Custom build:

an opportunity for land owners to take back control of local residential development from the major house builders.

By Bob Tomlinson, founding director of Village Makers

In recent times, landowners have had little choice but to sell their land to the major house builders in order to realise value. But there is an alternative. Landowners can play a key role in improving the quality of new-build housing in rural and semi-rural areas in this country.

Custom build provides an attractive alternative to selling land outright to a developer; there are benefits to landowners and communities; and there’s a positive effect on the developed landscape. Custom build involves the preparation of land to provide serviced plots which are sold to purchasers, who simultaneously enter into a construction contract with a third party builder to deliver the house to an agreed specification.

Typically the landowner will engage the services of an enabling developer who will design the scheme and take it through the planning process, as well as arrange the required highways, drainage, power and other infrastructure.

By taking on an element of the development risk, landowners can generate a higher land receipt by retaining the profit which would otherwise accrue to the developer. Perhaps more significantly, landowners can retain control and influence over the quality of the housing being created, as well as the appearance and layout of the finished scheme. In this way, the landowner makes the decisions, and can bring genuine benefits to the community in which they have lived and worked, often over the course of generations. The risk to the landowner will extend to financing the infrastructure, but these costs will have enhanced the value of the land significantly and the sale of the site at this stage will yield better returns than an early sale to a developer.

In our experience, most landowners have a strong sense of social responsibility. This method allows them to engage with the local community and provide attractive and well-planned housing, rather than put their land in the hands of a profit-driven organisation that spares little thought for the environment or the community.

Purchasers benefit by having input to the design and specification of their house that will almost certainly be of a higher specification than that delivered by a mass builder, the quality of build will be better, and the environmental impact will be lower. There’s a benefit to being part of a new neighbourhood – the buyer’s input is having a direct effect, and social cohesion is increased.

The landowner’s perspective:

Pete Thompson of Thompson’s Farm in Essex, a farming landowner who is currently developing Oakley Orchards, a nine-acre site, in collaboration with enabling developer Village Makers, says, “Essentially the landowner stays involved, selling serviced plots to the homebuyer directly who simultaneously enters into a contract with the builder to deliver the home of their choice.

“The result is that both new and existing communities are more integrated and the key stakeholder, the landowner, is incentivised to support this. Essentially, there are better outcomes for all parties.

“At Oakley Orchards we have been granted outline planning permission for 51 houses, and detailed permission for a village hall and school car park. Having engaged with various conventional house builders we concluded that none could offer the quality of development we would like in the village – or stick to the ‘extras’ we are seeking to include such as the village hall, new footpaths, allotments and green space. They all also wanted to squeeze more homes onto the site. Having visited lots of other developments in the district and beyond, it seemed to me that things can be done better. As a result, we are staying involved and have commissioned Village Makers to deliver a custom build development with us.

“At Oakley Orchards we are looking to create a beautiful new neighbourhood which enhances the local built environment, brings new vitality to the village of Great Oakley and is more eco-friendly than the mundane estates which are generally built by volume house-builders.”

In conclusion, custom build collaborations between landowners and enabling developers can make a genuine difference to the way that housing is delivered in the UK by creating better quality neighbourhoods which benefit both the environment and the local community. There are potential financial benefits to the landowner who will retain the lion’s share of the development profit. This, of course, provides them with the opportunity to invest in the local community.

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