I decided to take a trip to Graven Hill, the first self-build village in the UK, and the star of more than one series of Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs: The Streets. They have new build homes there now too, but are developments like these really the future of house building in the UK that are going to make owning a home accessible for all? I share why I decided not to buy land here, and what to expect from the local area including attractions like Bicester Village Designer Outlet.Listen to “063: What's Grand Designs The Streets REALLY Like? Graven Hill Tour” on Spreaker.
If you sign up for a free trial or purchase via an affiliate link below, I earn a commission at no extra cost to you that goes towards the running costs of producing all the free content across the blog, podcast, YouTube etc.
Watch/Listen To What’s It’s Like To Live At Graven Hill via YouTube
Transcript: What’s It Like To Live On Grand Designs The Streets?
Bear: [00:00:00] I decided to take a trip to Graven Hill, the first self-build village in the UK, and the star of more than one series of Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs: The Streets. They have new build homes there now too, but are developments like these really the future of house building in the UK that are going to make owning a home accessible for all?
I decided not to buy land here, so more on why that was later after I’ve given you a little tour. First things first, let’s start at the very beginning. What a very good place to start. Or so I’m told. The roundabout. So the main entrance to the site and actually all of the local area and the massive town that it’s connected to is this very large roundabout with, I want to say like five exits and entrances that are like two or three lanes on every exit and entrance.
So obviously that’s all traffic light controlled. It gets very busy at rush hour. It’s quite noisy. But that is the main entrance to the site and also to the town right next door, and all of your routes onward. So also if you were going to go to Bicester village, if you’ve heard of Bicester Village Designer [00:01:00] Shopping Outlet.
So for a lot of people, you wouldn’t have a choice, but to use that roundabout. I would demonstrate the traffic noise for you, but we were playing copywrited music in the car. So let’s not do that. From there, we entered the site via graven hill road. That turns into an odd little stretch of buildings that look like they could be commercial or residential.
And then there’s a residential area called Hull lane. So you’re still on graven hill road, but they’ve named that part of the road something different. I assume that’s so that anyone in future can actually find that location because graven hill road is one very long road. And then we turn left onto Austin way and then onto the circular road.
And the circular road is also a massive route that goes right around the back of the countryside and joins the whole of the estate. Most of the Circular road has nothing on it. You wouldn’t really gain anything except for a scenic view if you drove along. I won’t name the streets after that, because that’s when I was walking around with a camera.
I wouldn’t fancy that if I lived there, although of course, with Google maps and channel four making television series about where you live, And also if you saw the [00:02:00] recent documentary on the bling ring in Hollywood and how they use Google maps, there’s really no such thing as privacy anymore so as long as there are satellites and television crews and social media, I guess, unless you plan to live in a submarine and never post about your life ever. It is incredibly peaceful and quiet among the houses though, once you get to the center of the estate. It was a sunny weekend, but apart from a few families at one of the playgrounds and the odd person driving or walking around there was very little noise.
So this is helped by the huge circle of land in the middle of the estate, which I think is the original geological Graven Hill. You can see on Google maps, there is a vast wooded area in the middle and people were taking their dogs up there for a walk, or you can drive all the way around it. The idea is that housing will eventually wraparound most of that in a much bigger arc.
The reason for the long entryway is the idea that there will be a community center or amenities that are on your way in, and that there’ll be removed enough from the houses that you won’t get noise pollution from sports, et cetera.
So your first impressions when you see housing for the first time is that you actually see new build [00:03:00] houses, not self-build. You need to go deeper into the estate to see self builds and see where you might be living. The idea is that there will also be a massive pub on the roundabout, but I don’t think they’ve been able to find a buyer for the land because running pubs is a very tough business these days, or if I’m wrong about that,
I assume it will still be quite awhile before they actually establish a business there. Even if someone has bought the land. There’s also some disagreement about whether you should have a pub at all on the estate. On the one hand it’s, you know, that great British institution. And on the other hand, it’s that great British institution where some people would just go to get smashed.
It would be fairly removed from the housing, depending on how close the housing gets in future to the roundabout. And then the pub would be on a very busy exit road. So people will probably be driving away rather than walking, but that’s no different to the nearest pub to the Bicester Village Designer Outlet.
I will share a bit about that too, because the designer outlet is a huge draw in this area for locals and tourists. If you’re looking for the self builds from series one, they’re in a cul-de-sac off a separate entrance, and I didn’t go there for that reason. The price they paid [00:04:00] for going first is that they agreed to have their houses plastered across the internet.
You can see those houses from the train instead, if you’re coming into Bicester from say, Oxford, I want to say, and I imagine because it’s a dead end that they’re fed up of people going down that street when they have no reason to be there other than to gawk at the houses. The other thing that you notice right away is the first houses you see on the long drive in aren’t self-builds at all.
