Cherwell District Council must commit to the original vision for Graven Hill

Cherwell District Council must commit to the original vision for Graven Hill

0 have signed. Let’s get to 500!
At 500 signatures, this petition is more likely to be featured in recommendations!
Stephen Aggett started this petition to Yvonne Rees (CEO, Cherwell District Council) and

What follows is an open letter to Ms Rees, CEO of Cherwell District Council. For the sake of the future of Graven Hill and self building in the UK, we urge all those with a stake in the development to sign - residents and self builders of Graven Hill, local councillors, representatives of organizations promoting self building in the UK and those holding public office who wish to see self building thrive in this country.


Dear Ms Rees,

Graven Hill’s vision was to stand as an example to the rest of the country of what can be achieved when self building and modern construction methods are employed at scale. Sadly, the development is now becoming just another volume build development of energy inefficient, identikit houses. The developer has abandoned their commitment to build to the high energy performance standard set out at the beginning of the project, and are rapidly backpedalling on their provision of self build plots. But it is not too late to reaffirm the project’s original vision and demonstrate that there is a clear alternative to poor quality volume build housing in this country.

Our community, Graven Hill, is the UK’s largest self-build development. In the initial business case for the project, the directors of Cherwell District Council wrote:

"The ‘crucial ingredient’ of the business case that ‘opened doors’ to Government support was for Graven Hill to be the UK’s first ever large scale self-build housing scheme. From the outset, Government (through the Department for Communities and Local Government ~ CLG) has supported Cherwell in this ambition."

"The return on investment is of course more than just financial. The vision for Graven Hill has an opportunity to deliver far reaching social and economic outcomes that are unlikely to be delivered to the same extent or within the same timescales if led by a private sector developer."

[Cherwell District Council Executive, Acquisition of Graven Hill Report of Director (Bicester), 3 March 2014.]

This development was also to take advantage of the Council’s involvement to ensure that it fulfilled the Council’s vision for an ecologically friendly future for Bicester:

"The meeting is recommended: To note the synergies between the Eco Bicester One Shared Vision and the vision for a Graven Hill community that includes a low carbon energy strategy, improved health and wellbeing outcomes, and community led leisure outcomes"


The first package of land was purchased and work began. In July 2018, Graven Hill Village Development Company (GHVDC), the private company created by Cherwell District Council (CDC) and wholly owned by it, wrote on their website:

"We truly believe that not every new homeowner wants to purchase something off plan on a new development, which is why Graven Hill is offering a real alternative solution."

"Graven Hill embraces cutting-edge design and construction methods for UK housing. We advocate the use of highly energy efficient materials, the highest quality modular construction methods and contemporary designs which fit in with modern life."

[GHVDC website, “Imagine | Graven Hill”,, 1 July 2018.]

With this in mind, GHVDC specified energy performance standards exceeding current building regulations to apply to all builds, whether delivered by self builders or the development company. This was to ensure that Graven Hill village became a pioneering example of self builds delivered alongside custom builds and affordable housing, all of which granted residents ecologically sound, energy efficient homes delivering reduced heating bills and environmental impact.

Sadly, CDC and GHVDC have lost sight of the project’s original vision. The majority of new builds in the latest phase at Graven Hill are not self-build, and do not “embrace cutting-edge design and construction methods”. Instead, homes are built using traditional build methods and cookie cutter designs created by technicians rather than architects (despite architects living at Graven Hill offering to provide architectural consultancy for free). GHVDC no longer deals with previous delivery partners with a track record of delivering energy efficient homes like Beattie Passive and Dan-wood, now preferring to opt for cheaper, traditional builders. The claim that they embrace cutting-edge design and construction methods has been removed from GHVDC’s website.

These cost cutting measures directly impact the well being of Graven Hill residents. For years, many complained of mould, draughts and cold rooms to GHVDC, some resorting to paying out of their own pockets for independent surveys before GHVDC agreed to carry out remedial work, with others still awaiting action. Bromford-managed affordable housing have been found by surveyors to be missing insulation and/or have missing fire stops. All ninety four Bromford homes are being inspected for fire safety, but GHVDC and Bromford are refusing to inspect where residents are suffering from cold rooms and missing insulation is suspected.

Following the reports of poorly insulated houses, residents collated independent test results, with five out of six homes tested not meeting GHVDC’s own build performance standards, and failing to comply with planning conditions agreed with the Local Planning Authority.

[Stephen Aggett, GHVDC Build Performance Review v1.2, 28 January 2022]

When this evidence was put to GHVDC, Adrian Unitt, GHVDC Construction Director, responded, “this in itself is not a defect because the standard does not set out any requirement for the measured air permeability rate to remain the same even the day after the initial air permeability test has been done.”

