Press release: Graven Hill Vision Being Buried

Hundreds of residents and self-builders at Graven Hill – the UK’s largest self-build project  featured on Grand Designs – are accusing its developer of neglecting the original vision and Cherwell District Council (CDC) of neglecting its responsibility to hold the company to account. 

In an open letter, residents say the developer is blatantly ignoring the original vision of Graven Hill to be ‘‘an example of what can be achieved when self building and modern construction methods are employed at scale”. Instead Graven Hill Village Development Company (GHVDC) has been allowed to pursue a policy of volume build development of energy-inefficient, identikit houses. Those attracted to Graven Hill by the original vision are dismayed by the change. The letter urges the Council to revive the vision and actively scrutinise the company’s activities before the project becomes irredeemable.

One open-letter signatory, Simon Loo, says, “We built our house and poured our soul into this community because of the original vision. Stick with the original vision and stop playing short-term politics.”

Self-builder Alex Bell agrees: “The Graven Hill community itself is fully engaged in building the pioneering neighbourhood to which the developer (backed by the Council) committed at its inception. Unfortunately residents are now alone in supporting the self-build community vision as GHVDC has completely pivoted to the standard housing developer model.”

Little scrutiny

Pioneer self builder, Paul Troop, says, “The handful of councillors at CDC who are supposed to supervise this project have really dropped the ball here. There is little or no effective scrutiny of the management of [the development company] and little engagement with stakeholders. This allows the project to get away with repeated shortcomings.”

The open letter claims mismanagement has led to financial woes, forcing GHVDC to act like a mass developer, building low quality, budget units. It also says the developer has abandoned its commitment to build to the high energy performance standards that CDC specified at the project’s outset.

One consequence is a significant number of development company-built homes needing remedial work following complaints, many taking three years or more to resolve.

“Breaks my heart”

Leah Lewis, a self builder who featured on Grand Designs says:

It breaks my heart when I speak to neighbours and other residents about their issues with their GHVDC-built homes and the years it takes to rectify them. For many, this is still an ongoing battle. 

My husband and I built to the high build standards mandatory and enforced for all self builders at Graven Hill and have a warm, comfortable home that’s energy efficient. This is what everyone who lives on Graven Hill should have as per the original vision. The developer’s pursuit of short-term targets and the sole goal of a profitable ‘Return on Investment’ is generating damaging impacts that residents will have to live with for decades to come.

With this open letter, we hope that Graven Hill can return to its promise(s) and build homes adhering to the high and enforced build standards expected of the self-builders and where a greater percentage of self-build plots are made available for any new and future build.

Change needed

Residents believe it is not too late for the Council to reaffirm the project’s original vision and demonstrate that there is a clear alternative to poor quality volume-build housing. Paul Troop agrees that “there is much promise to be realised”.  However he also says, “the leadership at CDC needs to be a lot more engaged, and probably supported by bringing in specialists who know about building and development”.

Another resident and signatory to the open letter, Simon Taylor, has a stark message for the directors of the development: “GHVDC, it’s time to listen to your customers. If you choose not to, you should acknowledge that you’ve deliberately misrepresented and missold the original Graven Hill vision.”

Graven Hill residents hope the Council is listening, and does not waste this opportunity to transform housebuilding for the better. To date they have yet to receive a response to their letter.


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.]


2“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.]

Note: text above has now been deleted by the developer from its website


Terraced volume build housing under construction at Graven Hill March 2023
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