Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.
There is so much talk about a ‘housing crisis’, blaming the planning system and land banking by the big developers. Some criticisms are valid, but by no means all, especially when the public sector (councils, the NHS and the military for example) has also stockpiled a substantial acreage right across the country and seems largely reluctant to do anything with it.
Instead of encouraging this blame culture, we should be lauding and learning from the growing number of organisations taking matters into their own hands to deliver homes for local communities at realistic prices and rents. A fresh approach to the ‘affordable’ mantra.
Let’s start with Community Land Trusts (CLTs). The fastest growing form of not for profit community-led housing, run by volunteers. There are now 170 CLTs across England and Wales; together they have already delivered 700 affordable homes with a further 2,300 by 2020.
Last December, the Government announced an annual £60m Community Housing Fund for areas affected by second home ownership, providing initial grants to 148 local authorities (check here for details). Other grants can be accessed via My Community.
CLT projects are tailored to meet the needs of those priced out of the local market, ranging from St. Clement’s in Mile End, London, where one bedroom flats are offered from £130,000, with prices permanently tied to local median income, allowing someone on £31,000 to buy a home. In Lavenham, Suffolk, a CLT was set up to build 18 affordable family homes, buying a derelict storage depot from Suffolk County Council for just £1 on condition that all the new homes are for low rent or shared ownership.
In Rock, Cornwall, another expensive area where holiday lets have forced prices up whilst reducing availability, a CLT acquired a site at a discounted rate because Cornwall Council would only grant planning consent on the land for a scheme enabling younger local people to remain in the area by selling completed homes at below market value. Meanwhile, the Heart of Hastings CLT is working to transform the derelict power station site into 60 homes and workplaces with community facilities.
There is an acute housing shortage in the countryside, with average prices more than 11 times the average wage in some places according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) leaving workers often having to travel 20 miles and have more than one job in order to make ends meet. Rural Housing Solutions, an affordable property specialist, comments, ‘sustainable rural communities need a range of different people to function, and estates are a linchpin for providing affordable housing.’
With an estimated third of UK land owned by aristocrats and the gentry it is good news that, in another welcome initiative, major landowners are reviving rural housing with modest developments to address shortages. The Holkham estate in Norfolk, which already has 300 residential properties, has permission to add six new homes, two of which are designated for local people at affordable rents. According to the Estates Director, their policy is one of social responsibility, maintaining the fabric of the community, ‘we don’t let homes for holidays, but need a settled workforce which keeps the village shops and services open’. Given the range of staff working across the estate, in the hotel, shop and tearoom, as well as agriculture, there are also plans for university-style accommodation more suited to young single employees.
Right across the country, development is a growing business for rural estates, including Churchill’s childhood home in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, where the management company has submitted plans for 300 homes in the village, with 40 per cent affordable. The Rothschild Foundation has applied for 75 homes on land adjacent to the Waddesdon estate in Buckinghamshire, with 20 per cent affordable, whilst the Duke of Northumberland recently unveiled seven affordable rental properties, and the Clinton Devon estate has built 19 homes in Budleigh Salterton in partnership with a housing association. ‘Local authorities see these estates as potential partners, realising that you can’t have a prosperous countryside without prosperous estates,’ says one landowner, who recently built 22 homes in Fife, 12 of them affordable to rent.
Down in Wiltshire, which is home to more than 55,000 ex-service personnel, a pioneering scheme is under way on the 34-acre former Erskine Barracks site to create 44 affordable rental flats and shared ownership homes, some wheelchair-accessible, exclusively for former service personnel and their families, alongside an enterprise hub for existing and new businesses, and a café. Supporting veterans transitioning to civilian life, it is a partnership between development company, Our Enterprise, Redrow Homes, and the Wilton Community Land Trust, forming the Our Wilton Trust, with a £500,000 grant from the Armed Forces Covenant.
Our Enterprise founder, Matthew Bell, says, “a lot of work goes into the wounded and sick, but there are other veterans who need some help.’” The Trust intends to provide 200 jobs for veterans, running the café and grounds maintenance, with training, volunteering and enterprise opportunities, becoming a blueprint for similar projects across the UK.
Over in Cambridge, the university recognised that soaring property prices and limited housing stock could threaten its world-leading reputation, which attracts growing numbers of the brightest students and academics. So it is investing in an exciting 370-acre development. Built on farmland owned by the university, it will provide 3,000 state of the art new homes (half at affordable rents for university staff) and 2,000 student rooms in a new village named after the renowned academic, Sir Arthur Eddington, on the city fringe.
The £350m first phase of 700 flats, with supermarket, café and shops, will be available this year, alongside houses and flats for sale. One commentator applauds the university for “looking after its staff” and providing such a well designed, energy efficient, complex with wildlife refuge, public art and a green superhighway for cyclists and pedestrians travelling into the city centre.
None of these ideas will have come to fruition overnight, but they are evidence of the determination by different organisations to think creatively, building partnerships with public, private and charitable sectors to deliver for their communities. We need to encourage more innovation and joint ventures to bring greater individuality; it’s the only way to relegate the big national developers, and their pattern books, to a less dominant role in the housing market.