New self build sustainable housing scheme in Devon, UK

The Land Society is setting up a new scheme in Devon (south west UK) to support local rural communities to develop energy efficient, affordable, sustainable homes. In their own words, “as part of The Land Society’s purpose of rebuilding rural economies we have identified that one major problem is the high cost of housing compared to rural wages. We are therefore working with the Community Land Trust (CLT) organisation, a regional Further Education college and Transition Town Totnes to develop Community Land Trust (CLT) developments of village self-build sustainable homes”.

This is a really interesting approach in that they are combining affordability with ecological design and training and skills required to build. It is focused not just on providing quality eco-housing, but in doing so as part of reviving rural economies. This social enterprise approach wants to avoid affordable housing being imposed on rural villages by external developers and instead wants local residents themselves to collaborate and build the houses that they need. They define ‘local residents’ as those who meet local-needs housing criteria (agreed with the local community) basically;
– children of local, long-time residents,
– have pre-school children, or children in local schools,
– work locally, especially in core/low paid services, e.g; education, healthcare, agriculture

In terms of cost they calculate that “ The cost of land, materials, training course and legal/planning will typically be about £85k, with a deposit of £5 -10k in stages, then balance payable quarterly in stages from an arranged mortgage. In addition the self-building work is valued at between £40-50,000, which becomes part of their equity in the property (or provides funds to complete the home if required). Members will typically own 60% equity in a home valued at about £225,000, and the balance will remain in the CLT for further social investment”. Although not necessarily ‘cheap’ the securing of the properties into a CLT means that they will remain available as affordable housing in the area permanently. They are not designed to be houses through which people make a profit and move on. The investment of considerable ‘sweat equity’ (working yourself to build your house) will also hopefully reduce the numbers of people who want simply to make money rather than invest time and energy in building rural communities.

In terms of design they have come up with a simple design intended specifically for self-build, which incorporates the following features:

  • Advanced passive solar design incorporating very high insulation (straw bale walls and sheep’s wool roof insulation) and thermal mass (rammed earth) for very low additional heating need
  • Straw bales rendered with clay have much higher fire resistance than timber framed houses, and provide excellent sound insulation.
  • Locally sourced, natural materials and simple, mainly hand tools build (including gabion rather than concrete foundations)
  • Adaptable with optional extras to suit individual families and site conditions
  • Flexible exterior proportions and finishes to blend with local vernacular
  • Designed to lifetime standards
  • Heating provided by wood burning stoves and solar hot water
  • Solar PV
  • Either dry compost loos or reed bed system for reduced use of water and sewerage
  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Simple site layout with minimal hard landscaping, keeping cars to one edge

If you live in south Devon and would like to be part of this pilot project, or if you’d like to be kept informed of progress, email them at

5 thoughts on “New self build sustainable housing scheme in Devon, UK

    1. Hello, not yet, however, there are some really good places in the UK which might be worth looking at further: (1) The Centre for Alternative Technology (Wales) is a world-leader in sustainable design and includes a big emphasis on natural building. They have a Graduate School ( with a range of programmes, some more technical than others. (2) The University of Sheffield have a masters course in Sustainable Architecture ( and a very good reputation for researching alternative forms of building. (3) The other alternative would be to contact some of the UK organisations which support and advocate natural building – like the Earth Building UK group ( or the AECB ( who might be able to recommend further courses.

  1. This is an exciting initiative, as sustainable housing becomes increasingly more important for not only our local communities, but for the planet – both ecologically and economically. Looking forward to seeing the benefits of this scheme in the years to come!

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