FAQs about Graven Hill and what’s planned

Where is Graven Hill?

The Graven Hill site lies just to the south of Bicester and extends to nearly 190 hectares. The site is currently occupied by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Over the next five years the MoD will be vacating the majority of the site. The site has direct access to the bypass that runs around Bicester and it is approximately three miles from junction nine of the M40. The site is arranged in a circle, around a wooded hill. The woodland and vast open space will create a great place to live.

What is the vision for Graven Hill?

Graven Hill will be:

  • The largest opportunity in the UK for people who want to build their own home. This will be for households of all sizes and will include opportunities for people to build as a group and as individuals.
  • A beautiful development with extensive open space including woodland, allotments, a network of footpaths and cycle paths, sports pitches and footpaths. Graven Hill will have its own primary school (with nursery unit), community centre, local shops and a local pub.
  • A strategic location for new employment space creating jobs and training for local people and attracting new investment into Bicester.

Why is Cherwell District Council involved in this?

As a local authority we are keen to promote a range of housing options in the district including self-build. We are also keen to ‘play our part’ in delivering new housing and developing brownfield sites such as Graven Hill. However we also see the wider benefits such as the creation of open space and the creation of local employment.

I have seen the name ‘Graven Hill Village Holdings Company and Development Company Ltd’ mentioned; what is that?

Because of legal rules that limit the power of councils to operate in a trading environment, commercial operations such as this must be delivered through wholly owned companies. To this end the council has created (and owns) Graven Hill Village Holding Company Ltd and Graven Hill Village Development Company Ltd to own and develop Graven Hill.

Why should I get involved in this?

This is a unique opportunity, not only locally but nationally. The key selling points are:
• Location. Graven Hill is in Bicester with fantastic local amenities, beautiful countryside and excellent road and rail links.
• Open Space. Graven Hill is an attractive site, with extensive open space, including the hill itself with its amazing woodland. The great news it’s going to get even better. There will be at least eight play areas, wonderful landscaping, sports pitches, allotments and a network of cycle and footpaths. It is also proposed that some of the existing elements of the site will be made into ‘features’. For example, we are planning to retain some of the old rail track and use as footpaths on the site to create a really unique and interesting place.
• The opportunity to build your own home. This will be the largest opportunity to build your own home in the UK. You will be able to determine the home for you and your family in line with your budget and your needs. For many this will be a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity.

FAQs about the registration process and timing

How do I sign up?

You will need to provide details about yourself and your plans, a process that should take no more than 15 minutes. To begin, simply click on the button below.

Register your interest

Will I have to be assessed?

You do not have to be assessed to register, but in order for you to reserve a plot you will need to demonstrate that you have sufficient funds (or can access them through raising a mortgage) to acquire the land and build a home.

If you want to have priority with local connection you will need to evidence this (see below).

Can I buy the land and hire someone to build this for me? If so, who could I hire?

Yes, although we do recommend you do some research, get quotes from more than one company and take up references. You could hire a local builder (especially if one is recommended) or you could contact a specialist organisation listed on the self-build portal. As mentioned before, do your homework, get quotes from more than one company and take up references.

When will the land be available to buy?

We will release plots every year until the whole of Graven Hill is built out. We anticipate this could take up to ten years, which equates to approximately 200 homes per year. The first plots in Phase 1A will be released for sale from 22 August 2016 and further plots will be released gradually over subsequent months and years. Keep an eye on the website, register your interest and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date about plot releases.

Is there a stipulation on how long I have to stay there?

We are still considering this. We would like this to be a sustainable, settled community and would therefore hope that people would stay for at least two years. We are keen to prioritise opportunities therefore for people who do want to stay and there may be a financial penalty for people who ‘sell up’ within the first two years of buying their plot. However we do recognise that sometimes circumstances change and are therefore looking to take a balanced and pragmatic approach to this.

How much social housing will be involved and where will it be?

As with most major development sites, 30% of the homes at Graven Hill will be designated as affordable. The affordable housing will be across the whole site, in clusters of
homes and will be available in all phases of the development.

Commercial buildings - when will we be able to build our own commercial buildings? - all website info is relevant to building your own house only.

The commercial development is due to start in 2019, and we envisage that there will be opportunity for some companies to build their own buildings for their businesses.

FAQs about design, standards and planning

I’m not a builder, architect or an ‘expert’ – could I really do this?

