The key objective of the Frome Area Community Land Trust is to provide homes for local people in housing need. Finding land on which to build these houses is quite rightly at the heart of its work. We have three main approaches when it comes to exploring potential projects. These involve partnerships with:
1. commercial developers seeking to meet their affordable housing obligations
2. Registered Providers (Housing Associations) to acquire and build on privately owned land
3. both a registered provider and a local authority to develop social housing on local authority-owned land.
Our criteria for working on any of these types of projects are always:
· will our involvement bring a benefit to our communities?
· will we be able to increase the pool of homes available to local people at genuinely affordable rents?
Different types of projects will benefit the community to a greater or lesser extent. Our impact will often be limited on developer-led schemes, but it will be potentially greater where we can drive the agenda and develop sites which will potentially deliver 100% of the homes available for social rent.
As we all know, access to land for building homes in the UK is one of the biggest challenges we all face. The policies of national governments for many decades has meant that land for building remains a scarce and expensive resource. Unfortunately, as a Community Land Trust, we have very few advantages in this respect. Land within the development boundary of a settlement will always command a much higher premium because it is generally already earmarked for housing development. Such land is therefore almost always out of our financial reach. We simply do not have the capital available to private developers. Land-owners will almost certainly want to maximise their profit. Land will therefore almost inevitably be developed in a commercial way with profit being the main objective rather than seeking to bring benefit to the community. Our only hope of bringing about community benefit on larger development sites is to work with the developer who will have a legal obligation to provide a percentage of affordable housing. Our impact will be limited however. Most developers will want to maintain control and will use various methods to try to reduce their obligation to provide affordable housing.
Sites located just outside the development boundary are a different proposition. Normal commercial developers would not be able to obtain planning permission to develop these sites. However, community land trusts can potentially get permission, as long as their scheme is intended to bring benefit to local people. This strategy may seem like the perfect solution for community land trusts, but it’s not quite as simple as it may seem. Firstly, we have to question the assumptions that always place those in housing need out on the periphery of established communities. Some may welcome having one foot in surrounding countryside and one foot in the town, but others may prefer to be in the heart of the community. Indeed, they may need the additional support being close to the centre of the community would bring. The other problem is that owners of such land know very well that, as communities grow, settlement boundaries have to be adjusted. Therefore land that today may only be valued at agricultural prices, may tomorrow, be worth up to 50 times that amount as development land. Land-owners may be unwilling to sell to a community land trust to build social housing, even if they could command a higher price than agricultural land. By biding their time, they can expect to make a far greater profit.
And, finally, our third potential source of land is land currently owned by a local authority. Such land could be either within a settlement boundary or just outside. These opportunities possibly represent our best option. In many cases however, like all things, it’s not necessarily straightforward. Firstly, the local authorities in and around Frome hold very little land with potential for development. Often it is public green space or is too small to be viable as a housing site. Local authorities also have a duty to maximise the value of their assets and would have to justify releasing land for social housing when they could bring in greater revenue to support their services by selling land on to private developers.
It is hoped that, as Frome Area Community Land Trust becomes more established, land-owners will become more aware of the positive benefit our work can bring to the community. As a result, opportunities for acquiring land may be enhanced. Opportunities for working with local authorities or private developers may be increased. Meanwhile the painstaking work of finding land on which to build much needed genuinely affordable homes will continue.
The Frome Area Community Land Trust is searching for land in Frome. If you have land that might enable us to provide much needed affordable rental homes in the community then we would like to hear from you. Send us an email email@example.com you can find out more about us at https://fromeareaclt.org