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Graven Hill: The UK’s Biggest Self Build Site is No Ordinary Housing Estate

Graven Hill
(Image credit: Colin Bridges)

Graven Hill is the first self build village in the UK, and this gamechanger of a homebuilding project offers a transformative route to building your own home. 

Based in Oxfordshire, Graven Hill helps to make self build possible across a wide range of budgets, and it also simplifies the process of obtaining planning permission

This is everything you need to know about the groundbreaking project, how it works, and how you can apply for a plot in the village. 

What is Graven Hill?

Once fully developed, Graven Hill will be a self build community that helps people climb onto the housing ladder. 

The project is building up to 1,900 homes, including self build and custom build homes as well as apartments and affordable housing (which will be cheaper than so-called affordable housing on the open market). 

The first phase of plots were released in summer 2016, and once the homes are completed (which is expected to be sometime in the 2020s), Graven Hill will be home to around 5,000 people. 

There will be a primary school, a pub, shops and cafés, plus parkland will be laid out and part of the area will be given over to sports pitches and allotments.

Graven Hill

Up to 1,900 homes will be built at Graven Hill (Image credit: Colin Bridges)

Why is Graven Hill Special?

Graven Hill came about thanks to the local council, Cherwell District Council, which thought long and hard about how new housing should be delivered and came to a very different conclusion to other councils. 

Instead of selling off land to developers in the normal manner, the council retained the land at Graven Hill and acted as its own developer, via a council-owned company called the Graven Hill Development Corporation (GHDC). 

Their brief was to divide the large, ex-Ministry of Defence site into individual plots and then sell them on to ordinary people. 

How Does Graven Hill Work?

The Plot Shop

The Graven Hill Plot Shop in Bicester acts as the nerve centre of the whole enterprise. Here, aspiring custom and self builders can speak to a member of the Graven Hill team about what type of home they want to live in, and how to finance their package (more on this below).  

Graven Hill

Each self build plot comes with a plot passport (Image credit: c/o Graven Hill)

Plot Passports

Planning can be a long and complex process for many self builders, but on a site like this where there is a masterplan, it is possible to simplify the planning process by restricting the options. 

As such, each self build plot comes with a ‘plot passport’ which sets out key features such as the plot size, maximum floor area, maximum ridge height and the number of bedrooms. 

The passport also guides you through the overall building standards of the homes, which are somewhat higher than those set out in standard Building Regulations.

The traditional planning permission route typically takes 8-13 weeks, but at Graven Hill, once you have submitted your planning application and it has been registered by Cherwell District Council, planning permission should be received within 28 days.

Planning permission is not required for the custom build homes at Graven Hill. 

How do I Find a Plot?

Head to the ‘Find Your Home’ page on the Graven Hill website, then fill in the criteria you want your home to meet. 

How Does Financing Work?

The government's Help To Buy scheme applies to the custom build homes, but not to the self builds. While Help to Build is set to launch this year, it is not clear if this will be implemented into the financing for Graven Hill homes. 

However, Graven Hill has partnered with several specialist self build mortgage brokers, including BuildStore, to provide support. And there are packages available which can provide financial support, such as:

  • Golden Brick: An optional package which includes both the plot price and the cost of building the groundworks and service connections, which GHDC undertakes themselves. There is a small tax advantage in GHDC doing it this way as it avoids the self builder having to pay VAT on this element of the work
  • Mix and Match: This is a halfway house between self build and custom build, which gives you a home that is about 10% cheaper than the custom build route. There is equity here to be made for being more involved in the process, but almost all the risk is removed as GHDC provides the foundations and the builders provide the superstructure and the finishes. 

Graven Hill

(Image credit: Colin Bridges)

How Sustainable Are The Homes?

Graven Hill homes can be built, tested and certified to Passivhaus standards. This means your home would use very little energy for heating and cooling due to reduced heat loss. Passive heat sources such as the sun and occupants are used to keep the house warm, helping you to reduce the energy footprint of your home.

Ultimately, how sustainable you want your home to be depends on your budget. The Passivhaus design standard is at the one end of the spectrum, but if your ambitions and budget are a little lower, then a fabric first approach is a great alternative. 

Fabric first involves your architect thinking about sustainability specifications and actual build materials even at the design stage, as it impacts physical elements of the build such as wall thickness and external cladding options.

Self Build Rules

One of the self build site rules is that a build must be completed within two years. Another is that no caravans are allowed on site. 

Some may decry that this goes against the spirit of self build but the reality is that the soon-to-be neighbours want some guarantee that the build phase will be relatively short and that they will have a street to live on that they will be proud to call home.