Absolutely! If you are not ‘in the trade’ then you could approach this in a number of ways:

  • You could buy a kit home (see below)
  • You could appoint an architect to also act as your project manager and procure the contractors on your behalf
  • You could appoint a project manager to deal with everything including appointing an architect and work on your behalf
  • You could work alongside another household (or indeed groups of households) and share the cost of appointing a project manager/architect and ‘pool’ resources and skills

If you are new to this then we definitely recommend you:

These websites provide loads of information on:

  • How to build your own home and the things you need to consider
  • National events on self-build housing
  • Links to other sources of information and publications
  • Links to companies who provide services, works and products for self builders

How long does it take to build a home?

This varies considerably depending on a range of factors including:

  • Whether you do the work yourself or engage others (friends or paid contractors) to help you
  • The size of your home
  • The complexity of your design
  • Your construction approach, for example a kit home may be quicker on site, but may require a longer lead in time before you start on site

The feedback from organisations working in the field of self-build at a national level is that the average time to build your own home is two years. However many people complete in a year or less.

Note: It is important to consider the length of time of your build when making decisions on design and materials and the type of construction.

Do I have to live in Cherwell to buy a plot?

No, however the sales process for each release of plots will open to people who live and work in Cherwell District ahead of the national market.

What kind of house could I build?

At Graven Hill there will be a range of plot shapes and sizes including:

  • One, two and three story height restrictions (depending on where you are on the site)
  • Detached, semi-detached, terraced and apartment plots
  • Opportunities to build on your own or as a group
  • Varying levels of ‘design freedom’ depending on where your home is located on the site

Live-work homes for people who work from home

One of the great things is that as well as designing the ‘shell’ you will also be able to ensure the internal layout fits with your taste and lifestyle.

Where do I buy the materials for building my own home?

This totally depends on the type of home you are building. The websites listed in point ‘8’ above provide helpful information on suppliers but you can also speak to local builders merchants who are a helpful source of advice.

Do I need to get planning permission and what planning restrictions are in place?

There are a number of ‘layers’ within the planning framework:

  • Outline Planning Permission: This has already been granted for Graven Hill and gives the overarching permission for up to 1,900 homes along with the employment land, school and local shops etc. There are a number of conditions and obligations upon us as a developer that come with the outline planning permission including, but not limited to, contributions to local infrastructure and the need to deliver the school in a timely manner.
  • The Masterplan: This is to be submitted in March 2015 and gives the overall plan for the site including the road layout and landscaping plan etc.
  • The Design Code: This sets the levels of design freedom across the site, the character of the different neighbourhoods and is critical to making sure Graven Hill is a great place to live. It serves to communicate site-wide principles to designers and stakeholders to ensure the development as a whole is coherent and has a strong sense of place.
  • The Plot Passports: Plot passports govern the key elements of each plot including maximum ridge height, the minimum number of parking spaces, the perimeter within which your home can be built and minimum standards for sustainability. This is the key document for the plot purchasers to refer to. It captures all information from outline planning, masterplan and design code relating to a particular plot in an easily understandable and bite-size format.

The Developer of Graven Hill (Graven Hill Village Development Company Ltd, a wholly owned council company) has secured a Local Development Order (LDO) for parts of Graven Hill. A Local Development Order is a type of planning permission that is intended to streamline the process by removing the requirement for self builders to submit their own planning applications for their plots. This will create certainty and save time and money for self builders. You will need to design and build your home within the requirements of your plot passport (which will include any ‘site wide’ requirements from the outline planning permission and design code) which will need to be signed off by the Graven Hill team.

You will also need to meet building regulations. Building regulations set minimum standards for the design and construction of buildings to ensure the safety and health for people in or about those buildings. They also include requirements to ensure that fuel and power is conserved and facilities are provided for people, including those with disabilities, to access and move around inside buildings.

Your home may be inspected during certain stages of the build by:

  • Building control to ensure it meets the correct standards.
  • You lender (if you are getting a mortgage) to approve payment

What else will be built at the site?

There will also be:

  • Shops
  • A primary school with a nursery unit
  • A community centre
  • A pub
  • Local offices
  • Sports pitches
  • Eight play areas
  • Allotments

These will all be built alongside the roads and infrastructure, with the school and local shops coming forward in the first phases of the development.

If you look at the masterplan on the Graven Hill website you will see a large woodland in the centre of the site. To the south of the woodland is an area that is to be retained by the MOD Logistics Corp. Further south again on the sites is the commercial land creating local jobs. This will come forward from 2019 onwards.

