Partnership wins funding to develop plans for innovative, sustainable community-led housing

Published: Wednesday, 17th March 2021

Oxford City Council has been awarded funding to work with Transition by Design and Oxfordshire Community Land Trust and develop a blueprint for reclaiming disused land for innovative council housing.

An award of £19,994 from the Housing Advisers Programme (HAP) will help the council expand on a community-led pilot project to demolish a row of derelict garages and build four new zero carbon council homes in Champion Way. Planning permission for this project was granted in November.

Around 600 of the council’s 2,000 garages are vacant. The HAP funding will be used to unlock the potential for building new homes on these sites and other unused pockets of land owned by the council. This will provide a pipeline of five sites which could yield around 30 homes.

HAP funding will also enable the council to develop a range of approaches for working with communities to build sustainable homes on difficult brownfield sites. These could include using modular construction to build meanwhile homes as move-on accommodation before developing a site for permanent council housing.

The first stage of the project will harness Transition by Design’s expertise in using innovative ways of building low carbon homes on small and complicated urban sites. A feasibility study will map all of the council’s garage sites and other unused land to identify their suitability for new homes, with five sites brought forward for community-led design and planning work.

Community-led housing means that local people play a leading and lasting part in helping deliver the homes that communities need. Oxfordshire Community Land Trust’s experience of community-led development and governance means it will be well placed to lead on involving local people in the design and planning of potential projects. The planning phase will also draw on Transition by Design’s Homemaker Oxford programme which involves homeless people in creating solutions to their housing needs.

A third and final phase of design and pre-development work will explore and develop the five sites identified in the feasibility study. This will include looking at a mix of meanwhile use and long-term projects, as well as options for modular and zero carbon homes. The council then expects to be able to submit planning applications for around 30 new homes.

The wider legacy of HAP funding will be a blueprint for community involvement in the future development of unused land for sustainable council homes. Vacant small garage sites are common in many local authority land portfolios, and the council expects to share the learning from the project with Oxfordshire’s other districts and councils participating in the HAP.


“Transition by Design and Oxfordshire Community Land Trust are recognised leaders in sustainable, cutting edge developments on difficult sites and working with communities to ensure that these are inclusive and meet the needs of local people.

“Working together, we expect to bring forward proposals to build around 30 new homes on the five sites identified as most suitable for development. Oxford needs homes, but more importantly it needs the right homes – innovative, sustainable council homes making the best use of sites that would be overlooked by traditional developers.”

Councillor Mike Rowley, cabinet member for affordable housing and housing the homeless

“Collectively, Oxford’s neighbourhoods have over a hundred small plots of land that could be used for new social housing. These are small sites, often with many tricky barriers to overcome, but our need for housing in Oxford trumps the challenges and there is no more important time to try. We think that together, these sites could provide at least 50 new homes.

“Receiving the HAP funding will allow Transition by Design to turn ideas into action and work alongside Oxford City Council and the Oxfordshire Community Land Trust to get stuck in and figure out how we can turn these unloved corners of Oxford into environmentally sustainable, comfortable, and well-designed social homes. As architects and urban researchers, we’re looking forward to combining the latest architectural technologies with local ingenuity and a bit of elbow grease to create the social homes that Oxford needs.”

Andy Edwards, project designer at Transition by Design

Oxford needs homes

Oxford needs homes as it is regularly cited as the least affordable place for housing in the country.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2019 the median house price was £395,000 – 12.55 times median gross earnings (£31,472) in the city. For England as a whole, the median house price is 7.83 times median earnings. The cost of housing in Oxford puts home ownership out of the reach of people in occupations like teaching, nursing, transport and retail.

Half (49.3%) of homes in Oxford are now in the private rented sector, where the ONS reports a median private rent of £1,500 a month for a three-bedroom home. The equivalent amount for England as a whole is £795. Meanwhile, there are currently 2,355 households on the council’s housing waiting list.