Co-operative legacy for east London?

At Shelter we’re always interested in new ways to make housing genuinely affordable, and I have a particular interest in housing co-operatives which are hugely under-represented in the UK.

Community land trusts can take a variety of forms, but at their core is the idea that to make housing affordable, land should be owned by the community. This way, the cost of homes can be reduced and insulated from fluctuations in land value.

I think the community land trust model has huge potential and, with the right political backing, could be a key part of new affordable housing. The London Mayor has promised a ‘network of community land trusts’ in the capital, so it will be interesting to see whether these good intentions translate into desperately needed affordable homes.

I met up with Calum Green from London Citizens to hear about their plans for a Community Land Trust (CLT) in east London.

Calum Green works for London Citizens as a Housing Organiser on the Community Land Trust campaign.

Pete: So what’s the scheme and how will it meet east Londoners’ housing needs?

Calum: We’re ecstatic that we can now say, as of two weeks ago, that Britain’s first-ever urban CLT will be on the St Clements Hospital site in Mile End.

The development will see the freehold of the entire site being held in trust for the local community.

Property prices in London are so high because of the price of land, not the actual houses, with the land itself often making up over half of the overall cost of new homes. By owning the land, the community can remove any speculation on land prices from the cost of the properties and allow people to buy their own home for a genuinely affordable price.

The CLT site in Bow, east London. Picture credit: Housing Excellence

Pete: How is this different to other affordable housing projects?

Calum: The most significant reason why this project is so exciting is that the properties owned by the community land trust will be permanently affordable. When someone decides to move on from St Clements, by selling their property, they are required to sell it back to the CLT at a similar price to what they originally paid for it.

This allows the CLT to sell the property on again at an affordable price. The CLT model ensures that the homes are not only affordable for the first family that moves in, but for every family that’ll live there in the future.

Pete: How involved is the community really? Are local residents taking the lead on design, governance, allocating properties?

Calum: The community aren’t just involved, the organisation is owned by the community! The trust has got around 1000 members and has an open membership policy – anyone who lives or works in east London can join.

As an organisation committed to local people, voting is based on ‘one member, one vote’ rather than the value of your shares. This set up ensures that our CLT is truly run by people from east London.

As far as design is concerned, we are adamant that this project must become a reality through a community-led design process. The architects that we are working with have a brilliant reputation for using local knowledge and insights to drive the design forward.

We held a series of design workshops last summer to incorporate local opinions at that early stage and there will be further workshops that’ll be held this autumn.

Pete: What’s your vision? Do you think that community land trusts could work in other parts of London, or is this a one-off?

Calum: Absolutely not – we are determined that this will not be a one-off. Having a CLT on the St Clements site was always meant to be the start of something much bigger.

The next step is to take what we’ve learnt from St Clements and apply it to the Olympic park. We are hugely optimistic about the potential for the Chobham Manor neighbourhood, the first of the Olympic Park neighbourhoods to be developed, to involve a Community Land Trust.

St Clements Hospital is a brilliant start, but as far as London Citizens’ and the Community Land Trust’s vision is concerned, the next step is to ensure that CLTs are included on all of the Olympic neighbourhoods. Beyond that we’d like to see CLTs become a sizeable portion of the affordable housing stock in the capital, ensuring that people aren’t forced to choose between moving away from friends and family and going into overcrowded accommodation.

Community Land Trusts allow local people to stay in their community, with their friends and family, and in the city they love.