introduce a ‘clawback’ (in the form of a financial penalty), that will be built into the sales contract. This will be triggered should a property be sold within three years of completion. If homes are sold in the first year 30 per cent of any profit has to be returned to the development company; in year two the penalty is 20 per cent of any profit; in year three, ten per cent.

 

DEMAND

Cherwell was one of the first councils in the UK to establish a Register for people interested in the opportunities on the Graven Hill site. By early 2016 more than 3,000 people had entered their details on this.

The information that was available from the first 1,000 or so registrations helped inform the Master Plan for the development, and the range and size of homes that are provided.

 

PLOT MARKETING AND THE SALES PROCESS

Details of the 198 plots in the first phase are now available Details of the 198 plots in the first phase are now available

The first phase of plot releases

At Graven Hill there will be a range of plot shapes and sizes including: -

  • One, two and three storey homes (depending on location)
  • Detached, semi-detached, terraced and apartment plots
  • Opportunities to build on your own or as a group

The first batch of plots was ‘launched’ at the end of 2015 – when the plans for the first phase were unveiled and guideline prices were identified.

This suggests that the plot price of a small two bedroom home will start at under £100,000, and the additional ‘Golden Brick’ cost for the foundations for a home like this would be about £15,000.

Indicative prices for the plots (and the ‘Golden Brick’ works) for a range of the new homes in the first phase of the development Indicative prices for the plots (and the ‘Golden Brick’ works) for a range of the new homes in the first phase of the development

A plot suitable for a five bedroomed detached home has an indicative price (including the Golden Brick) of around £250,000.

The development company is also offering some ‘shell homes’, that people can fit out themselves – for example a three bedroom terrace for around £260,000.

In 2016 details of the first group build opportunities – where the residents finish off their own homes, will also be announced.

Marketing activities

A range of marketing techniques have been employed – from the preparation of a good website (www.gravenhill.co.uk) to various brochures, media coverage and several major events.

The information days have been particularly successful and a number were arranged in 2014 and 2015, with nearly 700 people attending the official ‘launch’. At these events people could find out about self build mortgages and hear presentations on the various ways self build homes could be built.

The production company that films Grand Designs will be broadcasting a major series on the project in 2017 and 2018, as they follow ten families that have been selected to build their homes on the development.

Plot Shop 

The council has designed a Plot Shop that it says goes beyond the conventional sales office. This will consist of a suite of rooms that will allow plot purchasers to meet with the development company’s team and various trade representatives on site, with Wi-Fi, printers and a plotter so that new plans can be printed.

The exact location of the Plot Shop is still to be confirmed, though it is likely to be placed close to the site entrance in a very visible position. The shop will initially be staffed by a team of six – the head of marketing, two receptionists, two sales staff and someone tasked with keeping the development’s digital/web information up to date. The facility will also provide additional space for the technical team working on the infrastructure and other construction issues. When the full complement of staff has been appointed it will be able to house 18 to 20 people.

The Plot Shop is expected to be open over the weekend, and also, occasionally, later one evening. The expectation is that at weekends the shop will mainly act as appetising ‘showcase’ for the whole development. People who are interested in progressing an enquiry further will then book a meeting with the relevant members of the team during normal weekday working hours.

The reservation process 

The development company is currently preparing a new web facility that will ensure that purchasers can liaise with all the different partners involved in the build process. This should enable everyone in the supply chain to know what stage the other partners are at, with the customer at the centre.

When reservations are taken detailed information from a potential buyer will be required. The development company will want to check that finances are in place for the entire cost of the build-out in addition to the land purchase.

A finalised drawing, project delivery plans, material schedule and financing information (relating to cash deposit and mortgage finance arrangements) will also be required. Web-based workshops will be available to explain this in detail, before reservations are taken.

(left) The development company has prepared a guide for prospective purchasers that explains the sales process; and (right) one of the council’s earlier leaflets, prepared to promote its Build! Initiative (left) The development company has prepared a guide for prospective purchasers that explains the sales process; and (right) one of the council’s earlier leaflets, prepared to promote its Build! Initiative

TOP TIP

Information events are a useful marketing technique

It is difficult to explain everything to a potential plot purchaser via a website or brochure. Organise a good information event, involving outside experts from the private homebuilding sector so that you can provide broad guidance and facilitate networking between private homebuilders

 TIMEFRAME

  • MoD identifies Graven Hill site as surplus to requirements
  • MoD submits outline planning for redevelopment of the site
  • Cherwell begins negotiations with MoD to acquire the site
  • Consent granted for 1,900 homes
  • Site acquired from MoD
  • Master Plan finalised and Local Development Order introduced
  • Plot sales begin
  • Homes constructed at the rate of about 200 a year
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THANKS TO...

This case study was compiled with reference to the following sources:

Cherwell District Council

Graven Hill Development Company

 

Further Reading

The following case studies may also be of interest:

CREDIT

The NaCSBA Research & Development Programme is funded by the Nationwide Foundation and aims to promote the self-build and custom build sector as an affordable route into housing for a greater number of people in the UK.

For further information, please visit:
www.nacsba.org.uk or www.selfbuildportal.org.uk