What is a Community Land Trust?

A Community Land Trust (CLT) is a community led, not-for-profit organisation that provides land and buildings to meet long term local needs. It offers a way of providing permanently affordable housing as well as other things such as workspaces, health facilities, shops, pubs, farms and gardens. It holds these assets in trust so that the community benefits in perpetuity. A Community Land Trust is controlled by its members on the basis of one-member-one-vote.

It is not a new idea. CLTs have spread gradually throughout the UK, Canada, the US and elsewhere over the last 50 years or so. Wikipedia has a good explanation and history of CLTs.

What can a CLT do?

A CLT is bound only by its rules of incorporation. Within those rules, it can do anything that benefits the community. Some examples:

  • Christow CLT, Devon, built 18 affordable homes in partnership with Teign Housing Association.
  • Norton-sub-Hamdon CLT, Somerset, built 10 affordable homes with Yarlington Housing Group. They also run the local shop and post office, and are planning a second housing scheme and a community energy project.
  • Ashfield CLT in Llandrindod Wells started a community farm alongside their affordable housing

 Acquiring land

Getting hold of suitable sites for affordable housing is the most crucial task for a CLT. Identify sites, identifying finance and getting community approval are all important.

A CLT may be able to acquire public land at little or no cost or to purchase a ‘rural exception site’ at below market value. It could even be lucky enough to receive a donated site. More likely, it can buy a site at open market value by raising finance or using a grant.

The development finance may come from one or more of several sources: from local authorities, from ethical lenders, by raising money from the community via a shares issue or from the government’s Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). Despite cutbacks, central government has recently pledged £20m per annum to support community housing initiatives in the South West.

Does the CLT approach work?

The short answer is yes. Recent research (Salford University 2015) has shown that:

  • CLTs are highly sensitive to local concerns and can create development projects which local people will support
  • CLTs are trusted by landowners when it comes to disposing of potential development sites
  • CLTs can harness a wealth of local voluntary support (time, energy, imagination, expertise)

In the South West, CLTs working in partnership with the Wessex CLT project have built 120 affordable homes.  Nationally CLTs will have developed 3000 new affordable homes by 2020.

What are the main benefits?

  • Because it represents the community, a CLT is a powerful voice to influence local government plans. By taking the initiative, it allows the community to determine developments, rather than having them imposed.
  • Because it is rooted in the community,  a CLT can identify and respond to opportunities and challenges as they arise, prioritising local needs.
  • Both local and central government look favourably on CLTs. They can attract significant resources from national and local funding agencies and government departments.