Self-Build Communities: building houses, building local economies

For many years the concept of self-build housing has been popular on mainland Europe representing up to 60% of all homes built in countries such as Italy, France and Germany whereas the figure in the UK, is much lower, approximately 7%.  However in recent years, there has been an increasing interest in the opportunities presented by self-build in the UK.  The Scottish Government have produced specific guidance on self-build and in 2012, the DCLG announced their support for the development of the self-build portal which included financial support for groups interested in bidding to develop their own self build community.  In this briefing we explore the example of self-build in Vauban in Frieburg, Germany and some of the self-build ideas emerging in the UK.

Self-build housing in Vauban, Frieburg, Germany

Self build housing or ‘Baugruppe’ has been actively encouraged within projects like the redevelopment of the Vauban quarter of Frieburg in Germany.  Vauban was a brownfield site, formerly home to a French Barracks which was redeveloped by the city of Frieburg as a new housing area.  The concept of self-build communities was incorporated into the master plan for the area and played an important role in helping to create the high quality of environmental standards, design and car free environment that are characteristic of ‘Quartier Vauban’ today.  Indeed, the city council actually gave preference to groups of citizens over commercial developers at the site and also fixed the land prices so that commercial developers could not enter into a bidding war with self-build groups.  Through this process, not only did residents get exactly the type of house they wanted (within the parameters of the overall planning guidance and site masterplan) but they also began to get to know their future neighbours even before they moved into the area, building a sense of community from the very start.  Individual families can also add their own design ideas to the building which gives the neighbourhood area a real sense of identity.

Key features of this approach

  • Community decision making and place shaping: The community were actively involved in designing and shaping their new community, working alongside local architects and builders.
  • Support for locally owned businesses: The self-build element of the Vauban initiative actively supported local businesses in the area through the use of local builders, suppliers and architects.
  • Using the planning system to support the local economy: House building is a key part of any local authority’s future strategy but is often seen as a response to economic change rather than as a catalyst for supporting economic development. By including self-build, the planning process is actively using the provision of housing to encourage greater diversity and competition in the house building market and support local investment.
  • Focus on high environmental quality:  One of the distinctive features of the Vauban development was its focus on high environmental quality.  The absence of cars in the area and the high proportion of green space makes it a very pleasant and safe neighbourhood for people to live in as well as helping to raise overall environmental standards of house building in an area.

Self-build communities in the UK

A number of self-build communities are beginning to emerge in the UK and represent a different way of thinking about the process of building homes for the future:

  • Graven Hill Self Build – Cherwell District Council have recently completed the purchase of land from the MOD which they are hoping will provide the space for the development of 1900 self-build homes including kit houses and community self-build schemes. If successful this will be the largest self-build community in the UK. It is hoped that the site will include a variety of different house types including bungalows, apartment blocks, detached and semidetached properties as well as a range of tenure types.
  • Middlesbrough, Urban Pioneers: This scheme is focused on an area of former industrial land at Middlehaven in the North of Middlesbrough, a former industrial area, which the Council have been redeveloping and regenerating over the last number of years. The proposal to encourage self-build is part of a strategy to encourage the development of new communities on the site and as a catalyst to future investment.   Middlehaven had already been successful in the development of the which provides business space for new digital and creative companies to grow. The urban pioneers’ scheme aims to complement this offer by providing people with the chance to create their own homes and communities.

To learn more

Vauban, Freiburg, Germany

Self-build in the UK