For some time now, the UK has been experiencing a housing crisis – supply can’t keep up with demand. Fewer young people can afford a mortgage, which means more and more are living with their parents well into their thirties. A lack of suitable and available land means that sites that are brought forward for housing development aren’t always popular with the neighbours. To try and tackle this crisis by building the right homes in the right places and at the right prices, how can we engage people in both the bigger picture and the potential benefits at community-level? More often than not, neighbours to a proposed development feel concerned about the impacts on their community –on school places, road traffic and local wildlife, for example – and may struggle to accept the benefits new housing can offer.
Recently, I have been helping to facilitate community engagement for Palace Green Homes, a specialist developer that works with Community Land Trusts in East Cambridgeshire to deliver community-led housing schemes. For those who may not be aware, a Community Land Trust (CLT), according to the National Community Land Trusts Network, is “a local organisation set up and run by ordinary people to develop and manage homes as well as other assets important to that community, like community enterprises, food growing or workspaces. The CLT’s main task is to make sure these homes are genuinely affordable, based on what people actually earn in their area, not just for now but for every future occupier.”
In England and Wales, there are more than 170 CLTs, with the largest boasting over 1000 members each. The National CLT Network says that CLT’s “will have developed 3000 new affordable homes by 2020.” This model of development means that a proportion (or sometimes all) of the homes within a scheme are genuinely affordable to local people on local wages, and that these homes stay in the ownership of the community forever. So if someone moves on, another local can take residence.
Because CLTs are made up of people who live in the very parish where development is proposed, they know the area, what it could benefit from and what makes it special. CLT trustees and members can provide valuable input into planning from the beginning, and can help draw up proposals that respect and enhance their area. As well as CLTs, it is often parents and their grown up children who understand at a community level the crisis our country is facing. Parents in their fifties and sixties may have been lucky to secure a mortgage when rates were low, but their own children might be struggling to stay in the community they grew up in. Again, these are people who have often spent many if not all of their years in the place where development is proposed and can provide helpful contribution to the planning process whilst maintaining a first-hand view of the issues being faced by people wanting to get onto the property ladder.
Engaging with CLTs and with people on the ‘front line’ of the crisis will go some way to communicating the benefits of appropriate development to their neighbours and the wider community. There are many other complex issues that are causing the supply issues we face, but by engaging with local people who understand the needs of the community and want to help their friends and neighbours settle in the area is a very good place to start.
Photo: Gretchen Ludwig/Flickr/cc