• Aldcliffe Yard is a scheme featuring eight custom build homes (plus six converted/renovated listed buildings) off Aldcliffe Road, Lancaster.
  • The site is situated alongside the Lancaster Canal in the centre of the city within a conservation area.
  • Purchasers reserve a plot – entering into a build contract with the main contractor for the building works – and either stick to a pre-determined design for a fixed price, or make customisations to their home with the changes costed accordingly.
  • The development is masterminded by H2O Urban – a joint venture between private developer Bloc and the charity Canal & River Trust (CRT).
  • The site was obtained from the CRT. Bloc and CRT work together under the H2O Urban umbrella to identify and develop suitable canalside sites, with profits going back into maintaining the waterways for future generations.
  • H2O Urban has been advised throughout the delivery of the scheme by Plot – a custom build developer taking forward a number of custom build sites across the UK with various landowner partners.


  • The scheme is set within a conservation area and, as such, the local planning department was very specific about the materials that were to be used and wanted them to be in keeping with the surroundings. Another constraint was the external appearance and footprint of the buildings. Ideally a custom build scheme would allow the purchasers some freedom in relation to designing the footprint and elevations of the building itself, but this was fixed at planning stage on this scheme. However, purchasers could change the internal layout of the property and fit out as much as they liked.
  • Homes sit on a site covering approximately two acres; there are eight plots for the three to four-bedroom custom build homes – one detached, two semi-detached and five terraced properties. Aldcliffe Yard is the first terraced custom build scheme to be delivered in the UK.
  • The materials used – slate roofs with natural stone walls and timber framed sash windows – are sympathetic to the conservation area in which the scheme is located. There is also a landscaping scheme which is accordant to the surroundings.
  • Timber frame is used to build the custom build homes, allowing for quick cost-effective construction. This meant that plot buyers needed to fix their layout designs nice and early, as changes to this would have a knock-on effect on the design of the timber frame.
  • During the design stage, buyers were able to knock through to create kitchen diners, or add/remove en-suites. The internal fit-out offered a choice of kitchen styles and, again, the layout of the kitchen can be changed. The bathrooms could be changed in size and layout and there was a choice of suites and a huge choice of porcelain tiles. Carpets and hardwood flooring upgrades were offered to buyers. If buyers wanted further choice in the fit-out they could omit items from the build and do it themselves afterwards.
  • H20 Urban installed the infrastructure to the site; the plots were provided fully-serviced with gas, water, electricity and telecommunications.
  • The plot buyers needed to show they were able to complete on their plot and finance the build process during the six-month period between when the plots were made available and work starting on site. Purchasers then needed to work on the customisation of their home with H20 Urban’s project manager and team of consultants (architects, engineers, mechanical and electrical (M&E) consultants and the main contractor). Once customisations were agreed and priced, purchasers’ contract values could be changed accordingly and they then exchanged on their plot.


  • The total build price for the scheme is c. £2 million. Each plot purchase price is tied into the build price (contract value) and individual build contracts for the plot buyers varied from £110,000 to £150,000.
  • Purchasers paid a 10% deposit of plot cost on exchange (before any works begin). On completion of ‘golden brick’ work (up to the level of the damp proof course, i.e., to the foundation level with one brick laid), they completed on the plot and paid the remaining 90%. If the cost of building work increased between exchange and completion the buyer had the option to pull out of the purchase – this provided the comfort that the buyers knew what the cost was going to be and if it were to change they could exit the contract if they choose.
  • Plot costs have been calculated and set so that, once the buyers purchased the plot and built their home, a 10% saving on market value would be achieved. For example:
    • the new custom build terraced houses have a market value of £295,000.
    • the plot buyers were able to purchase a plot for £165,000 and enter into a design and build contract for the build for £104,890.
    • when stamp duty (on the plot only) and legal fees were paid this gave a finished house price of £272,360. Of course, as part of the customisation process the buyers are able to change the layout and internal specification of the building, they have a complete blank slate with the kitchen which can be designed through out kitchen partner on the scheme. These changes affect the build cost and the contract value is adjusted accordingly.


  • March 2014 – Site acquired.
  • April 2014 – Plots available for reservation.
  • September 2014 – Construction starts on site.
  • October 2014 – Levelling of roadways and drainage laying.
  • February 2015 – Installation of access roads.
  • July 2015 – Homes completed.

Learning Points

  • Building in a conservation area can provide challenges. With this project there was very little scope to alter anything outside the home and customisations were limited to changing the internal layout and the fit-out details. In a conservation area you will have far less flexibility in terms of changes you can make – but, like at Aldcliffe Yard,, the setting is idyllic. So it’s really about understanding the restrictions and difficulties that will be encountered and then making a balanced decision as to whether this is right for you. Under the custom build model, all of the tough planning work is already done for the buyers, so it’s quite easy for a buyer to assess what they can and can’t do and make a decision as to whether it suits them. But, to an extent, self/custom build schemes are well suited to areas where planning will not be so stringent and people can fully express their designs.

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