Over to you
First Published 28 April 2016
Community land trusts have the potential to let people build the homes they need, where they need them, says Grant Shapps.
For the housing crisis to be solved, we need to work with communities, not against them. The relationship whereby central government dictates to local communities needs to be turned on its head.
Central government targets have led to a massive failure of supply. Less housing of every type has been built by this government than under the previous administrations and we have seen affordability plummet. Some of the drop can be attributed to lax regulation of credit but supply is a key factor.
During the past decade, the social housing waiting list has spiralled to a record 1.8 million families and the number of homeless children has doubled to 130,000. The vulnerable in society are suffering most. The government’s density targets have created a huge glut of flats and a lack of family homes so that more and more people live in overcrowded accommodation. Yet, this lack of supply can be turned around. Imagine a world where there are positive advantages for communities building new homes.
What if an increase in population guaranteed that a hospital would be saved from closure? Or if people believed the new homes might be available for their sons and daughters one day? And what if everyone benefitted from reductions in council tax?
Rather than local authorities trying to accommodate more people with fewer resources, an enlightened system would make it financially beneficial for communities to build houses. With local people and communities reaping the benefits how long would it be before areas would vie with their neighbours to build the homes we all need?
This is so far removed from the top-down, central planning that we have become accustomed to that it is tempting to dismiss the approach out of hand. Yet it is exactly what happens in Germany and Sweden and we could benefit from a more enlightened policy in Britain, too.
My own Welwyn Hatfield constituency presents a good case in point. The community is universally behind a campaign known as No Way To 10k, which argues against the building of 10,000 new properties, and the axing of services at the local hospital -the A&E and maternity units at our QEII Hospital are under consultation for closure.
The former housing minister Yvette Cooper suggested that this was a NIMBY campaign, but her accusation rebounded when it was pointed out that even the local Labour Party distributed NW10K literature.
I represent two new towns, Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield, so house building is second nature to me. The NW10K campaign has in fact always accepted 6,000 of the new homes, but the remaining 4,000, added at the last moment by unelected government inspectors, threatens to overstretch health and other infrastructure to breaking point -without the impending closures. To add insult to injury, all of the additional 4,000 homes would end up on green belt which Gordon Brown has previously pledged will not be touched.
The key is working with communities, incentivising and empowering them as part of a wider housing policy.
For communities prepared to take a further step in tackling housing in their area -building the homes that are needed through a ‘bottom up’ process -community land trusts are an amazing way for local people to work together to build sustainable communities.
There are those that don’t see the potential for these schemes and yet there is already a strong tradition of communities taking responsibility for where they live through Neighbourhood Watch and tenants’ associations. Community land trusts go further, with residents and businesses taking control of planning and delivering new development to make physical change and improve quality of life.
Community land trusts cover the entire development mix. They provide affordable housing for local people to rent or to buy, alongside key services and facilities, such as offices for local businesses, shops, community buildings and green spaces.
The Conservatives have set up a taskforce of leading experts to increase community land trusts’ use and provide more affordable housing. We forced the government to insert a clause in the Housing and Regeneration Bill, which created a legal definition of community land trusts to make it easier for them to find funding.
We want to extend the powers of local people to control the future of the homes that they, their families and their neighbours live in. There is a better way.
Grant Shapps is Conservative MP for Welwyn Hatfield and the shadow housing minister.