The first step in any self build project is finding a suitable plot that will accommodate the size and style of home you want. We’ve chosen Graven Hill – the UK’s largest self build and custom build home development, near Bicester in Oxfordshire – as the ideal location for Build It’s Self Build Education House.
One of the golden rules of self building is that the design should always start with the site, so selecting the right plot was inevitably going to be a critical part of our scheme. There are a range of benefits to self building at Graven Hill – one of which is that you’ll have a very clear idea of what you can build before you buy your plot.
Through the Plot Passports, you get an early-stage glimpse at the main design parameters for each site, including the number of bedrooms you can have, the orientation of the building and the likely ground conditions.
This makes it far easier to visualise what you might be able to achieve on the plot you’re considering. Plus, provided your scheme falls within the guidelines, you should get fast-track planning permission within 28 days.
What’s more, aspects such as services and access are already taken care of. So there’s no risk of issues such as ransom strips (pieces of privately owned land) or restrictive covenants derailing a project. You also know you’ll be getting a clear, level plot – with foundations supplied according to your design.
The volume of home building opportunities at Graven Hill makes a staggered release of plots vital, to ensure that people aren’t continually living next to a construction site. The coloured-in houses on the masterplan (pictured above) represent the plots available in Phase 1a and 1b. These sit at the centre of the development, set around the primary school and backing onto the meadow and wooded hill.
The zone containing Build It’s plot is set apart slightly from Phase 1, up in the top left corner and denoted by the pink-hued buildings, which have a south-westerly aspect. To the rear are 10 Demonstrator Plots. They were the first sites sold at Graven Hill; these projects are being filmed by Channel 4 for a special Grand Designs: The Street TV series.
Our section of the project forms part of the Community Streets Character Area of Graven Hill. These zones consist predominantly of detached plots, and offer the highest level of design flexibility across the development. Creative expression is therefore encouraged in terms of the palette of materials – but there are still a number of site-wide rules to abide by, such as ridge height limitations.
Build It’s Self Build Education House will occupy the corner plot 0592 (edged in red on the location plan below). Our neighbours will be a series of show homes.
The salmon-hued blocks on each plot represent the build zone – so the house must fit within its borders. The turquoise triangles mark where services have been taken up to the boundary.
One of the interesting features of Graven Hill is that the plots aren’t much bigger than you might see on a standard development. Our site has a total depth of just over twice the permitted length of the building – enough to get some parking on the front driveway, and a modest but functional back garden. The plot stretches to 330m2 in total.
This isn’t your classic Grand Designs misadventure set on five acres of land and overlooking miles of unbroken countryside – although some of the plots do benefit from views over green space (ours included).
What you do get at Graven Hill is the chance to create an architecturally interesting home that’s totally tailored to your needs and represents much better value for money than you could achieve by buying from a big developer.
When it came to selecting a plot for our educational project, the level of design freedom available in the Community Street zone was an important factor.
We want to showcase a range of architectural features and materials, to help you get a better handle on what might suit your preferences and lifestyle – and that should be possible on this site.
QUICK GUIDE: Reserving a Self Build Plot at Graven Hill
The sites at Graven Hill are being released incrementally over the course of a decade, until the whole development is fully built out – at an average of around 200 homes per year. Within each phase, a range of property sizes is available across the different Character Areas.
You can log on to the Graven Hill website to view the sites currently for sale in more detail, including guide prices and individual Plot Passports for each of the self build plots.
If you want to put your name down for one of the serviced plots, you’ll first need to demonstrate that you have sufficient funds to acquire the land and proceed with a build. This is achieved via a financial qualifying exercise, undertaken by BuildStore.
Once you’ve completed this viability stage of the process, you will be able to pay a reservation fee based on the value of the plot. From here, the goal is to exchange within seven months – which gives you enough time to come up with a well-considered design and gain the fast-track planning consent.
The exchange of contracts will trigger delivery of the Golden Brick foundations, which usually takes between four and 10 weeks. Once Graven Hill has provided a completion contract for the foundations phase of the works, you pay the rest of the money and become the legal owner of your serviced self build plot, which is now ready for your home’s superstructure.
We’re already aware of a few overarching planning considerations on the site from the plot parameters we’ve been supplied by Graven Hill (our version of a Plot Passport). There is a limit of 8.1m on the ridge height, for example, and we know our maximum gross internal area is 160m2.
Our build zone is trapezoid rather than the typical box-shape, which poses some challenges but could also bring the opportunity for design innovation.
In terms of ground conditions, it’s likely that we’ll be dealing with some kind of clay soil – which could affect our foundation design.
The fact this is a corner plot is a major attraction. This gives us the opportunity to create a dual aspect to the house, which overlooks attractive woodland. What’s more, when in leaf, the mature trees should give us some summer shading – with the potential for solar gain in winter.
As Build It’s Self Build Education House will be an educational experience rather than a home for ourselves, the legal process for buying a plot is slightly more complex than it would be for a normal self builder on Graven Hill.
However, we’re taking very much the same route as a self builder would: we’ll be following a range of Plot Passport-style design parameters; Graven Hill will be instructing the groundworkers according to our final plans; and we’ll take the lead once the Golden Brick foundations have been completed.