News that the first new neighbourhood in the Olympic Park could include a “pilot community land trust” scheme creating 80-100 homes is to be welcomed, albeit cautiously.
Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are popular with politicians as they offer a democratic model for empowering local communities and delivering affordable housing. Boris Johnson speaking in June 2009 at a London Assembly meeting describes CLTs as producing ‘a real sense of community… and, of course, they have been better looked after; the neighbourhood looks better and it is safer to live in’.
As non-profit, community organisations controlled and run by local people they provide a way to build housing that is genuinely and permanently affordable for local people, even in areas where house prices are high. According to the Community Land Trust Network a CLT ‘is a non-profit, community-based organisation run by volunteers that develops housing or other assets at permanently affordable levels for long-term community benefit.’ The Localism Bill has a strong focus on community asset transfer and advocates a community ‘right to build’, ‘right to reclaim land’, and a ‘right to take over community facilities’. Arguably CLTs, along with community development trusts, are seen by central and local government as the successor to regeneration partnerships that have lead NDCs and other major regeneration projects over the last two decades.
Despite being portrayed as a ‘silver bullet’ for tackling community housing problems, in practice, CLTs are neither risk free or simple to establish, especially in urban areas where to date, there are relatively few successful land trusts.
The Young Foundation has looked at the experiences of urban land trusts in the UK to understand some of the challenges and obstacles involved in creating a successful CLT. The review looks at a range of issues (set up costs, timing, capacity of volunteers and professionals, risks) and identifies 10 factors that influence the likelihood of success. These include:
Nevertheless, when CLTs are successful they have social as well as physical benefits since they act as a multiplier that boosts the social capital of people in the communities where they operate.
Based on these lessons it is clear that if implemented with care urban CLTs can succeed, though it is important that they are given the political will at all levels to stimulate their growth. Hopefully the Olympic Park CLT will become a successful test bed, helping to overcome Boris Johnson’s unmet manifesto pledge to create a ‘network’ of CLTs.
Post by Oliver Gregory, former Future Communities intern and MSc Urban Studies Student at University College London.