The first phase of a new self build community in Ashford has been given the green light, with planning permission granted for 25 self build plots in Kent. The sustainable development is the result of a partnership between Urbanise, a Kent-based developer, and Steenvlinder, the Dutch custom and self-build (CSB) home specialist that’s now operating in the UK.

The Orchard Farm site has been allocated for housing in the Ashford Local Plan, and the expectations is that the 25 self build opportunities will be the first of a much larger, up to 100-home, site to meet local housing demand.

Purchasers can choose from a range of plot shapes and potential house sizes to suit their budgets, with a Design Code and Plot Passports providing a framework for what is acceptable from a planning permission for the designs and styles.

The site in Kennington is on the northern edge of Ashford, and two miles from Ashford International station. Orchard Farm will appeal to anyone wanting an owner-commissioned home, with options for buyers to build independently or to opt for the help of an architect and builder working as part of the development.

With permission granted, Steenvlinder will be working to get the site operation for this first phase, ensuring that infrastructure, including roads, drains and services, are in place.

Adam Roake, Owner of Urbanise, said, “By partnering with Steenvlinder to create Orchard Farm, we are realising our ambition to change the way that housing is delivered. We will bring real choice to the housing market by enabling people to build their own home. Together, we will create an exciting, sustainable community unlike any other found in Kent.

“Some of the plans under consideration include community orchards and drainage systems that improve water quality. In addition, to reduce the community’s carbon footprint there will be no gas and the use of heat pumps, onsite electricity generation and community heating will be encouraged. No doubt many other sustainable initiatives will be brought forward by the self-builders.”

Hans Sparreboom, CEO and Co-Founder at Steenvlinder, said, “The Netherlands has led the way in innovation in the CSB housing sector and we’re now excited about helping the UK build back better with homes designed and built to last. Our continued mission is to make self-build accessible and pleasant for everyone involved.

“To enable buyers to embark on their self-build journey, we provide a dedicated customer coach who ensures they fully understand the process and then acts as a guide while they explore all the options available to them.”

Interested people can now pre-register for Orchard Park 

Orchard Farm is being developed by Orchard Farm Kent Ltd., a partnership between Urbanise and Steenvlinder.  Image shows Hans Sparreboom and Adam Roake on site in Kent.

With many homes completed or underway, Graven Hill has released the latest nine plots for self builders at Bicester based self and custom build development. More plots will be released as the year progresses.

As well as offering a route to market for anyone wishing to build but struggling to find plots, Graven Hill is firmly establishing itself as a vibrant community of like-minded residents from first-time buyers to retirees.

Interest in the new plots is high, with prices ranging from £235,000 to £265,000, with the largest able to cater for a 6-bedroom home. They are in a character area of the site called ‘Circular Railway’, which incorporates features of the existing historic railway and next to green spaces.

As with most custom and self builds at Graven Hill, each plot comes with its own unique ‘Plot Passport’ that sets out the parameters for what can be built on that plot. This includes, for example, the maximum number of bedrooms and gross internal areas and also the choice of pre-approved building materials.

Financial support in the form of the Government’s new Help to Build scheme is also available on these plots, allowing buyers to benefit from a 5% deposit, alongside a Government-backed equity loan.

Custom build options

A range of new custom build homes are also due to be launched soon, for those wanting personalisation, without having to don a hard hat.

With these homes, the earlier in the build process the homes are purchased, the more customisation options the buyers will have, including layout, fixtures and fittings. Those purchasing custom builds will also be able to take advantage of the Help to Build scheme.

Gemma Davis, customer experience director at Graven Hill said: “The UK housing market is undergoing huge change and we’ve seen a dramatic spike in interest in self-building. Unfortunately, in the past, plot availability, finances and planning permission have all acted as barriers, with only a small minority able to overcome them. However, we’re changing this with the housing options we provide at Graven Hill.

“Our self-build plots have always been popular, getting snapped up quickly, and that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. Self-building results in a truly diverse community, which celebrates the uniqueness of its residents. This is in stark contrast to the cookie-cutter homes that have come to be associated with new build developments. The people who purchase our new plots will be adding their personality to Graven Hill, and we can’t wait to see the result.”

To find out more about the plots contact Graven Hill 

In a reflection of the buoyant market for custom and self build, Netherlands-based Steenvlinder has announced a major investment in the UK with three new sites. If they all go ahead, this could bring 150 plot opportunities to the market, centred around Ashford, Birmingham and Basildon.

NaCSBA member Steenvlinder is working with a range of partners to bring on the sites, including Czero and Unboxed Homes, and is in the process of recruiting for more staff for its UK operations.

Steenvlinder was set up by Hans Sparreboom and Marnix Norder in 2015 to create owner-commissioned custom build homes in the Netherlands, and it has delivered 2,000 homes since then, with more in the pipeline.

Netherlands has been a pioneer for initiatives to scale up the provision of self and custom build homes, which Richard Bacon MP saying in his review that, “Despite its size, the Netherlands has led the way in innovation in the housing sector, with the new town of Almere being an international model of what can be achieved at scale.”

Currently, Steenvlinder’s site at Pound Lane in Basildon – a collaboration with several architects – has 12 plots, available for purchase. The sites in Ashford is going through planning, with 105 plots potentially coming to the market, with the Birmingham site having scope for 30-50 plots – although the location has not yet been announced.

Why is the timing right for self build?

Owner commissioned homes are firmly on the government’s agenda, with the publication earlier this year of the Custom and Self Build Action Plan and Richard Bacon’s independent review to develop a plan for scaling up the sector, making it the perfect time for new and European companies to make the most of the positive environment.

Hans Sparreboom, Steenvlinder CEO, said: “With the English government supportive of the CSB methodology we need to spend less time asking how to build more houses and more about making ‘how to make houses’ more popular. We’re excited about helping the UK build back better with homes designed and built to last.”

The Rt Hon Christopher Pincher MP, Minister of State for the Department for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), said: “It is encouraging to see further investment in the customer and self-build market in the UK. It has the potential to deliver thousands more homes each year as we bring forward the recommendations in the Bacon Review to scale-up the sector and introduce the Help to Build scheme which will make home building a realistic and affordable option to many more people.”

NaCSBA continues to work and support government as it considers the recommendations put forwards in the review.

ProAktive's plot guide 1

Anyone coming to self build for the first time will know that finding a plot can be the biggest hurdle in getting a project off the ground. 

There have been many initiatives to support the process of finding land for developing on. First off, NaCSBA would advise anyone to sign up to their local self build register, which every council in England must host (but not in other countries of the UK). 

You can find your register on our Right to Build Portal page, where you’ll also find some FAQs about what this will and won’t do for you. In addition, there is a template complaint letter if you need it, if your authority applies tests or charges which you feel are unfair. 

Help and advice

You’ll find lots of other advice to get you started on our ‘How to Build’ support pages, including advice about finding land and plots. 

But NaCSBA member ProAktive insurance has produced a handy infographic on different types of plots, which you may also find of use in understanding the issue of types of land. 

ProAktive's plot guide 2

We love their clear approach, but would point out that unlike greenfield (or fields) or brownfield, Greenbelt does in fact refer to an allocation of land by type and is specific planning term. This land has been specifically designated as a buffer to prevent cities and towns sprawling into the countryside. However, it is not all green and lovely, as it can include previously developed land too. 

It’s highly emotive, but also raises many issues as most Greenbelt was established many years ago. However, local plans do often review Greenbelt, so the situation can change. 

Have a look at Urbanist Architecture’s handy map of Greenbelt land to get an idea of what is around you. We can’t vouch it’s 100% accurate, but it is a useful starting point.

A NaCSBA member update

A new survey by the National Self Build and Renovation Centre (NSBRC) reflects a series of data about people’s real, or planned, projects, including averages, such as age, household income and budget. This helps give a realistic picture of people building or renovating a home right now, showing what motivates them and what barriers they face. NaCSBA’s most recent surveys have asked questions of the general public, reflecting people’s aspirations rather than the realities of those actually involved in a build.

Conducted in partnership with NaCSBA in June 2021, this new survey asked questions of NSBRC customers, and of the 681 people that responded, 73% were building a brand new home.

The survey fed into Richard Bacon’s Review of Custom and Self Build, a detailed report commissioned by Boris Johsno examining the opportunities and barriers to the sector scaling up. The review, which also puts six recommendations for government to consider is due to be published shortly.

View the NSBRC Survey Infographic

NSBRC Customer Survey 2021 NSBRC Customer Survey 2021 NSBRC Customer Survey 2021 NSBRC Customer Survey 2021 NSBRC Customer Survey 2021

Get more statistics on self build on NaCSBA’s website

Anyone considering a self-build scheme as part of a group may want to consider cohousing, and, if so, a new practical guide from UK Cohousing Network offers practical insight to help you achieve your goal. Cohousing is a model in which you have your own private home while sharing common facilities as an intentional community of likeminded individuals.

Cohousing is a distinct approach to designing healthy neighbourhoods, which was developed in Denmark in the 1960s. Following steady growth in the UK over the past 14 years, UK Cohousing Network has responded to demand by publishing the country’s first ever comprehensive ‘how-to’ guide.

Based upon first-hand experience of existing schemes, the guide is essential reading for both housing/planning professionals and community groups, and takes the reader through all the stages of development from conception to living together.

What’s special about cohousing?

Cohousing communities are usually between 20-40 private dwellings with a common house, shared garden and other facilities. Residents in cohousing schemes share a common vision, and are closely involved in the design, development and long-term management/stewardship of their neighbourhoods. As such, community is at the heart of every project.

Shared spaces vary, and can include a hub for meetings and get-togethers, a shared kitchen (in addition to individual homes’ kitchens) for optional communal meals, shared gardens, laundries or even guest suites for smaller units, to remove the need for redundant bedrooms.

Practical Guide to Cohousing

Practical guidance

With over 170 pages, the guide takes groups through the entire project pipeline, drawing on experience from cohousing groups and experienced advisors. The guide explains the process of creating a group – including setting a vision, finding a site, planning, building and living in the finished project. It also explains design elements and issues around finance.


Cohousing has well-recognised benefits, and a major element in that it combats isolation and loneliness, making it a popular choice for older people, as well as a route for families and younger people. This also makes it a popular route for groups of people with shared value sets or experiences, such as the LGBTQ community.

The guide is part of the membership package for UK Cohousing Network and is available to the Community Led Homes hub network. The UK Cohousing Network’s website has lots of free information about the route, and the network is part of the Community Led Homes website, which explains the full range of approaches to community led housing, and the differences.

But groups seriously embarking on a cohousing project will find the guide, and the membership that supports it, a valuable resource.
Membership of the UK Cohousing Network costs between £60 annually for individuals looking for groups, £90 a year for established groups, with prices for NGOs and commercial memberships set at £200/£300 per year.

Don’t forget, you can join your local self build register as an individual and as a group. Find yours at the Right to Build Portal

Image: Marmalade Lane Cohousing; Duncan Hayes

Boris Johnson’s much discussed planning reforms are set to sweep away the system that has shaped our communities since 1947, but the proposals continue to get push back from Tory MPs, as well as other from other parties.

The planning system has been widely, if not always fairly, blamed for the UK’s failure in housing delivery, and the reforms have been in discussion since the Fixing our Broken Housing Market paper in 2017.

Simply put the proposals, as set out in the Planning for the Future White Paper (2020) set out a better future for a more streamlined planning service, to be encapsulated in the Planning Bill.

Three areas of activity

The government’s idea revolutionises how we do planning, adopting a model that is more akin to the zoned systems seen in many other countries, with three distinct areas defined for development. Effectively this creates a traffic light system, with all land in England falling into either:

This simplified version will see land in growth areas given automatic planning permission, with some land in renewal areas being granted permission in principle.