And so the architecture obviously isn’t as unique as the self builds, but I do feel like they have tried to do something a little bit different with the architecture of the new builds here so that it doesn’t just look like every other single brick housing estate in the UK. A lot of the land has been turned over to new builds, just like any other estate.
And as part of that graven hill will have to build affordable housing. Of course, the definition of what’s affordable is faulty. It’s set by what’s going on in the market. Affordable housing is still not affordable for the majority of families nearby. Just as an example: so in the second series of grand designs, the streets in the first episode, one couple said that they paid 234,000 [00:05:00] pounds just for the plot of land before they started building anything.
And they were building in 2020. So you can imagine a few years on and going into the future, that the prices of the plots of land are just going to keep going up and up. For that price you get your foundations and the services already installed. It is a benefit compared to if you were just buying a single plot of land in the middle of nowhere, or trying to convert like a driveway next to a house or something.
You’d have to be putting in all the electric, the gas, the water, all of those utilities yourself. And so in theory, there’s a saving by buying a plot of land where they’ve done all of that for you. I assume that Graven are able to negotiate something with all of those suppliers to get all of that stuff installed at a better price.
It is an economical way to build a very large house. If you’re coming from say London, I can see why you would look at the pricing and be like, oh my, this is amazing. And the plots of land are a decent size. You can do things like stick a giant giraffe sculpture [00:06:00] outside your house, or possibly a real one. There might even be space for that.
And that brings me to why I did not buy land here. If I had bought a plot of land at Graven Hill, that alone would have wiped out my budget and would have left me with nothing to actually build. Now self-build financing works a bit differently to a normal mortgage. So you would normally get like a chunk of money upfront
to start building and then more money gets released down the line. And it’s usually kind of expected that most builds take many weeks or months. And if you carry on working in the meantime, you might also be adding your own income to the ongoing costs. And it’s all meant to kind of balance out in the end.
Obviously there’s a trade off there between either quitting your job to project manage the build if you’ve got experience in something like that, which I did not. So I would have had to probably hire a project manager. And then obviously that also inflates the cost of building. The frustrating thing for me is that I just didn’t want the massive plot of land that they were selling at the top of my budget.
So I would have gone for like a plot of land, half the size [00:07:00] or less. And if it had been half the price, then that would have been viable, but they’re selling these plots with the idea that you’re going to buy a really big family home or not even necessarily a house that has a lot of rooms or a lot of bedrooms.
So if you’ve watched grand designs, the streets, a lot of the architecture is all the sort of modern open plan design. So it’s more of a focus on having like high ceilings and lots of light and space and air. And not necessarily a lot of rooms. I’m not the Brady Bunch. I don’t have 19 children.
Now, the other thing is that if I had bought when I did, and if I’d had to go slowly from a financial perspective, I think I would have come really unstuck because then in 2020, obviously COVID hit. It ballooned so many construction costs and the cost of materials. And then also anytime that you’re not moving forward with a project that also has a knock on effect and usually inflates the cost.
So throughout most of 2020, anyone trying to build would just go weeks, months without being able to come into contact with workmen and actually have any building done. [00:08:00] And then by the time they were able to hire people back again, just the cost of all the products and services have just gone through the roof.
So I imagine in my hellscape that if I had bought that plot of land, I might’ve started building something and then found myself here a few years later, looking at an unfinished house and wondering when I’m ever going to be able to afford to finish it because the cost that you projected would just be so different from what it actually requires to finish the project.
If I was going to revisit the idea again, I’d probably go for like a turnkey pre-fab eco house with no need for gas central heating. If it’s turnkey then you select everything right down to the finishings as part of selecting the shell of the house itself. And in theory, prefabs are a lot quicker and easier to construct because they’re prefabricated.
Do you know what you’re buying otherwise? So there were 10 self-built houses here in 2019. And as of 2022, there are over a hundred houses here. And obviously there’s going to be a lot more in future. There’s a very large estate nearby called Kingsmere, which is [00:09:00] also relatively new. And that was built without basic things like postboxes or road crossings and the people on that estate when they first moved in found that they got a house, but they didn’t really get a home in the sense that there was nothing tying the estate to each other and nothing tying the estate to the town except that
you know, you could sort of see where the town was, but it wasn’t safe to get to it. So you have to accept that if you buy on one of these new developments that you don’t really know if something’s going to be blocking your view in five or 10 years, and that certain amenities just won’t be there at the start and that they might come along in future. I didn’t find the shops.
I heard there’s meant to be a little row of shops. But I’m not convinced that there actually are any, you would have to go to the main town for that. We left via Roberts drive, which is not that far on a map yet it felt like we had driven and walked for miles. I’m a bit confused actually, that graven hill is often referred to as being in Ambrosden.
