Bunker Hill Co-operative Self-Build Project

Andy Johnson visited Bunker Hill Co-operative Self-Build project in Brighton in consort with Brighton and Hove CLT.


I met with Martyn Holmes from Bunker Hill on site. He is happy to maintain contact (bunkerselfbuild@gmail.com), and would like to hear how HCLT gets on in future. (He’s doing a PhD on community development.)

The site is that of an ex council-owned garage block which is being let to Bunker Hill Co-op on a 125-year lease (they are negotiating to up this to a 250-year lease as that will allow them to get improved terms for long term funding). They pay a rent of £250 a year to the council for the lease.

The present scheme is their first, though they are progressing towards a couple of other small schemes.

As the site had already been earmarked for housing by the council, they did widespread consultation with the neighbours and two local community associations (apparently the two do not get on with each other) prior to submitting their application for pre-planning advice. Everyone has seemed happy with the scheme as a result. One of their biggest costs involved digging into the back of the site (it’s in a hilly part of Brighton) and shoring up the neighbouring ground with about an 8 foot high retaining wall, and part of the deal with neighbours is that they will replace all the adjoining fencing to the site on completion of the main building works.

The scheme is just for two houses (nos 18 & 20 Plumpton Road, Brighton BN2 9YL), each to be occupied by a family, with three bedrooms. Elements of Lifetime homes standards have been included in terms of groundfloor bathroom access (wet rooms) and turning spaces for wheelchairs.

One of the surprises was that it’s not really self-build. One of the families includes an electrician and one a painter and decorator, but in effect they project manage the development, employing contractors to do the work. The design features prefabricated pods which were delivered from Germany on several lorries, one crane being required to lift the pods into the site and another to then place them either onto foundations and concrete bases which had been constructed in preparation or onto each other (the site has a narrow access lane.)

The pods are then finished externally and internally. The pods are essentially of timber, but well insulated, with a cement screed or timber external finish (as per the photo of the outside). Fire regulations have been satisfied with the fitting of a sprinkler system. The houses are built to passivhaus standards but without going for the additional cost of certification as the houses will be rented out and the cost of certification can only be recouped in sale values. They discussed providing ground source heat pumps for heating, but the pod providers (I can’t recall their name and Martyn talked fast!) said they thought they wouldn’t be required, and in any event it was best to first see how the pods performed in their actual location. Bunker Hill have done a deal with a local green energy co-op whereby their electrical generation equipment will be provided by the energy co-op who can use the site to test and modernise equipment, meaning there is no liability for the equipment itself by Bunker Hill. There will be an additional charge on top of the rent, which should be close to the Local Housing Allowance level, to cover electricity costs.

Each house has a small patio garden, and there is a small communal area of garden as well.

They had a £32,000 grant from Brighton and Hove’s overall allocation under the first stage of the Community Housing Fund which covered their pre-development costs. Roughly 30% of the cost of construction is being covered by inter co-op loan stock at a low rate of interest (circa 1% for 5 years I think), the balance by a commercial loan from the Ecology Building Society at 4.5%. They are discussing with Brighton & Hove council obtaining a just under 1-year loan from the public works loan board which can be obtained at 0% (if under a 1 year period), and looking to see if they could refinance the Ecology Building Society loan through that as well, for a 50-year loan at 3%.

Their agreement with the council is that everyone housed by the co-op must qualify for affordable/social housing in terms of income levels, local connections etc, but that the co-op can decide who to house in the first instance. Thereafter, 50% of any vacancies must come from the council’s own waiting list, but the co-op can interview nominees and only accept those who meet the co-op’s own criteria for joining in with the co-op’s ethos and helping run the co-op.

Once the houses are up and running, they want to move to a model where everyone pays a % of their income as rent, thus meaning that people don’t have to leave, and those that earn more contribute to funds which can help build more houses.

Andy Johnson
24 Feb 2020