The spirit of Robert Kett lives on: Local authorities supporting Community Land Trusts
October 9, 2014
As volunteer-led community-based organisations, you may think it would be all too common for local authorities to underestimate, or even be slightly wary of, Community Land Trusts (CLTs) operating in their area. They are not, after all, your typical go-to partner for the provision of affordable housing. But this is not so. A growing cohort of local authorities are making the bold and rewarding move of reaching out and supporting CLTs as a means of meeting their own strategic objectives.
CLTs are democratic and non-for-profit developers of land, housing and other assets for the common good. CLTs seek to ensure that affordable housing built today remains affordable well into the future. CLTs are also a means by which ordinary people of all backgrounds can assert their right to shape the future of the places where they live, from the hamlet to the global city.
There are now 170 CLTs across England and Wales, half of which have formed in the last two years. This rising movement builds on a rich history in the UK of defence and stewardship of the commons, which includes the three thousand valiant rebels killed by the state in 1549, whilst protesting the illegal enclosure of common lands.
A striking feature of this event in our history is that the preceding uprising was led not by a displaced victim of enclosure, but by a landowner, a man named Robert Kett. When visited by a group of angry rebels tearing down the fences surrounding his newly enclosed property, Kett listened to their complaints and joined them in tearing down his own fences and protesting the injustice.
Within the development and property world (as elsewhere), we often find ourselves posted to one particular camp in a dichotomous relationship of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, be it the landlord vs. tenant, the public vs. private or the professional vs. the local. It is a truly remarkable professional, then, who ditches their barracks and meets the perceived adversary on common ground. So we want to commend the scores of local authorities that are working in exciting new ways with CLTs. As Robert Kett tore down his own fences, these bold institutions are helping to tear down the hurdles and barriers which greet the CLT.
With affordable finance: As start-up developers, CLTs can find it challenging to access development finance at a rate they can afford. In response, Cornwall Council has taken advantage of its borrowing powers to resource a revolving loan fund which offers affordable short term development finance at a break-even rate for the Council.
With asset and land transfer: Like any affordable housing development, CLT projects require subsidy, either in the form of land or capital. A number of forward-thinking local authorities have transferred land to CLTs at an appropriate price, or accepted a deferred payment. As part of their innovative ‘Build!’ programme, Cherwell District Council have supported the establishment of a district-wide CLT. Part of their approach involves purchasing suitable development plots and transferring these to the CLT, which will be the long term steward of the land and buildings.
Through housing and planning policy: By creating opportunities for locals to have genuine control over new development, CLTs generate the local support that is often crucial to unlocking much-needed housing. This makes CLTs a valuable strategic partner. East Cambridgeshire District Council are actively encouraging the development of affordable housing by CLTs through a specific policy for community led development in their local plan.
Through start-up support: Like any developer, CLTs need access to sound advice and project management to guide their schemes. From Cherwell to Cheshire, local authorities are offering finance and in-kind support to assist in the set-up and running of CLTs and CLT support bodies such as CLT East, Cheshire Community Action and Wessex CLT Project.
Though clearly following Robert Kett’s example, it is worth noting that these local authorities are not martyrs: Kett took a risk which was, ultimately, fatal. He was tragically hanged on 7th December 1549. Cornwall, East Cambridgshire and Cherwell, on the other hand, don’t see what they are doing as a risk. In fact, the reverse. They recognise that CLTs are invaluable partners when it comes to providing the affordable homes needed in their locality. In East Cambridgeshire, CLTs are now the preferred method for taking forward new affordable schemes.
And there are hard figures behind this kind of confidence: Cornwall Council’s revolving loan fund has supported the development of 126 homes to date. In response to an expanding pipeline, they have quardrupled their revolving loan fund from £1million to £4million. As this kind of support for CLTs grows, perhaps we can hope that Robert Kett did not die in vain.