The UK’s largest self-build community, Graven Hill in Oxfordshire, is well underway as people with Grand Designs dreams snap up ready-made plots and get building.

On a vast area of disused Ministry of Defence land in the town of Bicester, the local Cherwell District Council has signed a deal with the MoD to allow up to 1,900 homes to be built in a first-of-its kind development. Once occupied, the space will accommodate commercial units, as well as homes from large, detached properties to apartments and bungalows, with the provision of a school, a pub and shops for the purpose-built community.

The concept behind the project is that plots of land are sold off to people who intend to own, design, and sometimes build the property themselves, although some owners will get contractors to do the building work. The property designs are fast-tracked through the planning system by the council and then the work can begin. Many people are choosing to add “kit” homes which are assembled on-site, and there is also the chance for groups of people to join forces and design and build rows of houses, for those who prefer the idea of uniformity.

Quality over quantity

Craig Strachan of Sylva, a design and build company active at Graven Hill, said: “Every single one is very modern. People like flat roofs, big glazed areas, modern construction materials and rendering and aluminium windows. They are also much less precious about the number of bedrooms. Nearby you can see a Persimmon development which squeezes five bedrooms into the space that our buyers use for three. People want great design rather than adding more bedrooms for a supposed better resale value.”

Plots are priced between £125,000 and £310,000, and the costs of building from scratch can be much lower than buying the equivalent, already-built property elsewhere. The council is expecting to make some profit through the sale of the plots of land, and other councils are looking into similar developments.

Financing the project

Self-build mortgages can be obtained for such projects, although they are structured slightly differently from a normal mortgage in that the financing is trickled through at various stages of the build process, depending on your personal circumstances. The risk-levels of the project for the lender means you’ll often need a 30% deposit or more, and many will expect that you already have planning permission and building plans in place before you ask for financing.

Although the costs can mount up when you start to take into account the higher mortgage rates, architect fees and building costs, for example, people who aren’t put off by the extra time and effort involved will see it as an attractive and often cost-saving option allowing you to follow your imagination and create your perfect home.