Ambrosden is a totally separate town, several miles away, and you can find relatively affordable housing there for the area. But that’s because you are removed from all the supermarkets and the [00:10:00] cinema of the main town center, and you’d have to drive to the train stations and bus lines. And I think you’d be fairly fudged if it snowed and just winter, wouldn’t be very nice if you wanted to walk anywhere from there.
Does this suggest though that one day graven hill will expand so far that it actually touches boundaries with Ambrosden? As for the other local attractions Bicester village is supposedly a 10 minute walk, but of course that’s not if you actually live in Graven hill, which takes over two minutes to drive from the roundabout to the center of the estate.
So as you can imagine, if you live at the farthest end of the estate, it’s more like a 30 minute walk. There are a lot of retail jobs here, though obviously if we’re looking for something entry level, and this is a place where people will queue for hours to get into Gucci. No, thanks to sir Harry styles. He’s not there by the way, perhaps that’s why people queue.
He’s definitely not inside. If that’s why you’re queueing, you can stop. Now, this was true before COVID. About the queuing, not the lack of Harry styles. He has never been there in case there’s any doubt. Harry styles, I don’t think has ever been a fixture inside the Gucci store at Bicester village design outlet, but a lot of the shops here have queuing systems now, because I’m sure it [00:11:00] has a positive impact on profits.
If you waited two hours to get into a shop, you’re probably more likely to buy something because of the sunk cost fallacy, you will never get that time back. So you may as well spend 200 pounds on a belt. There are some high street brands here too, though, like vans and super dry. It all looks very different to when it first opened, you would go here for Monsoon or Marks and Spencers. M and S do have a food hall across the road,
as it turns out and this end of Bicester is under constant development. You of course might find life more affordable in the long-term if you don’t invest in a self-build just to be near a designer outlet that perhaps won’t help pay the mortgage, unless you’re planning to resell things online, keeping in mind brands like Chanel want to ban the secondhand trades.
So good luck with that. If you have any questions about my visit or the area, don’t forget, I am autistic. So I will probably be able to give you a 2000 word essay on whatever it is you want to know. I do love a good nerd out. Just don’t expect any statistics unless I have to look them up because I don’t really like maths.
And perhaps that’s the real reason why I didn’t build my own house. And here in the wild, we can see the minor striped ginger tigger, an endangered [00:12:00] species because of its poor bird catching ability and unique therefore to this local area. Not to be confused, of course, with the major striped ginger Tigger, which was about 10 times the size and likes a good
belly rub. Neither are any relation to the Disney character as these cats only speak Elvish. I was going to say they speak French. And then I remembered Disneyland Paris. That would have been ludicrous.
Support How To Save Like A Bear
Leave A Rating Or Review On Apple Podcasts
Share & Follow Save Like A Bear
If you enjoy the episode, why not take a screenshot and share it out on Instagram or wherever you hang out online? Tag me @savelikeabear so I can see your comments, and perhaps give you a shoutout.
If you need a microphone whatever your profession or hobby, I use the Samson Q2U.
If you’re interested in podcasting, I use Spreaker for my hosting. You can get your first month free via this affiliate link. I chose Spreaker because as far as I know they are the only host that lets you monetise from day one the effort you put into your content at no extra cost to the listener. They are very price competitive considering and have an easy peasy interface for uploading, incorporating ads, and integrating your podcast with other platforms so that you can automatically spread the word when a new episode goes live. Give them a go!
For quicker audio and video editing I use Descript (affiliate link).
The mailing list functions thanks to email service provider ConvertKit (affiliate link).
I invested in the annual plan (which nets a discount on paying monthly). This is because when I start a project, I like to commit to seeing my goal through, so paying upfront ensured I wouldn’t quit emailing blog readers after a week!
You can start with a free plan though if you’re really not sure where you’re headed, or you’re technology shy (affiliate link). I find ConvertKit very easy to use though despite setting up automations and sequences and all that fancy jazz.
Many of the images on the blog are thanks to photographer and content extraordinaire Kayla Marie Butler.
Kayla offers a package of stock photos and marketing resources so that busy entrepreneurs have the power to quickly create content that boosts their traffic, leads and profits:
Kayla does offer free stock photos for anyone shy of investing in the future just yet. Or it’s possible to buy individual bundles of her photos from the Ivory Mix Stock Photo Shop. Kayla breaks these into categories, so that it’s easy to just buy stock photography for business and finance brands for example.
Let me know if you want to know what else I use to run the blog besides what’s mentioned on the Bear Resources page, or if you have questions. What do you need help with in your side hustle or business?
If you’re serious about investing in podcasting equipment to sound as professional as possible, this page has recommendations for every budget: