We’re following the story of Anne, mother of six boys who is building a home for her family and one for the grandparents on the same site. They used the Right to Build to help them escape the private rental sector, acting as pioneers for the legislation, which even the council was unsure about at the time.

Anne's family

Part 8: Calling on higher support

A quick recap: 
Our offer for the Vicarage garden (with our partner family) had been overtaken as Council and Diocese got into dialogue. Against that disappointment things were picking up on the community building idea.

Maximising the opportunity for homes

It was 2018 and the beginning of a new year. My husband Peter spent Christmas working up a scheme for the two sites to house 5-7 units, to make the most of the site.

He was also formulating a proposal to convince the church that, rather than sell off the ‘family silver’ to fund philanthropic ‘mission’, community housing was, in fact, a mission purpose in itself, and could even be framed to support the work of the church locally.

At this point the Diocese was in the process of drawing up a scheme for maximising the number of units on both sites. It would obtain a valuation and then take the site to auction. We knew that any private sale bid would have to be 10% above the valuation,  as before, but this time for the combined sites.

Only a registered charity, the Diocese Development Manager pointed out, would have a chance of bidding below market value. I could feel his discomfort, as he was trying to tell me we no longer stood a chance.

However, for some reason I did not feel uncomfortable, saying that, “Nothing is impossible….”

I had further conversations with the Council Property Disposals manager who was happy to share the plans being drawn up with the Church, but his position was similar: ‘best price’ needed to be achieved. We would have the same chance as others to compete for the scheme.

Setting our vision

It was clear that we had got as far as we could with the property departments. We needed to reach visionaries.

Consequently, we came up with a prospectus which we called, ‘Reimagining Community: a pilot scheme in N14’. This was inspired by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ‘Reimagining Britain’ in which he challenged ‘the purpose of housing should be understood as creating communities and not merely building accommodation”.

‘The housing crisis’, we wrote, ‘presents an opportunity that creative, dynamic and devoted families wanting to establish a secure base and build community need help to get started…’

My first port of call was the vicar’s wife who was encouraging. I talked through some of our ideas and she recommended that we approach the area Bishop (Bishop of Edmonton) who was interested in affordable housing and Father Edd said he would put in a good word and introduce us by email.

This turned out be very timely. I followed up our contact at Faith in Affordable Housing (see Blog 5) who informed me that the Bishop of Edmonton had recently become a trustee of Housing Justice.

He also gave me the contact for the Diocese Strategic Development Manager. Community housing was of interest, but the Diocese had no policy to date and although a ground rent model was a sensible business model for the church it was one that was not recognised yet.

Father Edd was as good as his word and immediately wrote to the Bishop saying he had seen our proposals which were very interesting and should be seriously considered.

We then wrote our letter in our custom way – I draft the letter, Peter puts red lines all over it and re-writes it. We were not sure how to address a bishop but in the end decided on the old fashioned formal form:

My Lord, … we are looking for support within the Church for our small community led housing proposal… The development would pioneer a new form of affordable housing made possible because the Church would retain ownership of the land.

Families would be able to own their own homes but not have to buy the land and instead pay a ground rent to the Church. In that respect it is like buying a flat.

The Church maintains a steady income stream and has helped create a community invested in the school and church. The houses would remain affordable in perpetuity…

The development explores the idea of intergenerational living with some of the characteristics of an extended family in which the old can provide some childcare and the young can help the elderly in various ways. The scheme also looks at how students or those starting work or just married can find their feet.

…Currently Council and Diocese are looking to marry the two sites which back onto each other and dispose of them at auction for development for luxury houses and apartments. The Council site is landlocked and the Diocese owns the access and so has the controlling interest.

Our proposal offers an alternative model which while it will not furnish a Best Price lump sum up front it will deliver value in terms of Mission, for families and the community and almost certainly achieve better overall cash value in the long run…

The approach is a new and practical application of some of the principles recently promoted by the Archbishop and by the Mayor, and would help London Borough Enfield to deliver on their new obligations on Self Build. Indeed we believe Enfield will welcome the opportunity.

They are already taking some quite brave steps on ‘custom build’ ahead of other boroughs and so this is an opportunity to give some encouragement that the great moral authority of the established church can lend.

This site offers a curiously unique symbol of cooperation of the two great pillars of Church and State to bring forward fresh answers to the biggest questions for families in Britain today…”

I received a call back a couple of weeks later to say the Bishop was happy to meet us and a meeting was set for a month’s time. It was exciting.

Our task now was to seek a similar visionary in Enfield Council, we knew there was one, he was working with Naked House, but could we reach him?

Find your self and custom build register on the Right to Build Portal.

Read the other parts of the Self Build Family Build Blog.

Part One: Deciding to Self Build, the Turning Point

Part Two: Looking for Land in London

Part Three: The Land Value Idea

Part Four: A Small Matter of Access

Part Five: The Mystery of the Road Unravelled

Part Six: Negotiating a Deal

Part Seven: Best Consideration Pursuing our Community Building Idea

 

Photo: printed with permission of Fiona Hanson 2020©

Graven Hill has revealed that one in three of the self-built homes completed between 2018 – 2021 used modern methods of construction (MMC), reflecting that self build leads the way in the adoption of innovative methods. MMC refers to non-traditional methods of building, which includes both off-site manufacturing and innovative on-site techniques, such as insulated concrete formwork (ICF).

MMC is high on the government’s agenda, and it announced the launch of an MMC taskforce in the most recent Budget to examine the ways in which uptake of MMC can be improved. Graven Hill hopes to be part of this research as it feeds into the wider debate.

In 2021 a specialist supplier at Graven Hill is aiming to complete 25 prefabricated homes on site, and since 2018, there have been 34 self and custom build projects built using MMC.

Typically, these houses take 2-3 days to assemble to the watertight stage, with a further 6-7 weeks to finish on site. This is faster than the average bricks and block home, and the builds meet or exceed the high-quality building standards set by Graven Hill.

Building at Graven Hill

Each self build at Graven Hill comes with a ‘Plot Passport’ that sets the parameters and guidelines for that specific plot, all of which is pre-approved by the council. Working within this framework, self builders can get planning permission in just 28 days, as opposed to the usual 8-13 weeks. Choosing to build with MMC further increases the speed of completion.

Off-site methods in general are popular with Graven Hill builders, as they offer quick and simple route to construction, with minimal disruption on site.

Karen Curtin, managing director at Graven Hill, said: “The announcement of the MMC taskforce was positive news. All of our Plot Passports allow for the use of MMC techniques, and we believe it will play an important role in the future of housing developments.

“With the help of our specialist suppliers, we have proven that prefabricated homes can be just as high quality and aesthetically beautiful as traditional homes. Offering both speed and affordability, MMC certainly looks to be the way forward for housing and we’re proud to be part of the revolution.”

Not only do the site’s self-build homes benefit from MMC, but so do its custom build new homes. A range of ‘move in ready’ new build homes are available to buy now, with many eligible for Help to Buy. From two- and three-bed terraces to five-bed detached homes, accessibility is at the core of Graven Hill. The flexibility and affordability of MMC ensures this can be achieved without having to compromise on quality.
For more information, get in contact with the Graven Hill team.

We’re following the story of Anne, mother of six boys who is building a home for her family and one for the grandparents on the same site. They used the Right to Build to help them escape the private rental sector, acting as pioneers for the legislation, which even the council was unsure about at the time.

Anne's family

Part 7: Best consideration – pursuing our community building idea

A quick recap: 
We made an offer on the Vicarage plot, partnered with a family who were a great fit with us and had got as far as Heads of Terms with the Church. But at the last minute the Council contacted the Diocese to look at a commercial scheme marrying the two sites.

Building a home or a community?

“Pick yourself up, brush yourself off and start all over again,” my old philosophy tutor used to say. I was deeply disappointed. When I rang the Diocese development manager a few days later his manner was cooler than it had been (at least I imagined so).

When I asked where we stood he confirmed the strength of our offer lay in the fact that at a future date we might work with the Council to develop their site but events had changed and the Council and Diocese were now talking about marrying the two sites themselves.

Our chance of building two homes was now slim. The conversation ended in an awkward silence. The reality was that we would not be able to compete with a better financed developer to develop both sites.

A year’s work…

I put down the phone and the tears poured out! We had been so close. We had not only built up our own hopes but our friends’ too. It had been almost a year since I came across the Right to Build Legislation, and eight months since we started pursuing the Council plot.

The obvious question was: ‘Should we now give up?” Peter and I held the view that we should pursue something until every door and window was shut in front of us. The door had obviously and firmly been shut but there was a small window open.

Community led holds the key

About the same time I received an email from the Community Land Trust Network that our application for first stage funding had been successful (see blog 5) and I could chose an advisor to work with us for our first scoping day. They also approved my application for a bursary ticket for the National Community Led Housing Conference later that month.

We began to pick up where we had left off with our ideas of community building. If the Church and Council were looking at marrying the two sites for a larger housing development, then being both public mission landowners surely they should at least consider a community scheme for local families committed to the local area and local church?

We met with Stephen Hill, then Chair of UK Cohousing Network and Trustee of Community Land Trust Network. Stephen set out our current position and set out two or three different routes of community led housing we could look at.

At the present time we were two families looking to house ourselves with the potential to help other families along the way. As such, we did not represent a community benefit organisation.

Community Land Trusts steward land for the community, with the community having a say in the organisation, and members have a vote. There is quite a formal governance and legal structure, and those who set up the CLT do not necessarily get to live in it. Cohousing is slightly different and perhaps closer to what we were envisaging. Cohousing groups are intentional communities run by the residents. The initial group have a significant role in designing and creating the community.

Family first approach

Stephen likened our approach to a not-for profit Community Interest Company called Naked House. They were part of the Urban Community Land Trust family and, like us, were responding to the need of families who don’t qualify for social housing but are unable to afford a home on the open market.

In 2015 they won a competition by New London Architecture partnering with Enfield Council to produce a scheme as one way of solving the housing crisis. Their scheme involved repurposing Enfield Council land to create 22 new units across three sites.

They would be a developer led custom build initiative providing ‘naked’ homes, houses stripped back to bare essentials: habitable with electricity, heating and a basic bathroom but also planning and building regulation compliant and purchasable with a high street mortgage.

Challenges of the model

We had heard of Naked House and in fact earlier in the year invited the founders over to dinner. At the time they helped us understand some of the challenges they were facing.

To make the houses affordable (apart from the ‘naked’ element) they were looking at a leasehold/ground rent model with Enfield Council. This was proving difficult not least because the Government were planning to ban ground rents due to abuses of the system.

They have since been enormously successful and are currently building the 22 homes in Enfield and are working with Lewisham and Croydon Councils to do something similar. They were the first community led housing group to receive funding from City Hall.

Homes will be delivered as an affordable discounted market sale product (anticipated between 25-30%) and the discount will be locked in to keep the property affordable in perpetuity for allocation to those priced out of the market. The lowest cost homes will be genuinely affordable to those on London median wage, whilst those with an income up to £90k are eligible to apply.

The regeneration team at Enfield, they told us, was headed by a pioneering and visionary leader. Perhaps we could make contact and look to do something on a smaller scale as a self build community initiative?

The benefit of having a similar narrative, Stephen said, was that decision makers feel more comfortable working with ideas that have already been given official political endorsement.

Stephen suggested we work up an outline viability appraisal for the site and our priority should be to establish with both landowners the basis on which they would engage with us directly, and still satisfy their legal requirements to obtain the ‘best consideration reasonably obtainable’.

This does not mean the most money in either case. “The church as a charity can use its land to achieve its ministry objectives,” Stephen said, “and the Archbishop’s pronouncement [in 2017] that the church should use its land holdings to promote affordable housing, should be helpful to us.”

So as the year drew to an end here lay our challenge: could we find a way of presenting to the church and council that ‘best consideration reasonably obtainable’ for their site was not the highest price but a local community led initiative supporting the local area and local church?

Find your self and custom build register on the Right to Build Portal.

Read the other parts of the Self Build Family Build Blog.

Part One: Deciding to Self Build, the Turning Point

Part Two: Looking for Land in London

Part Three: The Land Value Idea

Part Four: A Small Matter of Access

Part Five: The Mystery of the Road Unravelled

Part Six: Negotiating a Deal

 

Photo: printed with permission of Fiona Hanson 2020©

Anyone interested in building in East Sussex will be interested to learn that Leaper Land Promotion has submitted a planning application for 22 serviced plots at Horam.

The proposals, which include eight affordable homes, were submitted to Wealdon District Council following consultation with local residents, and has now been validated. You can see the application on the council’s website.

Anyone wishing to build their own home are encouraged to leave positive statements of approval for the site, to help counter the inevitable objections that all planning applications attract.

Set on a 0.8 hectare site, is on the south of the village of Horam, set between recent housing and the Sussex countryside. The homes have been designed by award-winning architect Pollard Thomas Edwards and planning consultancy Rural Solutions, working in conjunction with the land owner.

The homes will offer a range of choices in the homes, including a palette of designs and materials that buyers can use to customise their design. This will create a sustainable and valuable new addition to the village that the Leaper believes will be an asset for the future. The inclusion of custom build as well as affordable homes will increase housing choice in the town for existing and new residents of the village.

Horam material palette

The design has been carefully framed to boost local biodiversity across the site to connect with the woodland buffer zone between the site and the open countryside.

“Leaper’s latest self and custom build scheme at Horam in East Sussex falls within a draft updated village development boundary and was supported at pre-app. A detailed design code has been developed to best reflect the local vernacular architecture and the scheme if approved will provide much needed plots for the local area,” says Ben Marten, Director of Leaper Land.

Find Wealden District Council’s Self Build Register on the Right to Build Portal

 

If you have land that you think would be suitable for custom or self build, get in touch with Leaper Land.

Images: Pollard Thomas Edwards/Leaper Land

A self build scheme for six previously-homeless veterans has completed in Leominster, part of a larger 19-affordable homes site.

The project was the result of a collaboration between veteran’s charity Alabaré Community Self Build and social housing provider Stonewater

The scheme was focussed on creating opportunities for the veterans to support them with skills and experience as they worked alongside the contractor, J Harper & Sons. This provided them with the skills to support their return to work as well as providing them with a sense of pride combined with the security that comes from having a home. 

The homes were made available to the veterans to rent, with most moving in just before Christmas. 

Veterans self build resident

The scheme took 19 months to deliver – continuing through Covid19, and used land that been occupied by 1970s maisonettes coupled next to a piece of under-utilised land. 

Dwain, one of the veteran self-builders (pictured), said:  “This scheme has changed my life. Only last year I was sleeping rough with no hope and my health suffered.  Now I have got my self-esteem back and I am going to have a home I can bring my children to and celebrate Christmas together. 

I have also gained qualifications and work experience that will help me get a new job, and support me and my family. It’s been fantastic and thank you all.”

Matthew Crucefix, Director of Development (South and West) at Stonewater, explains more: “For us, collaboration has been the key to success for this project. This scheme highlights how local organisations, councils and charities can work in partnership to make a difference together and provide much-needed affordable homes for those who need them the most. 

Ken Hames, Chief Operating Officer of Alabaré’s Community Self Build (Veterans) scheme describes how veterans have benefitted from being able to build their own homes.  “Self Build has two aspects to it. The obvious primary outcome is a number of dwellings for veterans in housing need. But more importantly, the veteran self-builder rebuilds their life by building their home. The site itself becomes a platform for recovery and transformation, leading to work and independent living.”

Read an earlier story about the schemeSeveral other veterans schemes have taken the same approach across the country, such as Plymouth’s Nelson Project. 

Graven Hill in Bicester, Oxfordshire, has launched a new range of 3- and 5-bedroom custom build homes.

There is a range of routes to ownership at Graven Hill, the UK’s largest self and custom build development. At the site, purchasers are able to buy plots on which to commission a self build home using a company of their choice, or custom build homes, where the buyer customises a pre-designed home that is then built out by a pre-appointed contractor.

In this way, custom build buyers are able to get a home that suits their needs, but don’t have to take on the full commissioning process of doing a full self build.

 

Swale custom build home
The Swale custom build home
custom build home: the meadow
Buyers can grab the Meadow, ready for immediate purchase

Custom build designs

The new designs, The Swale and The Glade, are designed around family living and are close to Graven Hill’s ancient woodlands. Prices start at £350,000 for a 3-bed terraced homes, which are available to reserve off-plan. Customers can then choose from a choice of layouts, fixtures and finishes, with the earlier purchasers. The earlier purchasers become engaged with the build process, the more options there are to customise the home.

Homes at Graven Hill are priced to suit a range of budgets, opening up the site to everyone from first time buyers to Grand Designers.

Karen Curtin, managing director at Graven Hill, said: “Buying a custom build home, gives people complete creative control on the important decisions. It takes away the hassle of managing a construction process and allows them to create a home that is completely unique to their personality and needs.

Visits to Graven Hill are by appointment only due to the pandemic, but virtual tours are available, and you can find out more at build process online at the Build It Self Build Education House.

 

We’re following the story of Anne, mother of six boys who is building a home for her family and one for the grandparents on the same site. They used the Right to Build to help them escape the private rental sector, acting as pioneers for the legislation, which even the council was unsure about at the time.

Anne's family

Part 6: Negotiating a deal

A quick recap: 
We were invited to make an offer on the Vicarage Plot, and it turned out the Church had already acquired the access road. In parallel, the idea of building a community was bringing us in contact with organisations with expertise in that field.

Building a home or a community?

The Diocese determined to sell the vicarage plot (with access road) in November and the development manager invited us to make an offer.

We still retained our ideas of community building and hoped that during the negotiation period we might persuade the church to hold on to their land (see Blog 3) and consider a wider community project with the Council.

Meanwhile we began to draw up draft Heads of Terms (HoTs) for the offer to the Church. We had to look up on the internet for examples of HoTs – basically a simple plain English description of the offer.

The initial noises from the church were positive. We had some indication of what the auctioneer valuation would be and we knew we needed to offer a little over but we also had to make our own minds up about the value.

To do this, Peter, my architect husband, worked backward from the third/third/third rule for development that sets out a third for the land, a third for build costs and a third for developer profit (which we wouldn’t need as we were building for ourselves).

Imagine a 3 bed house in North London worth £750k, and you wanted to build one as a developer, 750k would be your GDV ‘gross development value’ and you might expect the build cost to be 250k. Then various development costs (including profit margin) might add another 250k leaving a so-called ‘residual valuation’ of the land at 250k. In reality land values in London had gone up so we estimated 40% rather than the 33%.

Peter worked out we could fit two 4-5 bed houses on the plot, with the loft spaces configured as rooms. We were confident in this given Peter’s architectural experience and his success with previous clients overturning officer recommendations at Committee. Splitting the land and building two houses we believed was affordable.

Tom McSherry of BuildStore confirmed that we could get two self build mortgages for two families on different plots if planning permission was obtained.

Estimating the costs

Peter had a rough estimation of build costs, too. As a guide to the developer costs he included costs around land acquisition – stamp duty and other taxes, lender fees and interest over the development period and fees for accountant, lawyer and land registry. Any costs for the road to extend utilities probably belong here.

