Here’s an update on progress. The Crown has just come back on the market and we have some comments on that, too.
MCLT Progress Report
The CLT’s directors have been busy over the last few months and we’d like to give you an update.
Our focus has been on site selection. Finding a development site is probably the biggest challenge for a new CLT. This is particularly true in Marshfield. Land prices within the village boundary are sky high and outside the village development is constrained by the Green Belt and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In other parts of the country, CLTs have been gifted a site or have inherited a site already earmarked for development, but here we’ve not been so fortunate.
Site Selection Process
We started our site search by adopting a very thorough and systematic approach. First, using large scale maps and aerial photos, we identified every potential development site in and around the village and came up with a total of 31 sites.
Using the South Glos Council’s guidelines on searching for sites in rural communities we reviewed each of the 31 sites against a number of criteria (eg size, access, relationship to the settlement, level of anticipated community acceptance, etc). This enabled us to whittle down the number of sites to twelve.
We then applied additional, more detailed, criteria to these twelve sites (e.g. effects of possible development on traffic, parking, existing services, views in and out of the village, etc) and this gave us seven ‘front runners’.
We then had to see if the potential sites were available, so the next step was to approach the landowners. We wrote to each of the seven landowners in exactly the same terms and at the same time so that they were all treated fairly.
If a landowner showed interest we drew up a specially tailored “Heads of Terms’ document. This is a sort of route map for the landowner to consider, outlining how we would like to proceed. Currently we are in discussions with landowners on the basis of this document.
This phase has been very time consuming with visits to landowners, meetings to discuss Heads of Terms, site visits and, inevitably, numerous emails going backwards and forwards to deal with queries from both sides. The CLT has to work at the landowner’s pace and these negotiations are still ongoing.
Once a landowner agrees ‘Heads of Terms’ there will still be lots of work to do:
- hold a public meeting to explain how we have searched for a site and obtain feedback on our findings;;
- commission a feasibility study to look at all the possible constraints associated with the site (technical, financial, legal, etc) and come up with an outline scheme;
- hold discussions with South Glos Council to determine whether planning consent is likely to be granted;
- identify a partner housing association. The housing association will shoulder much of the technical and financial risk, while leaving us, the ultimate owners of the site, with a good measure of freedom to decide on the design of the homes and agree how they should be allocated to local applicants.
All these actions may have hidden pitfalls and we know that things are likely to take some time to come to fruition.
In the meantime ‘The Crown’ has come onto the market yet again. We have looked into this in some detail but there are a number of concerns:
- Redeveloping the Crown would be a risky undertaking and the CLT, the likely recipient of public funding, is obliged to be prudent and risk averse.
- The CLT has no financial resources and a housing project in the Crown would not qualify for grants from the National Lottery or English Heritage.
- Our well proven business model involves working in partnership with a housing association. Housing associations fight shy of redevelopment projects because costs are difficult to determine in advance.
- If we use grant funding for a feasibility study on the Crown, we would not have that money to research a more deliverable project elsewhere.
- There is a good chance that given that the Crown is within the development boundary and of interest to commercial developers, the CLT (which will not have the rural exception site price advantage) is likely to be outbid after putting energy and time into the purchase.
- A further risk surrounds the possibility that change of use may not be forthcoming for a residential scheme.
The CLT will keep an open mind about opportunities involving the Crown but for the moment we intend to hold to our agreed priorities and pursue the currently more appropriate sites for affordable housing on our list.
Learning from Experience
Experience over the last few months has forced MCLT board members to confront the many challenges involved in developing affordable housing. At times in the past some of us may have blithely said, in response to complaints about the national housing shortage, “Just build more houses!” Now we’re finding out that it’s not quite as simple as that. But with continuing professional advice from the Wessex CLT Project and strong support from the Parish and District Councillors we’re making good progress and are determined to succeed.