Buying a Self Build Plot at Graven Hill

We recently attended a presentation by Phil Hulme, who is the sales and marketing director for the Graven Hill Village Development Company. This all took place at the National Self Build and Renovation Centre (NSBRC) on a sunny afternoon in Swindon.

I may have mentioned Graven Hill before, but just as a very quick recap, this is the housing development on the south west corner of Bicester. The site is gradually transitioning from an MoD logistics base, into a residential area.

One of the unique aspects of the proposed village is the inclusion of plots suitable for self-build. The ultimate aim is for a mixture of styles and sizes of housing, up to around 1900 in total, which will create a pretty unique place, and hopefully a breath of fresh air in comparison with the identikit developer houses springing up elsewhere in Bicester at the moment.

The event at the NSBRC was a replacement for an intended webinar and site visit, which were cancelled due to newts and rubbish IT equipment (isn’t it always the way!). In the end, it was probably the right call – as nice as it would be to see the site, a cold wet February day spent in a field would probably not have been as nice. Plus, the NSBRC have a coffee shop, and who can argue with that.

We were promised further plot details and more information regarding the timeline and registration process, and in fairness we did hear plenty more about the plans.

I have to admit that I was expecting a full list of plots, prices and passports (i.e. the specific and detailed plot information), but we only received single plot passports for examples of 3, 4 and 5 bedroom detached plots and no specific plot prices.

Still, it was good to see a little more of the site (including some pretty cool drone footage), and it was good to meet Phillip Hulme and have a quick chat. Potential customers were chewing his ear off all afternoon, so he must have been relieved when the presentations were finally over…

So, we are still interpreting, extrapolating and filling the gaps, but with a bit more certainty than before.

This is my interpretation of the plan for Graven Hill, and the plot registration process. I must emphasise that this is purely my view – I may be wrong about some of details, so please take it with a pinch of salt!

I’ve broken it down into the following areas:

  • The Developers: Who is behind Graven Hill?
  • The Site: What will Graven Hill village be like?
  • Plots: What will actually be available?
  • Prices: How much will a plot cost?
  • Timing: When will the plots become available?
  • The Next Step: What will we be doing next?

The Developers

The site has been bought from the Ministry of Defence by Cherwell District Council, and a commercial company setup to develop it on their behalf. As such, it’s an interesting mixture of local council and commercial interests. But, make no mistake, this is a commercial operation and making a profit is one of their goals.

The public face of The Graven Hill Village Development Company has been Phil Hulme, and he has plenty of experience in this type of enterprise. I think he has a tricky job – trying to convey lots of information, whilst the development is very much new and a work in progress project. Although we might not have received as much information as we’d like, Phil and the Graven Hill team are clearly working hard behind the scenes to deliver this ambitious project in a short space of time.

The Site

The village will be nicely located, settled at the foot of Graven Hill. The hill and the forest that grows there will be retained as is, becoming a feature and focal point. The design code for the village emphasises the green spaces in and around the houses and other buildings, creating a natural environment. The village will eventually have allotments, sports facilities and wetlands.

In due course, there will be a shopping street, school, pub and presumably small business premises. It really will be a pretty well self-contained village.

The style of various elements have been detailed in the design code document. For housing there will be different styles based on the site location, with for example, a more urban feel in the centre, changing to rural lanes on the periphery.

If the developers are able to deliver what they have set out in the design code, it will be a fantastic place – something new, and exciting on a scale not seen before.

Plots

There will be 1900 homes in the village by the time it is complete, but they will be developed in phases. For now we are just being told about phase 1, which will be developed around the entrance and shopping area, and will include 313 homes. There will be a variety of plots available in this initial phase:

  • 5, 4, and 3 bed detached
  • 4, 3 and 2 bedroom terraced
  • 1 and 2 bedroom coach houses
  • 2 bedroom mews and micro houses

Each plot will have its own unique specification, which will be detailed in its plot passport which will include the following details:

  • Exact plot size
  • Allowable house size
  • Other plot requirements, such the inclusion of parking spaces, bin and bicycle storage etc.
  • Style requirements, such as a limited range of materials and finishes
  • Details of the utilities connected to the site

The good news for self-builders is that there is lots of freedom when it comes to the shape and style of the houses. Whilst some areas are more restrictive, such as in the rural lanes where a material pallet is specified, the shape and size remains up to the owner. This should mean that whilst the site has areas each with a distinctive feel, there will be a refreshing diversity of designs.

When handed over to the purchaser, the plot will be complete with foundations and services connected (see the price section for more on this). Because Graven Hill are taking care of the construction of the foundations, they are responsible for things such as the site survey and managing the actual construction schedule for this stage. In many ways this is clearly a sensible approach – they can ensure that all the plots are dealt with in a consistent manner, and manage site traffic and material supplies. Imaging the chaotic scenes that could ensue if left to the purchasers!

