Out-Law Analysis 6 min. read

Community land trusts: part of the solution to England’s affordable housing shortage

New build housing estate

Community land trusts (CLTs) offer a route to delivering the new affordable housing stock that England urgently needs, with local support – but both planning policy reform and central government funding will be needed to make the most of the opportunity.

To date, 350 CLTs in England have completed 1,711 affordable homes with a further 5,413 in the pipeline, according to estimates by the Community Land Trust Network, with the potential to deliver 278,000 with the right support. These projects provide for greater involvement of and control for the local community.

CLTs have proven their ability to unlock difficult small sites, and some local planning authorities are now promoting planning policies that require CLT involvement to some extent on larger sites, which could increase housing diversity and supply. The government’s updated National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for England, on which it recently consulted, suggests a greater role for community-led housing groups in the delivery of affordable housing.

The new NPPF will go a long way towards determining the role of community-led housing throughout England. However, unless additional central government funding is renewed, any planning policy expansion will be undermined and largely performative in nature.

What are community land trusts?

Community-led housing has long been established in the United States, having taken its inspiration from the civil rights movement. It is often delivered through the CLT model and includes the following characteristics:

  • a not for profit local community organisation owning, managing or stewarding homes in a manner of their choosing;
  • responding to locally-specific housing needs that the community organisation is best placed to identify and understand;
  • developed in accordance with the legal constitution of the community organisation that will define its mission goals, community of benefit, retained benefits and include an asset lock to legally protect those benefits in perpetuity.

A CLT is defined in section 79 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 as a body corporate established for the express purpose of furthering the social, economic and environmental interests of a local community by acquiring and managing land and other assets in order to provide a benefit to the local community, and ensuring that the assets are not sold or developed except in a manner which benefits the local community.

Mark Child

Associate, Pinsent Masons

As the former coordinator for Oxfordshire Community Land Trust and one of its current board directors, I have seen first hand how a genuinely community-led development can cultivate broad support and allow local residents to deliver much needed affordable housing themselves

It must be established under arrangements which are expressly designed to ensure that any profits that are generated are used to benefit the local community; that individuals who live or work in the specific area can become members of the CLT; and that the members of the CLT control the CLT.

There are a variety of different ways for a CLT to incorporate, with two of the most popular routes being either a community benefit society or community interest company – both of these legal forms permit the raising of social investment through community share offers.  Community-led housing can also be delivered in other ways such as through housing cooperatives, cohousing groups and self-help housing.

As the former coordinator for Oxfordshire Community Land Trust (OCLT) and one of its current board directors, I have seen first hand how a genuinely community-led development can cultivate broad support and allow local residents to deliver much needed affordable housing themselves that benefit from an ‘asset lock’ to protect the homes from the ‘right to buy’ mechanism. OCLT is run by a Board of 10 committed local volunteer directors with varying degrees of housing experience, and backed by a membership of over 300 supporters. OCLT was able to use its local knowledge and network to source, acquire and fund its first development of eight affordable rented homes to the west of Oxford, whilst accessing vital support from more established CLTs and the Community Land Trust Network.

OCLT has encountered plenty of challenges, but with a committed base and a strong advocate from the Vale of White Horse District Council – both in financial terms, and through the provision of officers – it has also managed to secure ‘registered provider’ status. It is on track to complete the homes by summer 2023 and is in advanced discussions over bringing forward a second site.

How local planning authorities are supporting community-led housing

A third of local planning authorities in England are already leading the way in supporting community-led housing through local plan policies. Cherwell’s Local Plan 2011-2031 supports community self-build affordable housing especially where it will result in empty properties being brought into residential use. It has established a community self-build housing programme and had a financial commitment from the Homes and Community Agency (now Homes England) for such projects. It also requires developments of 11 or more dwellings to actively consider proposals for community self-build, which will contribute towards meeting the need for affordable housing.

A selection of other local plan policies and supplementary planning documents (SPDs) include:

  • Cornwall Council’s Local Plan (adopted 2016) supports the delivery of community-based initiatives that help make communities more resilient;
  • Cheshire West and Chester Local Plan Policy SOC 3 Housing Mix and Type (adopted 2015) includes a commitment to work with CLTs to help bring forward land and schemes;
  • Arun District Council’s Local Plan (adopted 2018) permits planning obligations to require developers to endow to CLTs a proportion of land for the delivery of affordable housing or other community purpose;
  • East Cambridgeshire’s Local Plan’s (adopted 2015) Policy Growth 6 generally supports community-led development, which may include small business units, renewable energy generation as well as affordable housing. Affordable housing will be permitted outside of development envelopes when a number of conditions are met. The plan also permits an element of open market housing where this is demonstrated to be essential enabling development and where the community benefits of the scheme are significantly greater than would be delivered on an equivalent open market site. The council has also adopted an SPD for the delivery of community-led development;
  • South Cambridgeshire’s Waterbeach New Town 2019 SPD sets out the council’s general support, subject to viability, for working with CLTs in the provision of a new town, contributing to a broader mix of housing and delivery models.

Meanwhile some local planning authorities have been relying on the 2015 Self and Custom Housebuilding Act to support community-led developments. However, given that the statutory definition in the Act has not been legally tested as being able to properly apply to all forms of community-led housing, advocates will no doubt ask that the NPPF makes specific provision.

In London, the 2018 London Housing Strategy sets out the mayor’s expectations that community-led organisations play a much more significant role in developing and managing London’s new homes. It included setting a target to identify a pipeline of community-led schemes by 2021, with the capacity to deliver at least 1,000 homes. In line with that strategy, the mayor launched a £38m Community Led Housing Fund in 2019 to enable Londoners to play a leading role in building genuinely affordable homes for local people, with the expectation that 500 new homes could be delivered by 2023; that followed funding provided by the mayor for the new London Community Led Housing Hub with CDS Cooperatives, nine boroughs and the City of London. More recently, the mayor’s focus has been concentrated on unlocking smaller sites, which is supported by the 2021 London Plan in order to provide opportunities for community-led housing projects without a requirement for the provision of community-led homes on larger third party owned sites. However, with London CLT working with the London Boroughs of Lewisham, Lambeth and Redbridge and having already delivered 23 intermediate homes in Tower Hamlets (interestingly as part of a larger site of 252 new homes on land owned by the GLA), such a requirement may start to enter local planning policies and SPDs in and around London in the not too distant future as can be found on a site allocation in Southwark.

Where will this all take us?

Assuming funding does become available, and the NPPF requires local planning authorities to support community-led housing, landowners and developers throughout England will need to become more knowledgeable and embrace CLTs, rather than those only currently operating within supportive local plan environments.

We are already seeing planning officers seeking CLTs as the primary vehicle for managing community facilities and being stewards of open space in section 106 agreements. Landowners and developers therefore need to be aware of the general shift towards more community-led housing policies and projects. If done well, larger schemes that incorporate community-led elements have the potential to create a more inclusive and thriving development for the benefit of all. Larger development schemes that incorporate an element of community-led housing also have the potential to attract local community support that might otherwise not have been available.

Written by Mark Child of Pinsent Masons.

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