Then there were professional fees, for planning, architects fees, structural engineer, probably an energy consultant engineer if you have to meet London Plan Carbon Reduction targets. To organise the whole thing you may have a project manager and a quantity surveyor to draw up a cost plan and track spend against it.

A professional developer may pay a 1-2% finder’s fee for a lead on the plot and may feel entitled to a wage for his efforts and some profit on your capital, risk and enterprise. Some of these costs we would not need to pay nor did we need to make a profit.

Partnering up

We did however need a partner. I had a friend in a similar position to ourselves whose daughter was in the same class as my son’s. I had bumped into her on several occasions outside the school gates and we had discussed our housing dilemmas. She longed for a home of their own and they had made the difficult decision for her husband to work in Dubai to earn the money needed for a deposit. He had been away 3 years. She was an accountant and he a quantity surveyor. Both essential skills for a development project!

It seemed like a good, perhaps even ‘perfect’, fit and I knew we had little time so I asked whether they would like to partner with us. She was excited by the idea. It almost seemed too good to be true that she could have a house and be able to design it too! Her husband was more cautious but decided it seemed like a good idea. They had a deposit and the maths worked. We corresponded by email showing them our draft heads of terms.

They were not so keen on our community building ideas. They wanted the security of owning the land but they were willing to keep an open mind. However the Church were not keen either. They wanted to proceed to a quick sale. As the deadline drew close for submitting our terms to the Church my friend’s husband flew in from Dubai to meet us and decide whether to take the chance. We agreed that it was an opportunity not to be missed and decided to go for it.

Best laid plans…

We sent the Heads of Terms to the Church 30th October and now had to hope and wait. We didn’t have to wait long but it wasn’t the news we were expecting to hear. I had an email from the Development Manager on 7th November:
“At the very last minute, I have been contacted by the local authority, who are asking if we would consider a joint planning application with them.
I am awaiting their proposal, however whatever it is I will have to take this to our directors as well as your proposal and it is bound to create delays in selling the site, which I wouldn’t expect to take place for a number of months now.”

It was a bitter blow. I knew immediately what that meant. It had only been a matter of time and we were too late. The Council had found out that the Church owned access to their site and contacted them to look at a joint commercial project. How ironic. If I had not contacted the Council and hassled them over the summer they never would have bothered!
Did this mean dead end for us?

Find your self and custom build register on the Right to Build Portal.

Read the other parts of the Self Build Family Build Blog.

Part One: Deciding to Self Build, the Turning Point

Part Two: Looking for Land in London

Part Three: The Land Value Idea

Part Four: A Small Matter of Access

Part Five: The Mystery of the Road Unravelled 

Photo: printed with permission of Fiona Hanson 2020©

*The Right to Build Expos were professional focussed training events sharing best practice, delivered by the Right to Build Task Force 

Land promoter Leaper Land has put in a planning application for 50 serviced plots at Framlingham in Suffolk, enabling local people to build a custom or self build home of their own.

The proposals were submitted to East Suffolk Council in September 2020 following consultation with local residents, and anyone hoping to self build locally can view the application (Reference: DC/20/3326/OUT) on the councils planning website.

In particular, would be self and custom builders in the region are encouraged to leave positive statements of approval for the site, as all planning applications attract numerous objections.

The application was put together with the landowner, multi-award winning architect Pollard Thomas Edwards and planning consultancy Rural Solutions on the proposals. As a land promoter, Leaper Land works to support custom and self build schemes coming forward in rural locations, with Leaper supporting the landowner to create a viable opportunity of serviced plots.

The Framlingham site includes a range of local improvements, including work to make the Victoria Mill Road safer for a larger development, a new neighbourhood play area and improvements to drainage, footpaths and ecological enhancements. These include new native tree and hedge planting, with landscape design is by Collington Winter.

In the application Leaper Land stressed the urgent need for custom and self build housing in East Suffolk, with 410 people signed up to the East Suffolk self build register. Leaper has conducted wider research into appetite for custom and self build that indicates significant unmet demand locally.

