Brightness on the Edge of Town
How Community Land Trusts can deliver affordable housing
Author: Sandy Forsyth |
The Government has recognised the benefits that second homes and short-term holiday lettings can bring to local economies and to the tourism sector in terms of increasing consumer choice and distributing tourism across the country. At the same time, the adverse effect that large numbers of second homes can have on some areas has been acknowledged, a situation that has prompted the introduction of a series of measures in mitigation, both top-down and bottom-up. Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are emerging in many tourist hotspots as a means of delivering affordable homes and have proved a popular way of building in sensitive areas of natural beauty. Many have been developed in partnership with housing associations.
Brightness on the Edge of Town is the final report of an original research project carried out by Localis and supported by the Local Government Association, aimed at developing a policy narrative to outline the place of Community Land Trusts in the current political debate. The report recaps the need for community-led housing solutions, elucidates the parameters for action and highlight possible pathways to overcoming barriers to delivering affordable housing.
Development isn’t working for rural communities in tourist hotspots.
While tourism brings many economic and cultural benefits for locals, workers in the sector – particularly in rural areas – are faced with multiple severe pressures related to earning lower-than-average wages in places with higher-than-average living costs. As well as an established problem with second home ownership in rural tourist hotspots, the pandemic brought a sharp rise in the number of properties in these areas which are listed as short-term lets. This newer problem compounds a much older one: systemic issues with the planning system serve to exacerbate the problem in these areas, with a severely constrained housing supply leading to ever-increasing house prices and private rent. Development in many rural areas is limited by the stringent planning restrictions in place for sites within areas classified with both national and international designations. Balancing housing provision with the protection of landscapes and heritage can be a challenge, but development remains a necessity for local populations to grow sustainably in these areas.
Community Land Trusts are providing pathways to affordable housing in these areas, but support is needed.
Faced with this multifaceted challenge, Community Land Trusts (CLTs) have proven to be very effective at providing affordable housing, particularly in the rural and coastal areas where there is the most disparity between local income and housing market prices. CLTs can provide enhanced community engagement in areas that are becoming increasingly diluted by massive tourist populations, supply a more holistic, social benefit through the enactment of democratic decision-making and community ownership. Legislative pathways for CLTs have been established to enable communities, but technical support in navigating the framework is currently not holistically provided by central government and left to support groups. Furthermore, previous funding for CLTs which was available through the Community Housing Fund has been discontinued, with the lack of a suitable replacement imperilling the efforts of communities to come together and provide affordable housing to the benefit of their locality.
Local and central government can do more to help communities unlock sustainable development in a bottom-up way.
Local authorities can play a fundamental role for CLTs both in getting development started and in supporting their continued success as community initiatives. Advocates for CLTs within councils can help CLT board members as they progress through complex planning stages and interact with various council departments that are often siloed into bodies with varied regulations. The most common way for councils to support CLTs is through the production of a strategy or delivery plan that requires community-led housing to form part of affordable housing delivery obligations, and local authorities can also undergo assessments of and allocate sites suitable for community-led housing within local plans. For central government, there are a number of avenues to further bolstering CLTs and their ability to deliver affordable housing. At the most basic level, a change in the statutory definition of affordable housing so that it reflects local income levels rather than market prices would help to alleviate problems in rural areas of high tourist interest. Increasing the capacity of enabling organisations, such as CLT groups, would also be an effective measure, so long as funding was sustained and long-term rather than through one-off, competitive injections of capital.
Policy changes to support the uptake of CLTs and help enable communities to deliver affordable housing in their areas fall into two broad categories: those concerned directly with funding uplift, and those concerned with planning reform.
- Long-term investment in CLT organisations is required. A ten-year, £100m fund to build capacity for enabling organisations at the sub-regional level could see major social returns.
- Funding must be restored to local authority planning to solve the housing crisis. There must be a revenue funding uplift for planning across the board to reverse the damage of austerity and return housebuilding to sustainable levels.
- Rural planning capacity must be built up particularly – either through local fiscal mechanisms or a national revolving fund, councils must be able to uplift their capacity or the housing crisis will continue to exacerbate social issues in these areas.
- Support for community housing at a sustainable scale can help all areas access equal opportunity to community-led housing. Subregional hubs to support community-led housing could help facilitate action by both councils and community groups.
- The current definition of affordable housing does not deliver for rural communities, particularly in areas of high tourist activity. It is essential that future planning reforms redefine affordable housing, moving to an income-focused approach where councils have the ability to influence the income level which defines affordable housing in their area, based on local circumstances.
- National planning policies can do more to support communities in getting affordable housing off the ground in their areas. A general priority for community-led housing within the National Planning Policy Framework would greatly aid groups on the ground.
- Homes England can be used as an institutional vehicle to ensure effective delivery of community-led housing. Homes England should incentivise collaboration between registered providers and CLTs through grant conditionality, and set rural targets for registered providers to provide social housing.
- Current thresholds on affordable housing by development size do not work in rural areas. Planning reform should ensure an affordable housing percentage is required even for small sites in rural areas.
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