We are seeing an increasing number of town councils and parish councils explore the possibility of using their surplus land for community-led housing.
The impetus may come from the community itself, or it may come from local councillors. In either case, they are likely to be motivated by a desire to increase the supply of affordable housing in the local area. They wish to develop low cost homes for occupation by local people.
'Community-led housing' covers community land trusts, housing co-operatives, cohousing developments and collective self-build schemes. What all these groups have in common is that members of a community come together to develop their own solution to the housing crisis.
The Town Council or Parish Council's involvement could range from simply providing the land, to taking a more active role in promoting and developing community-led housing by establishing their own community-led housing vehicle, in partnership with local community groups.
How does community-led housing work for Town or Parish Councils in practice?
To give an example, we worked with a Parish Council who had identified a plot of land on which a small number of houses could be built. They conducted a housing needs survey, to identify the type of housing which was in local demand.
With a clear idea of local need, the Parish Council then established a community land trust, to which it will grant a long lease of the Parish Council land to the Community Land Trust (the CLT). The houses will eventually be developed in partnership with a local housing association, to be let to local people in housing need.
Setting up a separate entity ensured that the CLT will outlast any changes in the political landscape and helps to remove any development risk from the Parish Council. The council retained oversight over its activities through its role as a custodian member, with the right to appoint trustees to the board. Two of the Parish Councillors acted as trustees of the CLT when it was first set up.
The CLT was able to access grant funding through the Community Housing Fund to help with early stage costs. Through the Parish Council, it should also be able to access low-cost debt finance from the Public Works Loan Board, as well as obtaining loans from commercial providers.
By setting up their own housing delivery vehicle, a local Parish or Town Council can retain control over new housing developments, instead of being subject to the designs and ideas of private developers or housing associations. Along with Neighbourhood Planning processes, it offers a meaningful way to improve lives in an area, putting Parish or Town Council land into good use and providing homes for those who need them most.
Town and Parish Councils have specialist local knowledge, so are well placed to ensure that meaningful community involvement is at the heart of any new housing development. By working closely with local people, they can help deliver a practical solution to the housing crisis through the development of new community-led homes.
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