Can I buy two plots of land next to each other to make a bigger house?

No, the plots are individual. However, you and a family member or friends could buy plots next door to each other and/or you could build with a group of others to save money and pool your skills.

What are the rules on sustainability?

We advocate the use of high energy efficient materials for all new homes built at Graven Hill and have developed our own minimum standards for energy performance and sustainability. The technical requirements to meet these standards are set out in the Plot Passports. Following all the rules on the Plot Passport carefully means your planning permission should be confirmed quickly.

What is a Golden Brick and what is the relationship between this and VAT?

The term refers to the condition in which the plots at Graven Hill will be transferred to purchasers at the completion of the sales contract. Some self build schemes only offer the land for sale whereas at Graven Hill, all of the plots will be sold with the foundations, drainage, substructure walls, ground floor slab and utility connections already in place. This is termed as a Golden Brick sale. The foundations, drainage, substructure walls, and ground floor slab will be installed as per each self builder’s design. The adoption of this method of delivery is necessary in order that the sale constitutes the grant of a first major interest in a residential dwelling which currently attracts a zero rating for Value Added Tax.

Can I add a basement to my property?

Yes, on the whole basements are permitted, subject to it being practical from an access perspective. Where access is an issue, the Plot Passport will indicate that basements are not permitted. If you are planning a basement it will form part of the ‘Golden Brick’ work that Graven Hill Village Development Company delivers along with your plot and will therefore be added to your plot price. Please note that basements and underground garages are not included in the maximum above ground Gross Internal Area (GIA) – there is a separate below ground maximum GIA. GIA allowances are stated in the Plot Passport.

How will the Graven Hill Development Company prevent speculative development?

The forthcoming prioritisation strategy will set out clear criteria that potential buyers will need to satisfy in order to purchase a plot. Furthermore, it is likely that all agreements of sale and deeds of transfer will include provisions to minimise speculative development. Please note, these provisions have not yet been fully resolved.

What areas of open space will there be?

The open space at Graven Hill is considered to be as important to the character of the site as the buildings themselves. Accordingly, the various woodland, field & wetland habitats proposed have been designed with as much attention to detail as the urban environment.

The existing abundance of rich greenery will be protected as far as possible, with new recreational parks being introduced for the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike. Proposed open space features include a Gateway Park located immediately adjacent to the main site entrance along the A41 that serves to provide a welcoming environment upon arrival. This lush & informal wetland park will contain swales, ponds, marginal planting, meadow-like grasses & meandering walk/cycle routes.

The untouched pockets of woodland will be preserved & opened for public use. Discrete, rural tracks of packed gravel & trodden ground will ramble through the lowland woods & up to hilltop areas, providing access for walking, cycling, educational activities & play.

A series of field habitats including meadows & possible grazed farmland are also proposed with paths that roam through wildflowers, long tufty grasses & along native hedgerows.

Is there a warranty on my new home?

The warranty is something that the self-builder will be required to procure and the policy will have to cover both substructure and superstructure works.

Will there be any plots for bungalows for retired people?

There will be an extra care housing scheme in Phase One (opposite the school) and yes, there are a number of plots designated for bungalows. Please note that there are also a number of plots without a minimum height restriction and therefore whilst not ‘designated bungalow plots’ customers can chose to build one storey if they wish.

Please can you explain what GIA means? Core definitions: Gross Internal Area

2.0 Gross Internal Area (GIA)

Gross Internal Area is the area of a building measured to the internal face of the perimeter walls at each floor level.

Including

2.1 Areas occupied by internal walls and partitions
2.2 Columns, piers, chimney breasts, stairwells, lift-wells, other internal projections, vertical ducts, and the like.
2.3 Atria with clear height above, measured at base level only.
2.4 Internal open-sided balconies and the like.
2.5 Structural, raked or stepped floors are to be treated as a level floor measured horizontally.
2.6 Horizontal floors, with permanent access, below structural, raked or stepped floors.
2.7 Mezzanine areas intended for use with permanent access.
2.8 Lift rooms, plant rooms, fuel stores, tank rooms which are housed in a covered structure of a permanent nature, whether or not above main roof level.
2.9 Service accommodation such as toilets, toilet, lobbies, bathrooms, showers, changing rooms, cleaners’ rooms, and the like.
2.10 Projection rooms.
2.11 Voids over stairwells and lift shafts on upper floors.
2.12 Loading bays.
2.13 Areas with a headroom of less than 1.5m.
2.14 Basements.

