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Sun, 5 April 2020

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Increasing our custom build housing stock is a practical way to solve our housing problem

Increasing our custom build housing stock is a practical way to solve our housing problem
4 min read

Increasing our custom building housing stock is a practical way to solve our housing problems, build diverse communities and ensure good quality ecologically sound architecture, says Victoria Prentis MP.

Kevin McCloud changed my life and I want him to change yours too, via your local planning authority. Self building produces houses which are better quality, cheaper and greener.  

If you haven’t watched it already, I would encourage you to find the six episodes of Channel 4s ‘The Street’ on catch up. It gives us a real insight into what is going on in Graven Hill, the 188 hectare site of former MoD land to the south of Bicester in my constituency, which is the UK’s (and possibly the world’s) largest self-build project.  2,000 custom build homes are being created there.

Kevin McCloud provides gentle commentary on the construction process of the first ten builds, demonstrating the positives and the stresses.  Self-building is around 25% cheaper than other forms of new build.  It also makes for interesting architecture and much better built houses than those created by big developers, whose bottom line will always be financial.  The ecological benefits are also demonstrated; self-builders can simply take greater risks and try new products and ideas in a way that big business can’t.

I have always been passionate about self-building. 

My husband and I were gripped by Grand Designs when it was first shown twenty years ago. 

I was aware that our French and German contemporaries had been brought up in houses their parents had built, and were now creating their own.   We were thrilled when a run down house on a big plot became available in our village. We definitely fall into the creative rather than engineering category so we got a local architect and a firm in the village to do the building.  

Coping with the legal side of planning, as well as the design and organisation was in itself a huge time commitment.  There were television worthy moments (I’m so glad we weren’t filmed) – the day the glass wall broke into tiny shards when being installed, and when we moved in with two small children with only an outside loo and no floors.  Thirteen years on, we still love our house.  It was built for our needs; snooker, books and vinyl, and an enormous cooker.  Where others have an eating area, we have a hose down function room for community events.  Most important to us are the views of the Cherwell Valley which we enjoy on all sides.     

In those days, the planners were resistant to new ideas and were horrified by discussions about reed beds and solar panels, but I’m proud our local Cherwell District Council has become a real leader in this field.  It is the driving force behind Graven Hill, where plots with services installed are easy to buy and planning regulations relaxed and user friendly.  This was a natural progression from the Build! scheme, which offers an easier way into the property market to first-time buyers with a local connection, who finish a property to their own specification.  One great example is in Warwick Road in Banbury where there is a sixteen house development on a former care home site. Instant community cohesion is a major bonus; you don’t just know your neighbours by the time you move in, you are also familiar with their soil pipes. 

There are three major barriers to intrepid self builders; access to land, mortgage and financing issues and the planning system.  The Government is making all the right noises in policy terms but real change has to come from creative thinking by local authorities and mortgage lenders. 

Only 8% of our housing stock is currently custom built. 

Increasing this is a practical way to solve our housing problems, build diverse communities and ensure good quality ecologically sound architecture. 


Victoria Prentis is Conservative MP for Banbury.


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