GHVDC’s attitude that it must comply with the letter, rather than the spirit, of the performance standard is entirely in line with a private developer approach to construction that aims simply to minimise costs and maximise returns. It did not matter that the homes sold did not actually exhibit good energy performance, because they were passed as compliant and issued an Energy Performance Certificate (included with the particulars of sale) stating A grade energy performance. To this day, many Graven Hill residents remain unaware that their home’s EPC will fail to be corroborated by independent tests. GHVDC promised in October 2022 to join the New Homes Quality Board by the end of the year, but in February 2023 wrote that this matter was “still under discussion”.

We complained to CDC that GHVDC is failing to deliver on its original vision to build innovative, energy efficient homes. Their response was:

"Whilst the Council is a shareholder to GHVDC, it must treat the company as it would any other. The Council cannot be seen to be showing any favouritism, but equally it would not be right for the Council to hold GHVDC to a higher standard than any other private developer. The imposition of higher standards on any organisation owned, or partly owned, by the Council which affects its commerciality could ultimately impact on the Council’s finances to the detriment of taxpayers."

[Nathan Elvery, Interim Chief Operating Officer, “Response to Complaint: COMOOI 378 — Oversight of development at Graven Hill”, 26 July 2022]

Indeed, GHVDC’s website confirms this:

"Graven Hill Village Holding Company Ltd (GHVHC) and Graven Hill Village Development Company Ltd (GHVDC) were created by Cherwell District Council to own and develop Graven Hill. [...] The companies have the same responsibilities as a standard development body – to be commercially successful and deliver to an approved business plan."

[GHVDC website, “GHVDC | Graven Hill”,]

This flies in the face of the Council’s original vision for Graven Hill, which was to deliver “far reaching social and economic outcomes that are unlikely to be delivered to the same extent or within the same timescales if led by a private sector developer”. Operating GHVDC like any other private company, whose primary obligation is to deliver a return for shareholders, renders it impossible for the project to deliver on its original objectives – to be the UK’s premier self-build development and to demonstrate what can be achieved when the latest construction methods are used across a British development, not just on the occasional privately funded self build project.

In addition to saving costs by neglecting their own goals to employ “cutting edge design and construction methods”, GHVDC has realised greater returns are available if a property is built and sold by them rather than selling the same plot to a self builder. As a result, in every successive phase fewer plots have been made available to self builders and Graven Hill is becoming a volume build village rather than the UK’s premier self build development, “a real alternative solution”.

In their response to Richard Bacon MP’s independent review into scaling up self-build and custom housebuilding, the Government wrote:

"The government recognises that a key challenge for self and custom builders is the supply of serviced plots. The Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 (as amended), known as the ‘Right to Build’ legislation, places a duty on local authorities to support the provision of serviced plots, but we know that there are often competing priorities for the use of land and a lack of funding to bring plots forward."

[Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, Independent review into scaling up self-build and custom housebuilding: government response, 24 June 2022]

We want local authorities to be more active in their support of self-commissioned housing including identifying and – where possible – bringing forward serviced plots in line with the desires of local residents and to meet their duties under the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding legislation.

CDC is falling foul of these competing priorities and a lack of funding and failing to bring forward serviced plots for self builders. Despite being the owner of the UK’s largest area of land set aside for self builders, CDC is failing to create enough self-build plots to meet local demand.

We understand that with significant cuts to Local Government funding the temptation to prop up Council finances by generating additional profits from a local housing project must be immense. But whilst this helps CDC accountants in the short term, the UK will have missed its greatest opportunity yet to discover what can be achieved when a Local Authority and the Government lends its full support to self builders and modern construction methods. Land is scarce, and nobody knows when another opportunity like this will arise. It is not too late to correct course, because if we continue on our current trajectory Graven Hill will simply become yet another big volume build development of mediocre homes.

To help reverse this trend, we propose:

  1. CDC meet with representatives of Residents, GHVDC, the National Custom and Self Build Association and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, to confirm and reiterate the vision for Graven Hill and establish how this will be delivered going forwards.
  2. GHVDC commit to making a minimum of twenty five percent of available plots of all future phases available as serviced plots to self builders.
  3. Graven Hill self builders and residents are represented on GHVDC’s board of directors to give them a voice in decisions that will have a direct impact on the well being of the hundreds of future and current residents of this community. They are by far the biggest investors and stakeholders in Graven Hill and deserve to have a say in its future.
  4. At least one District Councillor from outside the Conservative party be invited to join the GHVDC Board of Directors. The Conservatives have a narrow majority at Cherwell but other parties have no representation on the Board. Better decisions tend to result from a diversity of opinions.
  5. GHVDC commit to joining the New Homes Quality Board.
  6. GHVDC confirm its commitment to delivering all homes to the Hoare Lea Passive Design Standards Revision F build standards now and in the future and establishes a means by which all current and future residents can clearly verify this has been achieved. This should include commissioning and sharing independent heat map surveys of all homes suspected to have build defects that cause their energy performance to fall short of the build performance standards agreed with the local planning authority.

Yours sincerely,


Graven Hill Residents Association

0 have signed. Let’s get to 500!
At 500 signatures, this petition is more likely to be featured in recommendations!