Excluding

2.15 Perimeter wall thicknesses and external projections.
2.16 External open-sided balconies.
2.17 Canopies.
2.18 Voids over or under structural, raked or stepped floors.
2.19 Greenhouses, garden stores, fuel stores, and the like in residential property.
2.20 Garages.
2.21 Conservatories.

Will there be restrictions on GIA cubic metres (m3) for each plot? I am keen to build a single story open plan building through to the loft space.

Yes it is possible to have an open plan through to the ceiling, as long as the external ridge height does not exceed that which is set out in the plot passport.

FAQs about finance

How much will the land cost?

Plot prices for the first phase will be released later this year. There will be a range of prices to suit different budgets.

How do I get a mortgage?

A number of lenders now provide mortgages for self-build homes – buildstore.co.uk is a great source of information about this. We strongly recommend you speak to a broker or lender and get an initial opinion on whether you will be able to get a mortgage and how much deposit you will need before spending money on design.

What will my council tax be?

This will depend on the size and value of your home. Council tax bands can be viewed on the council’s website: www.cherwell.gov.uk Please note a final valuation for council tax purposes will not be given until your home is completed.

I am a supplier and want to register my details with CDC, how do I Register?

The Graven Hill project will not only present a unique opportunity for self-builders, but also for local suppliers who will be able to support the market. Whilst the Graven Hill Village Development Company is unable to endorse any organisations, we are keen to engage with suppliers to ensure they have up to date information. We will also be looking to have supplier workshops during 2016 and 2017. Please register on the Graven Hill website or email info@gravenhill.org.uk or call 01295 753700 for more details.

General queries

Can I build a house to rent out?

The vision for Graven Hill is to create opportunities for people who want to build their own home for them and their household and not to create investment opportunities.

Are there any negative aspects of the site?

We think this is a fantastic site; however, we have looked at this site with ‘open eyes’ and considered four things that customers may be worried about:

  1. Pedestrian access to the site. There will be a pedestrian crossing over the Rodney House Roundabout to connect the site to the main Bicester town and work is underway to identify further opportunities to increase pedestrian access.
  2. Proximity to the rail. There will be no trains running through the site. The current rail network through the site is to be discontinued. The rail line will run to the north west of the site but there will be secure fencing between the site and the rail track and we have minimised the number of homes in close proximity which you can see from the masterplan.
  3. Proximity to the Thames Waterworks. This is not within the site but a study has been completed to assess the impact of this and therefore the area closest to this is not residential, but designated as open space.
  4. Historical contamination. You will be aware that the site has been an operational MOD base for a long time and that the Land Quality Assessment (which was undertaken as part of the planning process) identified some localised areas of contamination on the site. There are very strict rules which we will follow relating to how these areas are dealt with and ‘cleaned’.

Is this an extension of the Cherwell Build! Initiative?

The council, through its Build! ® self-build programme is working across a number of sites in the district. This has provided a great opportunity to develop our expertise in the field of self build and certainly this has been the inspiration for Graven Hill.

Can we visit the site?

Not at the moment as the MOD are still on site and high security is still in place.

What speed internet will be available?

The matter of internet speed is not yet fully resolved, but we anticipate that Graven Hill will benefit from the prevailing high speed broadband available to the area.

Can I have a large front garden?

At the launch event in March, there was a clear demand for more flexibility regarding the depth of front gardens. In response to this, the master plan has since undergone further development to allow this additional flexibility wherever appropriate.

I noticed you have a primary school on site, but what secondary school provision is available locally?

Bicester currently has 2 secondary schools. These are as follows:

The Cooper School (approx. 1270 pupils)
Web: http://thecooperschool.co.uk/
Location: https://goo.gl/g3PDVg
Ofsted Report: http://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report/provider/ELS/141069

Bicester Community College (approx. 890 pupils)
Web: http://www.bicester-cc.oxon.sch.uk/
Location: https://goo.gl/xUBa22
Ofsted Report: http://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report/provider/ELS/123233

Additional planned secondary school provision will be provided at the nearby Kingsmere development in SW Bicester
Web: http://www.kingsmere-bicester.com/about-kingsmere/facilities.html
Location: http://www.kingsmere-bicester.com/location-travel.html

Please also note that the Graven Hill Village Development Company is contributing c£8.2m towards local secondary school provision.