Find East Suffolk’s Self Build Register on the Right to Build Portal

Custom and self build are individuals who purchase a serviced plot of land and act as their own developer – whether by employing their own design and build contractor or simply configuring certain aspects of the design or finish.

Building a custom or self build home means you have the unique freedom to design and build the home that best suits your needs and requirements. You can be as involved as you want to be in the process, from working with expert designers and contractors to build exactly what you want and need, to designing and managing the entire process.

Leaper Land has proactively addressed a range of questions on its website, such as how the proposal works with the local and neighbourhood plans, such as minimum indicative housing requirements.

The proposals also include affordable housing provision, including an allocated 17 homes (34% of the total), with a mix of discounted market price, shared ownership and affordable rent.

“Our research shows there is strong demand for Custom and Self-Build homes in and around Framlingham and so our proposal, if granted permission, will make a significant contribution to satisfying that demand. We are excited at the prospect of creating a beautiful new community which closely reflects the local vernacular while also providing a unique opportunity for individuals to get closely involved in the design of their new homes,” says Ben Marten, Director of Leaper Land.

 

Leaper Land's Child Okeford custom build site

Leaper Land has also applied for planning in Child Okeford in North Dorset 

If you have land that you think would be suitable for custom or self build, get in touch with Leaper Land.

Images: Pollard Thomas Edwards/Leaper Land

We’re following the story of Anne, mother of six boys who is building a home for her family and one for the grandparents on the same site. They used the Right to Build to help them escape the private rental sector, acting as pioneers for the legislation, which even the council was unsure about at the time.

Anne's family

Part 5: The mystery of the road unravelled

A quick recap: 
We had found adjoining plots both owned by public service mission landowners – church and state – and both landlocked. We probably could not afford either but could we bring other values to the table? Could we find the owner of the private road and unlock access? And could we appeal to their mission interest in helping build local communities?

 

Could we build a community?

My visit to the first Right to Build Expo* had got off to a good start with NaCSBA Chair Michael Holmes explaining the public service mission aspect in ‘Best Value’ (blog 4).

From there it became an investigation into community building. My husband Peter, who is an architect, had already worked out that it was feasible to build two houses on the vicarage plot (managed by the Diocese of London) and a further 4-5 units on the Enfield Council-owned plot, so a small community project was plausible.

The breakout group session led by Tom Chance, Director of the National Community Land Trust Network helped to affirm some of our ideas. Community Land Trust is a way of holding land that embodies the sort of idea for affordability that we had been thinking about, where it is secured in perpetuity (see Blog 3).

It was developed in 1969 inspired by the earlier Garden Cities movement. How you get the land is another question, but in some cases it has been gifted or sold at a below market price by some philanthropic owner, and occasionally by a council. The Community Land Trust provides a legal form to put the land into a Trust for the benefit of the community and a lot of work has been done to develop a route map for interested groups and a governance model.

We were not expecting anyone to gift us anything, and we thought either the church or the council should retain the land. But we were starting to think that if we could make something work in terms of a self build, then we should be able to make it work for others too and it could be a community. I mentioned the idea to Tom and he encouraged me to apply for their ‘first stage funding’ that would fund one of their consultants to help us develop the idea. I did this the very next day.

Michael Holmes also gave me the contact details for ‘Faith in Affordable Housing’ (aka Housing Justice) an organisation working to promote housing justice and advise the church on disposal of land for affordable housing. I wrote to them too.

New facts change the playing field

But before we had much time to develop these ideas I heard from the vicar that the Diocese intended to proceed with the sale by November, so we decided to call to say we were still interested.

However, we had little idea how to negotiate, some ideas about persuading them not to sell the land but keep their ‘family silver’, an idea of working with the Council to develop both sites for a vague community housing scheme and another idea of adding value by unlocking the access road. With these ideas in mind I picked up the phone.