There has been serious criticism of the plans as many feel that it removes the ability of local people and councils to block or influence new development sufficiently. However, government counters this by saying there will be consultation involved in the setting of the zones, giving local communities say.

But a recent Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Select Committee report remained sceptical in regards to whether the proposals will have the desired results, stating in its summary that, “we are unpersuaded that the Government’s zoning-based approach will produce a quicker, cheaper, and democratic planning system”.

Criticism from within the party has continued, with the loss of a recent by-election in Chesham and Amersham being linked to local people’s concerns around planning matters, further adding fuel to the debate.

Other planning proposals

As well as the zonal system of areas, the reforms also put forward a desire to digitise the entire system, which can only be good for everyone involved.

A new National Model Design Code will also pave the way for more local Design Codes, which would set out a vision for what is acceptable locally in terms of beauty and quality. The intention of this is to raise the bar for development, especially for housing, including custom and self build homes.

Planning for the Future also set out a vision for changes in how developer contributions will be gathered – the infrastructure levy, to remove Section 106 contributions. The original idea was a national service, but this has already been revised so that it remains in the power of local authorities to control, and spend. Such contributions help fund wider issues, and, in the eyes of the local authority, ensure that new development contributes to wider issues, such as infrastructure or greening up.

NaCSBA is generally supportive of the proposed planning reforms, as they have the potential to give self and custom builders far more certainty with regards to planning.

However, many proposals to amend the planning system have been put forward over the years that have been watered down. This has traditionally given rise to the accusation of constantly tinkering with, rather than fixing, the system, resulting in the cumbersome system building most engage with. So it remains to be seen how much of the original reforms proposed will make it through the process.

The Government has launched its First Homes scheme with the initial properties in the scheme going on the market in the Bolsover district, East Midlands.

The scheme is designed to help young people and key workers onto the housing ladder, and is the flagship model in the ‘Own Your Home’ website. The new site illustrates the range of support available to help people access a home of their own, and includes the Help to Build scheme – yet to open for bids – and NaCSBA’s Self Build Portal.

As the showpiece of the campaign, the First Homes scheme has been designed for local first-time buyers, enabling them to purchase a property with a discount of at least 30% compared to the market price.

The discount is maintained in perpetuity for first-time buyers, meaning that when the home is sold the discount is able to be passed on to the new purchaser, as long as they fit the criteria. This ensures that the homes will always be sold below market, as long as it is first time buyers that buy it.

The scheme has been designed to specifically support key workers, such as NHS staff and veterans, and in turn offering wider benefits to local communities and enable them to stay in the communities where they live and work.

The initial First Homes properties went on the market in the Bolsover district, East Midlands, with a further 1,500 being market over the coming year. Government expects this to deliver 10,000 homes a year, which could be increase if there is demand.

The Halifax, Nationwide Building Society and a range of local building societies and community lenders have committed to providing high loan-to-value mortgages for First Homes to support the scheme.

Delivery of the scheme is part of the government’s wider pledge to build one million new affordable homes in this Parliament and help put home ownership within reach for people across the country. Help to Build is part of this commitment, which is also expected to boost housing delivery by enabling more people to custom and self build.

Help to Build

The Help to Build Scheme is designed to support self and custom home building, allowing it to become a realistic option for more people wishing to get on to the housing ladder through lower deposit mortgages.

Lowering the required deposit will free up capital, so people can build the home that they want and need – whether it’s a made to order home on a multi-plot site or a stand alone self build. The scheme will provide an equity loan on the completed home, similar to the Help to Buy: Equity Loan scheme.

The government’s ‘Own Your Home’ campaign showcases the full range of home ownership options supported by government, such as the the 95% mortgage guarantee scheme which helps first-time buyers secure a mortgage with just a 5% deposit.

Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said: “Enabling more people to buy their own homes is at the heart of the mission of this government, and First Homes will offer a realistic and affordable route into home ownership.

“Thanks to First Homes, we will offer more homes to local people and families, providing a route for first-time buyers to stay in their local areas rather than being forced out due to rising prices.

