UK: Where Next For Stewardship?

Last Updated: 8 November 2019
Article by Michele Vas

The delivery of new homes has for some time now been a key priority for the current government, previous governments and inevitably will remain so for future governments. With the scale of housing needed to begin to make a dent in the housing shortage, comes also the need to provide infrastructure, new public realm, community and recreational facilities and green space. While the focus is on identifying strategic sites to help deliver the housing needed, greater consideration must be given to the legacy arrangements required to ensure that once residents are living in the delivered houses, they are embedded within a community which offers the recreational facilities and greenspace to sustain and enrich what is simply 'living'. Stewardship is key to that enrichment and should be addressed early in the development management process.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG)'s housing objective is to (www.legalease.co.uk/mhclg):

... support the delivery of a million homes by the end of 2020 and half a million more by the end of 2022 and put us on track to deliver 300,000 net additional homes a year on average.

The government has put in place a series of measures designed to implement this objective, including the requirement on local authorities to calculate and demonstrate a deliverable five-year housing supply within their areas, introducing the standard method for calculating local housing need where strategic policies are more than five years old and measuring delivery of housing by local authorities in the form of the Housing Delivery Test.

'With large-scale housing development comes the need to provide appropriate amenity and recreational space.'

The reality is that to deliver the level of housing required inevitably lends itself to bringing forward large-scale housing developments – be they sustainable urban extensions on the edge of existing towns or the creation of new towns, garden cities or garden villages. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) recognises this, stating (www.legalease.co.uk/nppf-2019):

... the supply of new homes can often be best achieved through planning for larger scale development, such as new settlements or significant extensions to existing villages and towns...

The Garden Communities programme is one such example focused on creating new settlements. It supports 23 development sites set to deliver over 200,000 new homes. The Garden Communities principles (see www.tcpa.org.uk/garden-cityprinciples) include:

'Healthy Places' designed to provide the choices and chances for all to live a healthy life, through taking a whole systems approach to key local health and wellbeing priorities and strategies

'Green space' – generous, accessible and good quality green and blue infrastructure that promotes health, wellbeing and quality of life, and considers opportunities to deliver environmental gains such as biodiversity net gain and enhancements to natural capital.

'Legacy and Stewardship Arrangements', stating that these should be in place for the care of community assets, infrastructure and public realms, for the benefit of the whole community.

With large-scale housing development comes the need to provide appropriate amenity and recreational space. This can take various forms, and generally includes local equipped areas for play or larger areas of recreational green space, along with other leisure-based provision such as sports facilities, community facilities or urban and country parks. With good-quality, well-planned development, there should also be high-quality public realm which while not strictly greenspace will play a functional role while using a palette of materials other than black-top tarmac.

With good-quality, well-planned development, there should also be high-quality public realm which while not strictly greenspace will play a functional role while using a palette of materials other than black-top tarmac.

There are no national standards as to what these community-based assets should consist of, the standards they should be built to, nor long-term management arrangements. Inevitably, where the focus is on the delivery of housing, the provision of recreational space is confined to the relevant local planning authority's requirements as to the level of greenspace provision prescribed by local plan policies, usually based on a calculation of the amount of amenity space required on a per-person or per-unit basis.

Too often the principles of design and long-term stewardship arrangements are left to be determined at a later date. It is rare for a local authority to require long-term management schemes as a prerequisite on their Local List (see www.legalease. co.uk/local-information); at the point planning applications are submitted, the likely stewardship arrangements are not known. Instead it is usually secured by planning condition or planning obligations to be provided at a later date, with little guidance as to what the overarching principles of those long-term management arrangements should be. The disadvantage of not front-loading the stewardship process is leaving a local planning authority with little control as to the level of detail submitted later for approval.

What should stewardship encompass?

Delivering new communities should mean more than simply building houses; it is about placemaking and allowing the residents that will eventually live there to have a genuine level of involvement in shaping and determining what the community should look like – ensuring that community assets are sustained for future generations. A fundamental element which should drive stewardship arrangements should be reflected in the creation of high-quality communities.

The importance of quality (or 'beauty') has been recognised in establishing the 'Building Better, Building Beautiful' Commission (see www.legalease.co.uk/building-better). The commission has identified eight priorities for reform and acknowledges that the creation of places and sustaining that provision for the future is integral. These include:

Places not just houses: In striving to meet our housing targets we should be building real settlements and walkable 'mixed use' places for our daily needs. This will require a review of changes in legal and tax regimes that could better support a long-term stewardship model of land and infrastructure investment (instead of the current site-by-site model) and moving more of the democracy upstream from development control to plan making.

