28 October 2019

Norton-sub-Hamdon is a picture postcard village nestled in the low hills of south Somerset. It's home to one of a growing number of successful partnerships between Community Land Trusts (CLTs) and housing associations and shows the benefits that both parties can bring to one another.

The parish council had long recognised the need for new affordable homes, but several projects had failed to get a spade in the ground. In 2011 an enabling organisation, Wessex Community Assets, helped the community get a CLT off the ground to try and crack the nut. They chose to work in partnership with Yarlington Housing Group (YHG).

In many ways this was a rural exception site project like any other, financed and developed by YHG. Except that the community – through the CLT – had a degree of control, beyond influence, over matters like the design of the homes and the “local connection criteria” in the allocation policy. This helped them bring a benefit to YHG – leading the community engagement work and facing down a vociferous opposition campaign by a few residents.

Many communities are more willing to accept new homes if the benefits – well-designed homes for local people – can be protected in perpetuity by a democratic organisation that the local community controls. In return, they can help housing associations develop difficult or controversial sites, provide a wealth of local knowledge, and access pre-development grants through the Community Housing Fund.

Once completed the CLT holds the freehold and leased the homes back to YHG to manage. The land value is captured in a modest annual ground rent, and there is a 40-year break clause that has since been developed to balance a housing association’s ability to charge against the properties with the community’s control.

Weeks before the keys were handed over, the village shop and post office were put up for sale. The CLT board decided to buy and run them both as part of their mission to sustain the village as a viable community. They also investigated using some remaining land on the main development for a solar farm, but sadly shelved the plans when subsidies were cut.

Many CLTs go on to develop more homes and other kinds of assets, often on their own. These all help make a success of the affordable homes managed by the housing association.

This approach to sharing control and benefits is growing in popularity, and it’s not the only CLT partnership model. Some recent projects have seen housing associations and CLTs work in tandem with a developer as section 106 providers. There are other community led housing models, such as housing associations supporting their tenants and shared owners to form management co-operatives, or a housing association managing the social housing in a mixed tenure cohousing community, or a community led housing group taking on street-level properties that larger housing associations no longer wish to manage.

All of these succeed when there is trust and a shared vision between partners. It’s unfortunate that CLTs and housing associations are sometimes pitted against one another. When the stars align, communities like Norton-sub-Hamdon get the best of both worlds.

Tom Chance

Tom is Co-Chief Executive of the National CLT Network

Tom Chance is the Co-Chief Executive of the National CLT Network, leading on the Network's projects, finances, and operations, building the charity into a strong and sustainable organisation. He also shares responsibility for the charity's strategy and business plan, and for building relationships with the housebuilding, finance, local government and community sectors. The Network represents over 300 CLTs across England and Wales.

Successful partnerships: Community Land Trusts and housing associations