Community land trusts held back by complex GLA red tape
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Thu Jun 21 11:53:08 BST 2012
Community land trusts held back by complex GLA red tape
Requiring community groups to bid against the
private sector for land is slowing the progress of London's first CLT
Liam Kelly - Guardian Professional, Monday 18 June 2012 14.39 BST
Boris Johnson promised a network of community
land trusts in his London mayoral election
campaign in 2008. Four years and two elections
later London still does not have a single CLT,
let alone the promised network of them. But when
the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) put a
2.4-hectare (six-acre) plot of land previously
home to a psychiatric unit up for sale, hopes
were high that London's first community trust was imminent.
CLTs are not-for-profit community organisations
which develop permanently affordable housing on
land owned and controlled by the community. They
work with residents to ensure local housing needs
are met, both in cost and design. The land is
owned by the trust and the homes are let or sold at affordable rates.
In London, the East London Community Land Trust
a group committed to providing permanently
affordable housing in the East End has its
sights set on the St Clement's hospital site in
Tower Hamlets. It plans to develop 300 private
properties to subsidise 28 affordable family
homes which would be let at reduced rates or sold
for 25% of market value. The CLT has already held
over 300 one-to-one meetings and 11 public
meetings to canvass local opinion and more than
1,000 local people have purchased shares in the trust.
Tower Hamlets is the third most deprived area in
the UK. Half of the children in the borough live
in households receiving benefits or tax credits
insufficient to lift them out of poverty, and
figures compiled by Save the Children show the
borough to have the joint highest rate of
children living in severe poverty in the UK. Yet
market pressures mean the average home in the borough costs £370,000.
The HCA's competitive tender process forced the
East London CLT to align with a developer and bid
for the site against private sector rivals. Its
bid was rejected in February. The preferred
bidder has not yet been announced, although the
Greater London Authority that now controls the
site claims a CLT will be involved and a
community group will eventually own the freehold.
The decision to make the East London CLT bid for
the land against competition perplexed project
director Dave Smith. "If you've got a community
group who are interested in a particular site, it
doesn't really make sense to make them compete
against other developers," he said. "Why can't
you acknowledge the role they hold within that
place? Why can't you say 'OK, let's recognise
these guys and have them on the procurement side
of the contract and then they can help choose who
is going to redevelop the site and work with whoever wins'."
Fiona Duncan, head of area at the GLA, said it
the decision was the "best route" to identify a
development partner for the site. "It would be
potentially too onerous a process for the CLT to
engage with all the bidders," she argued.
A missed opportunity, according to Smith. "We had
to align ourselves [with particular partners to
make a bid] and this meant that nobody else could
have early access to the huge pool of local
talent and resources we brought with us," he
said. "Our concern was always the future of this
site and our particular neighbourhood, not one
specific deal. We wanted local people to have a
say, whoever was chosen. We could have been a
resource for every bidder and the tender process as a whole."
Smith also raises fears about the impact the
costs associated with GLA procurement processes
could have on small community groups. "There's a
huge cost for a group going through the tender
process and potentially there's a real problem
with these small independent community groups with no real funding."
The GLA said it would be inappropriate to reveal
the winning bidder, as discussions about how that
developer would deliver a CLT are ongoing. The
National CLT Network is excited about the
prospect of London's first CLT: "As far as I know
negotiations are going well and it's great that
we're going to see the UK's first urban CLT in St
Clement's," said Catherine Harrington, the network's national co-ordinator.
But some are afraid the process may lead to a
"watered down" final scheme. "It remains a
concern," said John Biggs, Labour London assembly
member for the city and east. "It's difficult to
see how it quite works without additional
funding. Most of these schemes use the land value
to help make the sums work but a CLT requires the
land value to be sacrificed and donated to the
trust, so I remain to be persuaded that this will actually work."
So is the vision of the local people lost? East
London CLT remains "absolutely confident" the
site will deliver permanently affordable homes at
25% of market rent. "There's always compromise in
these things, in looking at the design and costs
involved, because it's a different scheme to the
one we proposed," Smith said. "But I'm confident
there'll be no compromise on the core principles
of what a CLT is in terms of its own freehold and
providing permanently affordable homes."
A GLA spokesperson confirmed the authority is
considering a presumption in favour of CLTs on
certain London sites in future: "That may be one
of the things that is considered in terms of how
we promote them and how we can best use them for London."
On a national scale, the HCA is more steadfast.
Strategy manager Anthony Brand said: "At this
stage we are unlikely to develop a specific set
of guidance for sites where there is a local
desire for a CLT, though of course we are able to
tailor our approach to that if appropriate."
With more CLT homes promised as part of the
Olympic legacy, and at the Chobham Manor site
earmarked in the mayor's Olympic manifesto, those
involved feel the procurement process has to be
improved if the promise of a network of CLTs can be realised.
"This is good news for London and good news for
CLTs. But we need to make sure that lessons are
learned from St Clement's," said Harrington.
"We're confident of a good result there, but a
greater result still would be if St Clement's
paved the way for a simpler and more encouraging
approach to procurement that sees CLTs really flourish in our cities."
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