Tom's tour of Somerset CLTs

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Not having deep pockets for travel expenses, our trips to visit CLTs are all too rare. I do most of my work for CLTs holed up in our office in Borough, London.

I got the itch for my tour when returning from a stag do in Exmouth! As we drove through Devon and Somerset I kept spotting familiar names on road signs - Teignbridge, Lyme Regis, Yarcombe, Norton-sub-Hamdon. You can't go far in that part of the country without coming across a CLT.

The reasons are Alison, Jay and Steve at the Wessex CLT Project - one of the first enabling hubs in the country. By reaching out to parish councils, developing good links with local housing associations and district councils, and focusing on projects with potential, they've supported over 40 CLTs across Devon, Dorset and Somerset.

The National CLT Network supports the development of these local enabling hubs, which are much better able to work with CLTs than ourselves from our London office. But the CLTs I met have also benefited from our national work to secure funding, lobby to exclude them from the Right to Buy and rent cuts, and the insurance we offer through our membership package.

So I was eager to meet the CLTs and hear more about their projects.

Here's the route I took:

My cycle tour today took me from my parent's house in Curry Rivel, south towards Seavington St Michael.

Moira from The Seavington's CLT gave me a much-needed coffee, and talked me through their plans.

The villagers had already built a new village shop and cafe in 2010 after an existing shop closed.

The opportunity for homes came from a local business, which wanted to sell off some of its land for housing. Planning policy required that some of the homes were affordable housing, and the landowner wanted to make sure they went to people with a local connection.

A CLT was the perfect answer - accountable to the 25% or so of residents that are members, and with a desire to let homes to young people who live and work in the area. It was set up in 2016 with help from the Wessex CLT Project.

The landowner sold the land with a deed of covenant requiring that the homes went to the CLT, and once the homes are finished the CLT will be gifted three homes to rent out. Here are the homes:

The income they get from this will go back into the village, to fund whatever they think the village needs next.

Back onto the bike...

Next up was Norton-sub-Hamdon, one of the first CLTs in Somerset. They helped to revive a dormant affordable housing scheme, working with the housing association Yarlington Housing Group (now a big friend of CLTs) to build 10 homes in their village.

Liz, my host, told me their story (and very kindly made me some lunch).

The CLT faced some fierce, quite unpleasant opposition to the development. But the vast majority of residents supported it because they knew it was locally controlled, and would provide much-needed homes for people with a local connection. This is one of the reasons the Government is taking more notice of CLTs.

Here is Liz admiring the homes...

In the very same month that the homes were completed, the village shop closed! So the CLT rapidly put together a plan and bought it out, saving the shop and post office.

Both are clearly valued, but struggle to cover their costs. So partly with that in mind, the CLT wants to build a small solar farm on their remaining land at the back of the 10 homes. It could generate income for the CLT which would cross-subsidise the shop. They've developed a business case and obtained planning permission. But sadly, when the Government cut the Feed in Tariff and scrapped the tax incentives for community energy, the business plan collapsed. I've spent as long working on renewables as I have on housing, and this makes me really mad!

Thankfully the sun put his hat on and came out to play, so I headed off in a good mood. Skirting the north of Yeovil and at one point across a field full of cows, I made my way to Queen Camel for my last stop.

Rosemary has lived in her home for over 70 years. I hope she doesn't mind me broadcasting her age on our blog! But she has clearly developed a deep feeling for her home and village, and brings that to her apparently tireless work on local matters.

Queen Camel CLT was another early adopter, and worked with Hastoe housing association to build 20 affordable homes. They started out wanting to build homes for ownership, but when they did a needs survey discovered the main need was for low rent homes. The CLT has a lot of input into the design of the homes, specifying the materials and making sure they were of a high quality.

Here's Rosemary standing proud in front of the homes:

Now Rosemary is trying to find a future for a disused school building in the heart of the village. She spoke to me about the difficulties for people with special needs and disabilities in rural Somerset, and has a wonderful vision for a truly inclusive community facility. Her problem is that the building is owned by the cash-strapped county council, which of course wants top dollar.

Years of funding cuts are biting with our councils, and they seem increasingly unable - or in some cases just reluctant - to support community enterprises like Queen Camel CLT. At the right price the CLT might be able to raise the funds to bring the buildings back into use and breath new life into their village. They have until the end of the year to clinch the deal.

This was what really struck me as I laboured home - rapidly running out of energy, in spite of Rosemary's delicious flapjacks.

We talk about CLTs giving us hope for housing. But all three CLTs I visited were doing much more than that - they were bringing hope for their communities. Few other housing providers would look at a village in such a holistic way, with such knowledge and feeling for its life. Community Land Trusts are giving people in these communities a way to sustain themselves, whether they need homes for young people, a viable shop or facilities for poeple with special needs.

I toasted Moira, Liz and Rosemary's success, and all those they work with, as I relaxed back at home with a cider bought from Norton-sub-Hamdon's shop. Three cheers for the three CLTs!

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