Roger Saunders is Chair of the Frome Area Community Land Trust and has a background in improving housing estates and neighbourhoods, empowering residents and helping social landlords improve services.
Q: Why did you get involved with the Frome Area Community Land Trust?
Many people with connections to Frome – who live or work here, or have grown up here – are finding it very hard to find suitable accommodation they can afford. Although there has been plenty of new housing built in recent years, the private developers and landowners are principally motivated by maximizing profits, and the new homes are beyond the means of many local people. I’m involved in the CLT because I see it as a practical way of bucking this trend. We will aim to provide homes that are genuinely affordable, remain affordable in perpetuity, designed with community in mind, and are earmarked for local people in housing need.
Q: What are the key objectives of the CLT in 2020?
To acquire land suitable for developing around 15 homes, plan the development with the support of architects and other technical experts, and enter into a partnership with a housing association that shares our vision and that we can trust.
Q: Ideally what kind of properties would you like to see built?
In our first development, we would like all, or at least most, of the homes to be for social rent (i.e. approx. 60% of rent levels in the private sector). We would like them to be designed with community in mind, and to be highly energy-efficient.
Q: Tell us about the search for suitable land, how is it going?
More difficult than I’d expected! The CLT can’t access a level of funding or borrowing that would enable us to compete directly with established private developers. This means we need to find land that would not be permissible for private development (known as ‘exception sites’), or that is donated or sold at beneficial rates. Many CLTs are gifted land by supportive local authorities, but it remains to be seen whether Mendip DC will be willing or able to help in this way. Nevertheless, we have now identified a few possible sites, so we’re hopeful that at least one of them will prove viable. And we have accessed some government funding to help us pay for all the pre-development investigation work – so long as we make progress in time.
Q: How much land do you need to get things started?
About half an acre (20k sq. ft.).
Q: How do prospective tenants get selected?
Prospective tenants will need to be on Somerset CC’s waiting-list for social housing (known as ‘Somerset Homefinder’) and must be in housing need. We hope to establish a local lettings arrangement, whereby people and families with a local connection (live or work in Frome or have family and a support network here) are given priority.
Q: Is there a finite number of properties that the CLT wishes to build or is this an ongoing project?
It’s very much an ongoing project. Our ambitions are huge, but we are also realistic. We know it will take several years before we make much of an impact, and we’re nervous about raising expectations to a level we can’t fulfil. But once we get our first homes built, we’ll have more experience, credibility and contacts, which in turn should make it easier for us to expand. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in the future, most – or even all – of the new housing in Frome was community-led?
Q: What can people do to help make genuinely affordable homes a reality in Frome?
Anyone with a local connection can become a member of the CLT, by simply completing an application form on our website and paying a £1 share. Members can come to our general meetings and share ideas; but we are also developing ways for members who are interested to contribute their skills more fully, for example by joining one of our working groups.
And if there are any landowners out there who are committed to our lovely town and would consider offering their land at beneficial rates, we’d love to hear from them!