Cohousing and Custom Build Conference 28 Sept 2012

There is a growing interest at government level in what is now called Custom Build (was Self Build), fitting well within the localism agenda and potentially taking some of the burden of responsibility off the system.  This conference brought together a number of organisations and the first half was I thought very relevant to what we are exploring.

Cohousing as a term is varied in its application, from groups like us to large and highly ideologically driven groups of co-dwellers. My notes below are from those speakers I thought  most relevant to us.                          GP 28/9/12

Ted Stephens from the National Self Build Association

Self build in the UK has been much less prevalent than in Europe.  This is likely to change with policy.
In a recession SB should increase as it is cheaper and more hands-on than buying homes off the peg.
Only 15% of SB is actually built by DIY. The majority is simply commissioned by individuals and built to some degree by contractors.
Of all SB only a tiny proportion are ‘kit’ homes and equally a tiny proportion are ‘grand designs’ style individual endeavours.
Most self build is from house builders ‘pattern books’ and looks like any other.
Group schemes (like us) are also a minority.
Typical construction costs per dwelling are from £150-300k
Typical incomes of self builders are from £30-60.
As many as  400,000 people a mont hook on Right Move for residential build sites per month!
There are 3 dedicated Self Build site search websites – subscription only.  (I will find out what these are).
Government pressure and local interests mans a number of councils are now actively promoting Self Build. EG Devon. Planning authorities will be required to allocate land for Self Build in future.
The Housing and Communities Agency and the GLA are also promoting this.
Lenders willing to mortgage self build have been limited.  This is expected to change, self builders are statistically more reliable repayers.
Average self builders live there for 25 years, far longer than any other kind of housing.


Stephen Hill C20


Spoke of the different models for group Self Build/Custom Build:
Rental cooperatives
Cohousing owners
Part share owners
Community land trusts. Set up specifically to be outside profit/value/tax norms.  (I don’t know enough about these yet but don’t think they are relevant to us).

Individuals and or groups of independent people buying neighbouring plots – e.g. Almere Holland.


Examples of Cohousing Custom Build in UK:
Lancaster Cohousing
Forgebank, built to code 6 Passivhaus standard and includes shared facilities, dining etc.
Lilac scheme in Leeds, being built in a ‘straw bale’ system by Modcell
K1 Cambridge, not yet beyond pilot stage but likely to be large.
Sandford scheme in Lewisham.


Housing revenue accounts reform, (I don’t know what this is), allows LAs to spend differently. All are looking for development potential of their smaller sites.


Chris Brown from Igloo Regeneration Fund.
This is a pension fund managed by Aviva (and might be very useful to us).

Showed a now famous example: Nottingham cohousing. Igloo planned and designed it and looked for people to buy them. He does not think this is the future as it does not deliver the level of choice.  Dutch method much better.

‘Custom build’ as a term replaces self build. More respectable.
‘Group custom build’ does not need to an incorporated organisation. Eg in Holland where a group just do it.  This depends on lenders and land title which is still backward in the UK

Benefits of Custom Build: Higher design quality, no developers so no 25% profit, quicker to make happen.


Spoke of the Dutch method, much better than the UK, (just selling off plots for people to make work in whatever way they can).  In Holland the process usually starts from a public sector land owner.  There is an urban design master plan with outline planning permission and infrastructure set up. Buyers will get their plot from a ‘plot shop’ choose a designer/builder and type and sign up to the relevant finance all in a matter of days.  Best example at Amere.  (I have seen the same at Amersfoort Amsterdam).


Q and A session:

What is the timing of expected growth in custom build?  10 years for land to become available as a norm.


Biggest barriers to successful custom build?  Ability for groups to organise themselves and make decisions, then availability of sites.


Good developers?  Gus Zogolowich of Solid Space offer reed himself as benign small developer.


General feeling that although there are a number of models emerging there is little guidance/backing for the early stages of getting a scheme up and running.


Other examples: Woodside Cohousing, Muswell Hill, have now partnered with an RSL and have PTE as architects.


Although many schemes one hears about are ideologically driven there are plenty which happen quietly for economic and practical reasons.


It was suggested we look at the ‘self build portal’ for more examples.


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