Prices

All we have so far is a list of ‘indicative prices’. This makes it sounds like they could change, but for now it’s all we have. This is what we’ve been told:

  • 3 bedroom detached: £140,000 – £155,000
  • 4 bedroom detached: £168,000 – £ 192,000
  • 5 bedroom detached: from £205,000

The plots will be sold with the foundations, which is known as the “golden brick”. To be honest, I’m not sure why it’s golden. But apparently this allows Graven Hill to sell the plots zero rated for VAT, and hence, if we take that literally are 20% cheaper than they would otherwise be. I don’t fully understand this aspect of it, but I think it’s because once work starts it’s officially a new build which is zero rated, whereas a plot its own would attract normal VAT. In any case, zero VAT is obviously good news for the purchaser (i.e. us!).

So, as part of the design process, the purchaser will have to submit their foundation designs. Graven Hill will then cost it up and come back to you with a price. As I’ve mentioned, it makes a lot of practical sense for Graven Hill to take care of all the foundations, but there will be no negotiating on the price. It’s my understanding that Graven Hill will aim to equalise the cost across the site, so that no one plot is disproportionately affected by tricky ground conditions. All in all, this seems like a fair approach, and obviously something quite unique for a self-build development.

The indicative prices for golden bricks are:

  • 3 bedroom detached: £19,000 – £32,000
  • 4 bedroom detached: £26,000 – £39,000
  • 5 bedroom detached: £41,000 – £60,000

A breakdown of the timing of payments is shown in the timing section below.

The Registration Process and Timing

So when is all this happening and what do we need to do?

It’s clear that there is plenty for the developer to do. At the moment, the site still looks like an MoD logistics base, but is being demolished and converted as I type. As far as a wannabe plot purchaser is concerned, the registration process looks like this (as mentioned in my disclaimer this is purely my interpretation!):

May 2016, Final Plot Details Released

I’m assuming this will happen online, and the plot passports, complete with prices will be listed. Assuming you there is a plot you wish to purchase, you can register for it, but there will be some requirements.

You’ll need to submit the following:

  • Drawings giving at least an impression of your intended design
  • A costing and budget breakdown
  • Proof that you are able to finance the build
  • You preferred 3 plots
  • A deposit of around £500 (refundable if you do not get the plot)

There will effectively be a selection process, whereby your application is assessed by Graven Hill, and this will take 14 days.

There are no definitive guidelines as yet detailing the exact requirements of these submissions, but it’s my interpretation that the more detailed and accurate the submission, the more likely you are to be successful.

Also, preference will be given to Cherwell residents. In fact, during the first month, only Cherwell residents, or those currently working in Cherwell, will be able to submit an application.

All this seems to indicate that if you submit a detailed and accurate application on day 1 that meets the planning requirements, you are more likely to be offered the plot.

If you are successfully offered the plot, and agree to continue with the process, you can then officially register the plot. Graven Hill will take the plot off the market for a period of 6 months. You will need to make a non-refundable payment in the region of a few thousand pounds.

At this point, you basically have 6 months to complete your finished design. An important part of this process will be the submission of your foundations design. In order to give Graven Hill the chance to cost your foundations (for the golden brick, as mentioned earlier) you will need to submit your requirements during this 6 month period. The indication was, that the costing process will take 2 months, so you’d need to submit your foundation design within 4 months.

So, at the end of this 6 month design process, you will have your completed design, and Graven Hill will have the final price for the golden brick.

I’m assuming that you’ll have to submit your design for planning permission. This will be ‘fast tracked’ at Graven Hill, which is a benefit of the involvement of the local council in setting up the village in the first place, and the relatively open requirements in the design code and plot passports. I believe this process will take another month.

Assuming all is well and the house design and golden brick pricing are agreed, the go ahead can be given to commence construction of the foundations. At this stage, a further payment will be required, perhaps in the region of 10-20% of the final golden brick price.

The stated aim of Graven Hill is to have golden bricks completed by the end of June 2017. At this point the final hand over can take place, with the remainder of the purchase price paid, and final plot registration and ownership transferred to the purchaser.

From July 2017 construction of houses can begin in earnest.

There will be a clause in the contract that the owner must complete the construction of the house with 24 months of taking ownership of the plot. If this doesn’t happen, Graven Hill have the right to complete the build. I’m not sure whether they would take complete ownership of the asset at this point, but clearly this is something that everyone will want to avoid!

So, that’s all there is to it! We now just have to wait until more information is released

What are We Doing Next?

For us, the next step to start speaking to architects, to try and get a feel for what sort of house we want. This will also help us to better understand how much we might end up spending, or more importantly, how much we can reasonably afford…

DeanBuying a Self Build Plot at Graven Hill

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