Community Lands Trusts: small is beautiful…but still very small

Community Lands Trusts: small is beautiful…but still very small

Sadiq Khan’s announcement that two pieces of land owned by Transport for London are to be developed by the London Community Land Trust is a significant step forward for a campaign that has battled long and hard to make progress in the capital. The CLT development model, which, simply put, guarantees that the purchase price of homes remains connected to the earning levels of local people, is well established in different forms in other parts of the world, not least in the United States, where the idea originated. But London has proved resistant.

The driving force behind efforts to change that has been the London wing of Citizens UK, a primarily multi-faith campaigning organisation that also battles for the rights of asylum-seekers and for the London Living Wage. The London CLT is a product of London Citizens, and established London’s first CLT site as part of the redevelopment of the former St Clement’s hospital on Mile End Road. It was not a straightforward process and just 23 of the 252 dwellings on the site as whole are CLT properties.

However, the first residents moved in last summer and the successful bids for small TfL sites at Cable Street in Tower Hamlets and Christchurch Road in Lambeth were made by the CLT on its own. It intends to build in the region of 70 homes on the two sites, all of them expected to be for sale at between a third and a half of local market values with prices linked to average local incomes. This meets the Mayor’s definition of “genuinely affordable” housing and easily satisfies his requirement that 50% of homes built on TfL and other publicly-owned land should do so. The two TfL sites are the first of ten to be allocated through the Mayor’s “small sites, small builders” programme.

A big day, then, for London’s dogged CLT movement. And Lewisham has recently given permission to the Rural Urban Synthesis Society (RUSS), another CLT, to embark on a 33 home project on a one-acre site in Ladywell, described by RUSS as “London’s largest ever affordable self-build housing project”. But let’s keep these victories in perspective. The numbers of dwellings are very small in the context of the draft new London Plan calculation that 65,000 new dwellings of all tenures need to be constructed every year to meet demand. And history shows that it remains very hard to get CLTs established in London.

There was talk of one being piloted in the Olympic Park a few years ago when Boris Johnson was Mayor, and his 2008 mayoral election manifesto envisaged releasing land held by mayoral bodies to them on a significant scale (see page 10). That it’s taken the best part of ten years for this to start happening tells its own story. CLTs are a good thing, not only as mechanisms for producing affordable housing but as vehicles for constructive community activism. They are, though, just a tiny part of the much bigger London housing delivery picture and likely to remain so for some time.

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