I had never got through to the Diocese Development Manager before, only his answer machine, but this time I did. He was friendly and I felt at ease, and to my surprise he informed me that the Diocese already owned the access road and they had bought it some time ago!

This was news indeed. Our idea of adding value looked a little naïve and now there was no mileage in it. I mentioned that I was pursuing the Right to Build both as an individual and as a community enterprise with the Council and would he be interested in combining the plots for such a venture.

He said they had been trying to purchase the plot from the Council but had not got anywhere for over two years and so the decision had been made to sell now.

At the outset the Diocese had previously obtained outline planning permission for a large vicarage. This consent was due to expire in 6 months, which meant that there was a glimmer of possibility for us.

He advised that Charity Commission rules permitted them to make an ‘off-market’ sale (eg. to us!) provided that they could show that they had achieved 10% above a market price. The market valuation was provided by auctioneers. He encouraged us to make an offer.

The plot was due to go to auction in November but we could potentially make a deal where we purchased the church land and access road for an initial sum now, but a further sum later if we managed to develop the Council site. He believed we might have more luck in the future with the Council than he had done to date.

A game of nerves

Could we possibly do it? We knew could not buy the land on our own. The rough auctioneers’ valuation was considerably beyond our means but the plot was big enough for two houses, so would we be able to get planning permission for two houses and find someone to partner with?

And even if we could what about our idealistic economic justice ideas of land not being owned… housing for benefit of community… which we were beginning to develop? Then there was the question of the Council. I had hassled them over the summer months to find out who owned the access road. Would it change everything if they did now find out who owned it?

 

Find your self and custom build register on the Right to Build Portal.

Read the other parts of the Self Build Family Build Blog.

Part One: Deciding to Self Build, the Turning Point

Part Two: Looking for Land in London

Part Three: The Land Value Idea

Part Four: A Small Matter of Access

Photo: printed with permission of Fiona Hanson 2020©

*The Right to Build Expos were professional focussed training events sharing best practice, delivered by the Right to Build Task Force 

Package home design and build firm Baufritz has been awarded a local Cambridgeshire business award in the category of Architectural Design Company of the Year 2020, for its Treehouse home.

For anyone looking for a company to design and build their self build home, industry awards are a great way of establishing the reputation of a company and its work, in the same way as viewing their gallery of case studies. Both offer an insight into the quality and reliability of the company.

Choosing the manufacturer and/or builder of your future project is one of the biggest decisions that you will make on a self build, with the biggest price tag. So getting it right is crucial, and awards can be a good piece of additional evidence.

Don’t be afraid of asking a package manufacturer if you can visit one of their built homes, or even whether they have show houses or open houses available to visit. For example, buyers of a Baufritz can, by appointment, visit its factory in Germany, to support them with the process of choosing design elements (but buyers must either have a plan or plot first). They can even choose to stay in one of Baufritz’s houses as means of trying the home, with a range of homes across the county to rent/experience.

Oliver Rehm, CEO of Baufritz in Cambridge said: “We are delighted to have won this local business award, which recognises our involvement and commitment towards the community since the arrival of Baufritz in the UK in 2006. It also proves that our approach to create prefabricated and sustainable eco houses of the highest quality are as sought after in the UK as they are in the rest of Europe.”

The Cambridgeshire Prestige Awards recognise businesses located in the East of England that provide a personal approach towards their customers to maintain a high quality level of service and experience. The judging panel based their decisions upon areas such as service excellence, quality of the product/ service provided, innovative practices, value, ethical or sustainable methods of working, as well as consistency in performance.

“Baufritz built our extraordinary eco family house in Central Cambridge five years ago. Every single day we express our disbelief and grateful thanks that we live in this gorgeous space. It truly is a modern house with soul.” Owner of Treehouse Cambridge

The Treehouse will be featured as part of Cambridge’s Open Eco Homes event – online this year due to Covid.

Check out the timelapse video of the Cambridge Treehouse being built on site