Earlier this month the three strong research team headed North to speak to a range of organisations that have been involved in delivering serviced building plots or collective custom build projects over many years.

During a 2,000 mile long road trip we met with people from various councils and social housing bodies that have been involved in enabling serviced plots, we saw examples of private sector initiated serviced plot developments, we looked at an impressive cohousing scheme, and we also touched base with the Scottish Government’s housing team.

Our travels took us to see initiatives or meet people near Hamilton, Greenock, across the Orkney islands, Findhorn, Tain, Aviemore, Forres, Nairn, Inverness and Edinburgh.

The recently completed Findhorn project

So what did we learn?

* The cost of servicing plots can escalate if unforeseen issues arise (and they are usually hidden in the ground, so they are difficult to spot). Most organisations work on a budget of £10-20k per plot to service them (ie – providing access roads and all utilities to the plot boundary)

* A range of skills are needed to reliably deliver serviced plots – property development, construction procurement, cost management, marketing and legals. Some organisations have pooled their plot delivery requirements and set up a small team (with all the requisite skills) to organise plots across a wider area.

* It typically takes two to three years to source land, get the permissions necessary and undertake the servicing work – then sales can commence.

* There are a number of ways councils can deliver ‘affordable’ plots (eg – negotiate with land owners to get the land very cost effectively in the first place; and make use of rural exception sites to delivered discounted plots).

* In Scotland land for plots is not currently the main challenge; finance/self build mortgages are the main hurdle there.

* Some organisations require self builders to provide a ‘bond’ so that any damage that is done to the roads while they construct their homes can be put right at the end (at no cost to the council).

This is not a definitive list, and it is still early days in the research programme. As we move closer to Christmas the team is now working on plans for study visits to Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium, and a series of meetings are being lined up with local councils in the UK who are keen to provide more opportunities for affordable self/custom build homes.

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