“First Homes will also support our fantastic key workers who are looking to get their first foot on the housing ladder – from front-line doctors and nurses to delivery drivers and supermarket staff – by giving many of them the chance to buy a home at a 30% discount.”

Find out more about First Homes and Help to Build on the Own Your Home website.

According to specialist lender Together, a third of Brits would sacrifice part of their garden if it meant they could self build on the land. Based on a new survey, the data indicates that over 34% would take on a major self-build, with a mix of motivations. Of those surveyed, 14% said this would create a home for a family member, 10% would build a house they would sell and 8% would move in themselves.

According to the survey, 26% of respondees were interested in creating a standalone ‘granny annexe’ for visiting friends or family, if they had the space. Many attributed this desire due to the way in which the pandemic forced us to reconsider how we interact with our extended families.

One in ten also said that the boom in popularity for staycations offered an opportunity to rent such a garden build out as a short-term holiday let, while 8% said they were interested in long-term lets.

But it’s not just big builds that people wanted in their garden, with a fifth (20%) of respondents saying they’d be keen to build a summerhouse or workshop to create their perfect space.

Scott Clay, distribution development manager at Together, said: “Our survey highlights homeowners’ ambitions as we begin to return to a different kind of normality.

“People are thinking more creatively about how they could use their outside space, whether that is providing a standalone home office, a home for themselves to live or sell, or a specially-designed home for elderly or disabled relatives.

“It’s important that homeowners have enough space and get any required building consent, including planning permission, before they take on a self-build. They will also need a lot of planning, determination, and the right finance in place before they start their project.

“However, as well as Help to Build, there are other options of funding your own build, depending on the borrower’s ability to repay the loan. This could be through an advance from an existing lender, a self-build mortgage, or a remortgage, bridging loan or other types of property finance from a specialist lender.”

Building in the garden

Duncan Hayes, a spokesperson for the National Custom and Self-Build Association (NaCSBA) said: “When considering options for garden plots it is important to understand the approach of the local planning authority. The right proposals in the right areas can help with the delivery of better and more sustainable homes that we urgently need.

“Care is needed as many will have specific policies to prevent inappropriate development of gardens that may cause harm to the local area. NaCSBA recommends that anyone wanting to build should sign their local self-build register and check out the planning policies on their local council’s website in regard to creating new dwellings in a garden.”

Andrew Baggot, managing partner and chartered accountant at Clarke Nicklin, adds: “As far as tax is concerned there are a few matters to bear in mind with a self-build project. As well as the tax benefits, there shouldn’t be any Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) to pay on the self-build, on the basis that it is being built in the owner’s own garden.

“However, one tax that might need to be considered in more detail is Capital Gains Tax (“CGT”). Your primary home is exempt from CGT. Although, as soon as you’ve acquired a self-build home you then have two properties, only one of which can be exempt from CGT. It’s therefore important to plan ahead if you’re then thinking of selling one of the properties so that you minimise any tax that might become payable”.

Find out more about tax on our advice pages.

A firm fixture in the self build homes calendar, the winners of the Daily Telegraph Homebuilding & Renovating Awards for 2020 have been announced. The awards celebrate outstanding examples of new homes, from a range of self builds, conversions, renovations and more. 

The winners are always worth a look for anyone involved in a project of their own as a source of inspiration, so check out the best of British!

The home that scooped the grand title of the Home of the Year 2020 was The Forge (right), which also won the Best Conversion category, for its modern take on the extension and conversion of a Grade-II listed Blacksmith’s Forge in Shropshire by Studio Bloc. The entire project had an incredible £85,000 build cost! The judges loved the forensic detailing that revealed the history in the building.


The Forge
Image: Jeremy Phillips/Future

As well as the award winners, don’t miss on reading about the inspiring projects that made it to the shortlist, as there is such a variety of inspirational projects to get your imagination going! Or check out last year’s winners for some more impressive homes. 

Check out all the winners on Homebuilding & Renovating’s website or pick up the April issue. 

The 2021 Awards are also open for entries! Get the full list of categories and how to enter on Homebuilding & Renovating