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The people’s revolution: when communities become developers

From Cornwall to York, pioneers are battling the affordability crisis by building their own homes. Anna White reports

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The historic village of Kennett in East Cambridgeshire is going to double in size. A total of 500 new homes will be built on the edge of the small parish, which sits at the easternmost spur of the county that stretches into Suffolk. 

Planning was waved through in April for four new neighbourhoods and a new village centre with a primary school, a pub, a workspace, new cycle routes and a post office. 

Although there was some opposition (150 letters of objection were received from residents), there was not the usual furore caused by the clash of construction and countryside.

This was because the proposals were put together by the community, for the community, and they had the final say. Plans were approved by a majority of 70:30 in a residents’ vote.


“The attitude was that development was going to happen, so they took control, and were awarded the land by the council instead a private developer”


“This was a local referendum. The process has more democratic legitimacy than any other comparable scheme,” says Tom Chance, director of the National Community Land Trust Network. Mr Chance will be speaking about community-led development at the Festival of Place at Tobacco Dock in London on 9 July (tomorrow). 

The attitude of the majority of the locale was that a new development was going to happen whether they wanted it or not, so they took control, formed a community land trust (CLT) and were awarded the land by the council instead of it going to a private developer.

They are running their own project to ensure the long-term benefit to the community, Mr Chance explains.

Community land trusts were born out of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, as a way for African American farmers to protect their land from corrupt and racist authorities.


These vehicles are run by ordinary people to develop and manage homes as well as other assets important to that community, such as social enterprises, food growing or workspaces. In austerity Britain, they are fast gaining momentum.


“A decade ago, only 14 CLTs were in operation in the UK. There are now 333”


House prices in the South East and the UK’s cities rose rapidly following the global banking collapse through a supply-demand imbalance, an influx of international wealth looking for a safe haven and quantitative easing. The increased formation of CLTs is a direct response to the resulting affordability crisis. 

A decade ago, only 14 CLTs were in operation in the UK. There are now 333. Nearly 1,000 homes have been built to date and there are more than 5,000 homes in the pipeline, with over 17,000 volunteers responsible for them. 

“CLTs act as long-term stewards of housing, ensuring that it remains genuinely affordable, based on what people actually earn in their area, not just for now but for every future occupier,” says Mr Chance. 

He cites the London CLT that built 23 flats in Mile End in a structure that means prices will stay pegged to local wages. 

Volunteers in nearby Tottenham, after a tireless campaign, have followed suit. Four years ago the 11-acre St Ann’s Hospital site was sold to a developer who gained planning permission to build 425 homes, with just 14 per cent allocated as affordable.


“Sadiq Khan was so impressed with the CLT that he bought the land using his new £250m land fund”


This did not sit comfortably with residents: there is a 10,000-person strong waiting list for social housing in the area and the construction of Tottenham Hotspur’s new £850m stadium is under way.

A trust was quickly formed. The members crowdfunded £25,000 to pay for architects and masterplanners and proposed an alternative vision, entirely comprising affordable homes with sheltered accommodation. 

Sadiq Khan was so impressed that he bought the land using his new £250m land fund, and the CLT and City Hall will now develop the scheme in partnership.

The dangerous disparity between local wages and house prices is not a London-only problem. Susannah Bird and James Newton set up community group YorSpace in York in 2014 and this year it has evolved into a CLT. 

“York is one of the most expensive parts of the North of England, with property values and rents way above the area average,” Ms Bird says. “Families are being forced to move away and commute back in, pushed out by house prices. We started YorSpace to address these problems.”

The pair are in the throes of their first development project. Raising funds from the community, they are buying 0.75 acres of land off the council to deliver 19 one and two-bedroom flats, as well as two, three and four-bedroom houses, all at way below market value.

Mr Chance says CLTs are bringing new hope for housing in Britain
Mr Chance says CLTs are bringing new hope for housing in Britain
Plans for the enclave of new homes to be built, owned and managed by YorSpace
Plans for the enclave of new homes to be built, owned and managed by YorSpace
The assets will be owned by the community in an equity exchange scheme to give local people the dignity and power of homeownership but without inflating prices through sale on the open market. Members can buy in and out of the scheme as they move on. 

“Community land trusts are a very powerful way of people working together to solve their own housing problems,” says Ms Bird. 

The need for such schemes is just as pressing in rural Britain. In fact, Cornwall is the country’s CLT heartland because of the tension between local wages and value, driven up by the influx of second-homebuyers. 

Farmers may offer up land for the good of their community and to generate a revenue stream. Plus agricultural land is far cheaper then residential plots, so it is less of a barrier to entry for the interested trust.

The council may make land available rather than see private developers move in and often the CLT will work with rural housing associations to deliver the most appropriate housing stock for the area. 

Mr Chance believes it is the CLTs bringing new hope for housing in Britain.  


Tom Chance is speaking at the Festival of Place on 9 July at Tobacco Dock, east London. Tickets to the Festival of Place are on sale now

Future plans for affordable housing in York
Future plans for affordable housing in York



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