Do you dream of building your own home but can’t find a plot to develop? Just imagine a house designed for your lifestyle and budget, built in your desired location on a plot which already has planning permission. A house which is beautifully tailored and constructed using the latest technology enabling outstanding energy efficiency and perhaps even built to Passivhaus standard. If this sounds like your dream come true, then custom build might well be the answer!


Millions of people around the world want to build their own homes, but the biggest hurdle when embarking on a self build project is to find a plot of land with planning permission. This is where custom build comes in – it could potentially fulfil thousands of people’s dreams!

The Housing Shortage

In 2007 the UK government set a target to increase housing supply to 240,000 per year by 2016. Included in this figure was 70,000 affordable homes per year by 2010-2011, of which 45,000 were to be rented social housing.

In 2016, the government set up a £3billion fund administered by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) to kick-start the housing market and meet the development and infrastructure costs of building new houses for sale or rent in England. The fund provides finance in the form of loans to smaller builders, custom builders and community builders. The aim of the fund is to help build 25,000 new houses until 2020 and up to 225,000 longer term.

Local authorities in the UK are now required to keep a register of groups or individuals interested in a self build or custom build project.

In May this year, the UK government set out new regulations which will require all local planning authorities to maintain a register of suitable brownfield sites for residential development. Brownfield sites are previously developed sites which range from derelict houses to industrial and commercial buildings. All brownfield sites have to be examined prior to new development, as often these sites are contaminated. The sites also have to be inspected for wildlife as a lot of species thrive on abandoned land and buildings. The government want to simplify the process of applying for planning on these neglected sites, which should help developers assess whether planning would be granted on a particular site before spending hours drawing up plans. There are numerous brownfield sites, which are not only an eyesore but also such a waste of valuable land considering the shortage of land for new housing.

Compared to the rest of Europe, Britain has always lagged well behind as far as self and custom build housing is concerned. For example, in Austria 80% of new homes are self builds and around 50% in other European countries followed by Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand, with Britain way behind at under 15%.

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Graph Courtesy of NaCSBA

TV Shows Can Put People Off Building Their Own Homes!

We have all watched TV shows where people build a state-of-the-art contemporary glass fronted residence, or perhaps a beautiful eco house made with recycled materials, or those who lovingly restore a crumbling piece of history and turn it into a welcoming family home. Generally, the finished houses are stunning, but almost every time I have watched these shows, numerous problems crop up during the build process, many of the self builders are stressed throughout, and the projects constantly go over budget. This puts people off building their own homes and understandably so!

What is Custom Build?

Custom build offers a more straightforward solution to self build (where planning, design and construction are all the responsibility of the individual) as the building plot itself already has outline planning permission. The site has planning for a set number of houses and the infrastructure, for example, roads, electricity and drains are already in place. Other services such as house design, construction and landscaping are often carried out by professionals. In other words, custom build means that a purchaser can buy a house specifically designed for them on a serviced plot. The build process is usually very flexible and some companies offer a complete turnkey system meaning that the purchaser doesn’t need to get their hands dirty at all. However, if the purchaser wants to become involved in the building, construction and project management, that’s usually fine too.

There are financial advantages for custom building a house compared to buying a new property from a developer. This is not only because of the flexibility, but also because once the house is built its value is often higher than the input costs i.e. the cost of the plot plus building costs. Therefore, there is equity in the house as soon as it’s complete.

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Current Custom Build Opportunities

Probably the largest on-going custom build project in the world is Almere Poort in the province of Flevoland, Netherlands, where over 3000 low cost houses are planned. The land is owned by the council and all the plots are serviced with infrastructure in place providing roads, cycle paths and green spaces. The land is divided into several districts. One area is dedicated to very sustainable houses, another for canal-side dwellings, one district is designed for terraces and one for detached houses with larger gardens. Another zone is intended for developers who will design and build flats or terraces for groups of people. All the plots are sold at a set price of €375 per square meter and with the design flexibility and different plot sizes, smaller houses or apartments can be built very inexpensively.

An exciting development, and the largest ongoing self and custom build scheme in the UK, is Graven Hill in Bicester, Oxfordshire. It covers 188 hectares of ex-Ministry of Defence land. Outline planning permission has been granted for 1,900 sustainable and energy efficient homes as well as a primary school, pre-school, community centre, sports pitches, allotments, shops, offices, a public house and amenity spaces.


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Photo Credit: Graven Hill

House types at Graven Hill will include 1 and 2 bedroom apartments, terraced houses, semi-detached houses, mews, bungalows and detached houses (ranging from 2 to 6 bedrooms).  Graven Hill have introduced Pocket Plots which are for 2 or 3 bedroom detached houses at affordable prices, and Golden Brick Plots.

The 2016 Build It Award went to Potton in Cambridgeshire (part of the Kingspan Group) for the Best Custom Build Project or Model due to their custom build projects in England and its site French Fields in Cheshire. All 18 plots at French Fields sold like hot cakes and building is well underway.

Dr. Paul Newman, Custom Build Director says, “The Potton model for Custom Build is centred around meeting the needs of our customers. A Potton Custom Build home is a one-of-a-kind home, designed for a specific client and location.  It offers a fully serviced plot with a choice of systems and routes of build and enables the customer to build their home or have it built for them.”

Last year, Potton constructed the first show house in the UK built to Passivhaus standards at their Potton Self Build Show Centre in St Neots, Cambridgeshire. The Passivhaus design is the ultimate in energy efficient housing.

“A Passivhaus is a building, for which thermal comfort can be achieved solely by post-heating or post-cooling of the fresh air mass, which is required to achieve sufficient indoor air quality conditions – without the need for additional recirculation of air.” –

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The Elsworth Passivhaus. Photo Credit: Potton

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The Elsworth Passivhaus Section Illustration


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Cherrywood Site Layout in Faversham, Kent. All 14 Homes Will be Designed to Passivhaus Standard. Photo Credit: Potton

Potton will be adding many more custom build sites in the near future and have set up a page on their website which describes serviced sites they have already secured.

An exciting waterside development by Blueprint, which is a joint venture between Igloo and Nottingham City Council, is underway in Nottingham called the Trent Basin which stretches from Trent Bridge to Colwick Park. The architects are Marsh Grochowski, based in Nottingham. The scheme will provide around 500 contemporary, energy efficient houses and apartments, most of which will have 3-4 bedrooms, and beautiful views over the River Trent and water-meadows.

Igloo says, “The site’s waterside character is reflected by tall canal-style houses and the regeneration of a concrete basin formerly used for unloading cargo by Trent barges.”

Most of the houses in Phase One are already sold with Phase Two being started later this year.

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Trent Basin. Photo Credit: Blueprint Custom Build

Custom Build Strategy provide an up-to-date list of current custom build sites in the UK called Project Tracker which have been tagged as “proposed”, “approved”, “live” or “complete”. (Click on the Project Name to read information about a particular site). The sites are dotted around England, Scotland and Wales, and considering how popular custom build is becoming, I’m sure there will be dozens more listings shortly.

Although a fairly new concept, custom build is a fantastic way for people to build their own homes without so much hassle. Finding a building plot has always been a difficult process and practically impossible in some areas! To be able to build a dream house where the nitty gritty such as planning permission and infrastructure has already been sorted out is a huge bonus. It won’t only be individuals who will benefit from custom build but also groups of people – large families, people who have retired, groups of friends or folk who would like to build on a plot together to provide a sustainable eco village. The possibilities are endless!

I’m confident that this method of building houses will really take off. It will help to alleviate the housing shortage while fulfilling a lot of people’s dreams.


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