Back to the land?

mark at mark at
Tue Jan 3 21:46:35 GMT 2012

Below is an article about a new vision for the Land Settlement 
Association by Colin Wiles taken from Inside Housing, published in 

As part of the coalition government's housing strategy announced on 
22nd Nov 2011 (the main part of which was a £400m initiative to build 
up to 16,000 new homes by allowing an acceleration of investment in 
"ready-to-go" construction sites where work has stalled, £400m for 
FirstBuy, to help 10,500 first time buyers with the help of an equity 
loan up to 20% & a mortgage indemnity scheme offering 95% loans to 
value mortgages for new build properties in England to support 100,000 
households), they have provided in what is entitled a "Custom Homes 
programme" £30m for short-term project finance for independent 
projects to help individuals and families build their own homes.

This was first announced in May last year (Ref:, 
and mooted by Housing Minister Grant Shapps before the 2010 General 
Election.  TLIO's James Armstrong went to some considerable effort 
over many months in lobbying Mr Shapps and his local MP Oliver Letwin 
who also happens to be Chairman of the Conservative Party's Policy 
Review (who may have been disposing some of James' more recent letters 
about financial fraud in the city in litter bins in St James Park!!!) 
 In his correspondence, James highlighted the self-build project in 
the village of Rock, North Cornwall, in which 12 bungalows were built 
and sold to members of the local community at affordable prices, which 
you will note is referred to in the Guardian article above. Helen Rawe 
from St Minver Community Land Trust which bought the land gave a 
presentation on the project at the workshop delivered by James at 
TLIO's Autumn Gathering entitled “Housing Corporations & their 

Back to the land?

by Colin Wiles, Mon, 28 Nov 2011

The government should look to the 1930s for innovative ways to 
encourage self build, says Colin Wiles

Grant Shapps is keen on self-build and the housing strategy takes a 
step to encourage it. But desperate times call for desperate measures 
so here’s a radical idea: how about reviving a scheme from the 1930s 
that would allow people not only to build their own homes but to grow 
their own food and live a self-sufficient lifestyle?

The Land Settlement Association was set up by the government in 1934 
to offer smallholdings to unemployed workers from the industrial areas 
of England. The first one was at Potton, in Bedfordshire where 30 
smallholdings were set up. Between 1934 and 1939 1,500 smallholdings 
were created in 26 settlements, housing 4,000 people on 11,000 acres. 
 Each family was given a cottage and 5 acres to grow food and keep 
livestock. The settlements were like collective farms and each was 
expected to grow cash crops, such as cucumbers and salads under glass, 
to pay for their running costs. The scheme was a mixed success; about 
half of the settlers moved on because the rules were rigid and many 
families did not take to agricultural life. After the war the LSA was 
absorbed in the county council schemes for smallholdings and then 
wound-up in 1983 and the properties privatised.

But imagine a modern version of the LSA. It would chime with current 
thinking on sustainability, self build, self-sufficiency, food miles 
and a yearning for a more spiritual approach to life. What’s more, it 
would help to soak up some of the surplus labour that capitalism no 
longer needs and allow people to learn relevant new skills and live 
semi-independently of the conventional system.

As I’ve written before, it’s a myth that we live in an overcrowded 
island. We have plenty of surplus land and there is scope to make it 
more productive. I was struck by a recent Guardian article about a 
scheme near Hay-on-Wye run by Dr Paul Benham that produces an annual 
turnover of £25,000 from just one and a half acres. He uses 
permaculture and organic systems to produce much more produce than 
conventional farming could ever do. Imagine what would be possible on 
five acres.

During the twenties and thirties, there was a significant self-build 
programme called the plotlands, but it developed independently of 
government control, mainly driven by Londoners buying plots of land in 
the countryside to build holiday homes. Places like Jaywick and Dunton 
are the legacy, but they never had the proper infrastructure to make 
them work properly, whereas this scheme in Holland, which  has 
apparently caught Grant Shapps’ eye, began with the infrastructure and 
then parcelled up the plots for self-builders. Large swathes of 
Victorian England were developed in this way - streets and 
infrastructure were provided and then the plots were marked out and 
sold off to small builders and self builders who created a diverse and 
eclectic streetscape, so unlike the mass produced rabbit hutches that 
have been imposed upon us over the past fifty years.

A revived version of the LSA, with less rigid rules, would hit many 
nails with a single hammer. Social enterprise structures – 
co-operatives, community land trusts or community interest companies – 
could be set up to deliver the vision. The Emmaus communities and 
places like Findhorn already follow this model to some extent, but the 
missing elements are land and a too-rigid planning system. Yet 
 according to the HCA there are around 158,000 acres of brownfield 
land in England and some of it, old airfields for example, is not 
suitable for large-scale building but could be converted into an 
LSA-style project. A pilot scheme would only need a few acres to get 
started off and I am sure there would be a huge demand for it.

On Thu, 22 Dec 2011 20:51:24 +0000
  james armstrong <james36armstrong at> wrote:
> at Villasge Road, London  N3 a plot for a single house is for sale.
> The price  of `the small plot is £850,000 which makes the pro rata 
>land cost  £6million per acre.
> (This is suburbia )   I built a house a mile away in 1984 whcih cost 
>£55,000 including the plot. 
> James 

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