KEY LEARNING POINTS
- The provision of low cost serviced plots is a good way of helping to tackle rural depopulation
- Purchasing the land at (or near) agricultural values is key. In smaller communities this is still possible because of the personal relationships Mayors or senior councillors have with local landowners
- There was strong demand, with five of the plots sold during the first two years – this is good-going for a community with fewer than 200 residents. A mix of purchasers have come forward – mostly local families, but also retirees from the UK
- Keep the servicing costs low by keeping it simple. Engage with local utility providers to see if they will subsidise some of the costs in return for securing the new customers
Set a fixed price for the plots, and don’t negotiate on this
- There are just a few restrictions on what can be built – this helps to attract would-be purchasers, and speeds up the development process
- Marketing doesn’t need to be sophisticated or expensive
Throughout rural France it is common to find serviced building plots like these. They are usually facilitated by the local Mayor who directly acquires an area of farming land (at agricultural land values), and then secures permission for the land to be rezoned for housing. The Mayor’s office then arranges for a contractor to provide simple access roads and utilities connections to the edge of the plots. On most projects a fixed price is set for the plots, and very simple marketing is undertaken. There are few restrictions imposed on design or who can purchase – as this slows down the rate of take up.
The main rationale for delivering serviced plots in the French countryside is to try to stem the problem of rural depopulation – in this case the Mayor was concerned that the local school might close. Two of the plots have been acquired by families with young children, and the majority of the plots were sold within two years.
The pretty village of Lusignac – like many in rural France – has had a falling population, so the serviced building plots were organised to try to retain, or attract new people to the area
The plots are located about half a mile south west of the centre of the village of Lusignac (population 190), in the northern Dordogne, close to a tiny hamlet called La Roussie. There are seven generous sized plots, built on a former field at the edge of a small hamlet (out of view in the above image – on the right). There are excellent countryside views in all directions The plots are generally reasonably flat and most are between 2,000 and 2,500 sq m in size. The first plots were marketed in early 2013. By July 2015 five had been sold The first completed house – a genuine DIY self build – cost around £30,000 to construct
These serviced building plots are typical of the approach adopted in many rural parts of France. The scheme was initiated by the local Mayor and provides seven plots – each of about 2,300 sq m – that sell for between £15,000 to £20,000. The main reason for facilitating the plots is to help stop rural depopulation.
2,000-2,500 sq m
€8.50 per sq m
For the purposes of this Toolkit we have made the following definitions:
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- ‘self and custom built homes’ as properties commissioned by people from a builder, contractor or package company (this is known as ‘custom build’ housing). When people physically build themselves, sometimes with help from sub-contractors, this is known as ‘self build’ housing. We call all these people ‘private homebuilders’.
- ‘serviced building plots’ are shovel-ready parcels of land with planning permission, laid out and ready for construction with access and utilities/services provided to the plot boundary. Some private homebuilders just purchase a plot; others opt for a ‘shell’ home (that they then finish off), or they select from an extensive menu of options offered by developers/builders.
- ‘group projects’ mean homes built by private homebuilders who work as a collective.
WHAT LEVEL OF SERVICING IS PROVIDED?
The road layout and construction is very simple and low cost, with a basic kerb and tarmac top coat. At each plot’s entrance there is no kerb – just an area of scalpings. The purchasers are expected to resolve this when they build their homes/install their own driveways.
The entrances to the plots are simply defined
Simple servicing can be very cost effective
Don’t over-complicate the utility connections and roads infrastructure. The more it costs the more expensive the plots will need to be to recover the investment The cost of the water and power connections was partly subsidised by the local utility companies who have a budget to support public serviced plot schemes The cost of the water and power connections was partly subsidised by the local utility companies who have a budget to support public serviced plot schemes
- 2011 Land acquired
- Early 2012 Planning permission granted to re-zone the site for housing
- Late 2012 Plots serviced
- Early 2013 Marketing begins
- March 2013 First plot sold
- July 2015 Five out of seven plots have been sold; one home completed; other four have detailed planning permission
The land was formerly a field. The local Mayor negotiated the purchase (at agricultural land values) from the farmer. The purchase of the land was subsidised by the Conseil General of the Dordogne – this regional organisation supports rural councils who provide serviced plots by paying 30 per cent of the land acquisition cost.
Negotiate land at agricultural values
If you can buy land from willing farmers at (or near) agricultural values you will be able to provide much more affordable serviced plots
Five out of the seven plots were sold within two years. Two were bought by local families with children; two by retirees. At least one of the plots has been brought by English people.
The Mayor says the council does not currently have plans to progress another site like this, though it may consider it again in the future, once this development is completed. There are five or six other serviced plot developments like this available in other villages or towns nearby.
The plots at Lusignac were all sold at the same price per sq m – €8.50. This means a typical 2,300 sq m plot costs less than €20,000. The cost includes the French equivalent of VAT (TTC), which is currently 19.6per cent.
There is no negotiation on the plot price.
Prices locally range from about €5-10 per sq m.
This is a similar serviced plots scheme in a village about five miles away – here the land cost is just €6 per sq m These nine serviced plots are available three miles away, and cost about €12,000 for a 1,000 sq m site
MARKETING AND SALES
The Mayor’s part time administrative assistant simply made some individual signs for each plot, and had a banner made that was located at the entrance to the site.
There was no advertising or other promotion undertaken, and no formal marketing budget. And nothing was posted online as there in no real website for the Lusignac Mairie.
The marketing of the plots was very simple and low cost
The Mayor bought the land (with a 30 per cent subsidy from the regional council) for agricultural land values. The overall site is around two hectares. We have not be able to confirm the price paid, though we understand it was around €10,000.
The simple road structures that were installed and the utility connections cost about €50,000, across the whole site.
There was no budget for marketing or administration costs, and the Mayor’s legal/contract costs were paid by the purchasers.
The overall objective was to simply cover the development costs, rather than make a profit. With average sales prices of €15,000 to €20,000 per plot, this should be comfortably achieved.
The Mayor’s administrator co-ordinated the application to re-zone the land for housing.
There are a few restrictions imposed on plot purchasers: –
- Homes cannot exceed 200 sq m, and cannot be more than 5m high
- Only residential use is permitted
- A detailed planning application has to be lodged, and approved, before work can commence
- Traditional materials and designs are generally preferred, to tie in with the local vernacular
There is no local connection test applied – indeed at least one of the plots has been purchased by an English couple who are building a retirement property there. And there are no special incentives or preferences to support key workers.
The Mayor says applying restrictions slows down the rate of sales, and his priority is to retain or attract people to the area. We understand that this is normal on similar serviced plot sites across France.
Don’t impose lots of restrictions on what can be built
The more restrictions you apply the slower the rate of sales. On this site there are no local connection tests and just a few simple planning requirements
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