The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) also recognises that delivering successful new communities means putting in place appropriate arrangements to manage assets generated by the development process, in perpetuity. It has produced 'Guide 9 – Long Term Stewardship' (see www.legalease.co.uk/tcpa-stewardship), which provides practical guidance on the type of long-term stewardship arrangements which can be embedded into the delivery of new communities. It identifies various principles to adhere to in order to put in place successful arrangements; these include:

  • 'Planning for long term stewardship': this should be a consideration from the very outset when planning a new development. It proposes that stewardship arrangements, including funding provisions; should be enshrined in local plans, CIL charging schedules, site development briefs and masterplans. At the same time this should be considered in the context of public engagement both in identifying the appropriate stewardship arrangements and governance.
  • 'Paying for long term stewardship': identifying future permanent revenue streams needs some thought. A stewardship body needs to be adequately financially endowed; this can take the form of up-front capital funding and/or property endowments. Importantly, it suggests such bodies need to be 'entrepreneurial' in having the ability to generate income from the assets they hold, rather than simply just having the ability to secure financial payments towards long-term management and maintenance.
  • Running a stewardship body: unsurprisingly, the TCPA notes that good governance is key. In order to be a body which genuinely encourages the creation of 'community', it should have a mix of representation, including for local residents, councils and relevant local stakeholders, with clear lines of how members are elected and lines of communication to the community.

The theme from the TCPA and 'Building Better, Building Beautiful' Commission work is that the foundations for stewardship must be put in place early on. There is an impetus on local planning authorities to engage with existing local communities and stakeholders to formulate stewardship objectives and funding sources. Ideally local With good-quality, well-planned development, there should also be high-quality public realm which while not strictly greenspace will play a functional role while using a palette of materials other than black-top tarmac. Property Law Journal 19 Planning update November 2019 authorities should put themselves in a position where they are able to demand that landowners and developers engage and provide proposals on stewardship early on; that means enshrining those requirements in local policy and following them through the pre-application process.

Stewardship also needs to be capable of evolving and responding to the community's needs over time. There must be an ability to review stewardship arrangements at interim periods to accommodate changing needs and, importantly, reflect feedback from the community to maintain a sense of ownership.

Types of stewardship models

There are various types of models which are being used to manage and maintain greenspace over the long term. In brief they broadly comprise:

  • Local authorities/parish councils/ town councils: historically, local councils would take on responsibility for managing and maintaining greenspace and other community assets. Section 106 agreements would secure the provisions of such assets to appropriate standards, with an obligation to then transfer the asset along with a commuted sum to cover the cost of maintaining the asset over a number of years, or in perpetuity. This is now less common; most local authorities wish to avoid the long-term costs associated with being responsible for the management and maintenance of such items. Alternatively, where developers/ landowners take a long-term approach to development, creating high-quality developments which in turn maintain higher land values, this means they will want to retain control of those community assets to ensure consistency of quality and resilient land values.
  • Management company: this may consist of a standalone management company established by the developer into which the greenspace land is transferred, with the management company then responsible for management and maintenance on a permanent basis. It may be a company established solely for an individual site or could be a company which manages greenspace over a number of sites, such as masterplan areas. It is usually funded through a service charge regime levied against residents of the development. The governance of the management company can be varied; it may be a company which is solely operated by the residents, control may be retained by the developer, or it may simply be a third party with overall control that is effectively in the business of providing ground maintenance services.

In order to be a body which genuinely encourages the creation of 'community', it should have a mix of representation, including local residents, council and relevant local stakeholders with clear lines of how members are elected and lines of communication to the community.

  • Not-for-profit bodies: these can take various forms; they include community interest companies or community land trusts, the principles of both being that community assets are managed for the benefit of the community, with any profits being recycled for that purpose.
  • Funding and sources of revenue available to a stewardship body requires early consideration. Most commonly, service charges are levied on residents to meet the costs associated with managing community assets. Service charges and ground rents have had some negative press in recent years and range from restricting access to certain elements of community assets depending on whether a resident is in private housing or affordable housing, to unrestricted increases of service charges. Local authorities are more alive to the issues service charges create, often being the first port of call by disgruntled residents; mechanisms are being introduced in section 106 agreements to control the setting of service charges and subsequent increases. Examples of bodies that lead the way in demonstrating how stewardship can be done well include the Milton Keynes Parks Trust and the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation. Both bodies had the benefit of a significant property endowment, which decades later continues to provide revenue streams which allow both bodies to reinvest into, and grow, their respective property portfolios and fund various charitable commitments for the benefit of the local community.

    Where next?

    It is clear that creating new communities is more than just building houses and that successful stewardship of community assets is more than just having in place a specification detailing how many times a week the grass is to be cut. Lessons need to be learned from the past in terms of those successful stewardship bodies which were established from the outset and have evolved alongside those towns over which they have guardianship. The next generation of garden communities coming forward have stewardship at the heart of their guiding principles, for example this can be seen in the North Essex Garden Communities Charter, and the governance strategy promoted as part of the Places for People proposals at Gilston Park.

    Importantly, good stewardship arrangements are critical to embedding a sense of community ownership, which in turn will only benefit land values over the long term. Local authorities, developers and landowners therefore all have a vested interest in supporting stewardship arrangements.

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    The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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