Minister Pincher at Graven Hill 29 (2)

Housing Minister Christopher Pincher MP visited the UK’s largest custom and self build scheme in Bicester, the iconic Graven Hill. The visit was co-ordinated around the launch of a 12-week consultation on the vision for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc Spatial Framework to frame its growth of the area until 2050.

Click here to read or respond to the review, which closes at 11:45pm on 12 October 2021.

The ministerial visit included a tour of Graven Hill as a champion for the future of housing, through self-build, custom build, and new build homes, as well as a wide range of innovative Modern Methods of Construction.

Graven Hill sits directly in the Arc and will play a significant role in the development of the scheme, not least because of Bicester’s future location on the East-West Rail route from Oxford to Cambridge.

On the visit, pincher was filmed saying: “I’ve come to Graven Hill to see the opportunities that there are here in the OxCam Arc for self and custom build homes.

“In Europe and in North America, people designing and building their own homes is really very common, but here in Britain, it’s not so common. We want to see more people have the opportunity to design and to build if they want to their own homes.

“Here at Graven Hill there are opportunities for 1,900 new homes, a primary school, allotments, a renewable energy centre, and even a pub. This is the sort of place in the OxCam Arc that we need to see new development coming forward to provide the homes of the future that people need. And if they design them and build them themselves, even better.”

Karen Curtin, managing director at Graven Hill, said: “The UK housing market is lacking in variety and we know that people are looking for more than cookie-cutter homes. We’re doing something different that truly offers choice, flexibility and personality.

“There are exciting things in the pipeline too and we hope that the Bacon Review findings and the upcoming Help to Build loan scheme will encourage developers across the UK to also consider self and custom build plots as a key aspect of their developments. They’ve been hugely popular at Graven Hill and we are excited to be launching our next phase.”

Pincher on planning reform

Pincher also spoke at a fringe event at the Conservative Conference, hosted by Conservative Home, in which he connected the government’s commitment to levelling up to housing, to be strengthened by planning reform. He referred to first time buyers being, on average, 32 (34 in London), and the solution is to build more homes.

Pincher said: “The planning system is 73 years old, and we believe it needs a refresh because it is too slow. It takes seven years on average to get a local plan put in to place, and a further five years for spades to cut the earth for development. We want plans to emerge much more rapidly.”

Pincher also referred to the planning system as being too opaque, stopping most people engaging with planning, and planning needs to be more predictable so that the outcomes are more guaranteed.

He said: “Our planning reforms are designed to speed up the planning system, so that plans have to be made in 30 months. We want to make sure it is more navigable and less opaque, which will help SMEs, the sorts of people who take small parcels of land and build good quality different designs on them with different tenures in different parts of the country.

We want to make sure that custom and self builders are also able to take advantage of a speedier and more predictable system. And we want one that delivers more beautiful and desirable homes.”

He also name checked the current Section 106 agreement system, saying that it was also too opaque, and would be replaced, potentially with a locally-set levy for infrastructure and affordable housing.

Catch up with Ensuring planning reform delivers great homes and connected communities


Image: Chris Pincher with some of the Graven Hill team, outside the Build It Education House in Bicester (which you can visit).
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