Land for the Many - a CLT perspective

Monday 03 June 2019

Our Director, Tom Chance, reflects on a new report commissioned by the Labour Party on land ownership, called Land for the Many.

Here's an ambition for the CLT movement. In Scotland, there are 227,526 hectares in community ownership, or 3 per cent of the country. Could we match that in England and Wales?

In England, I'd estimate that community led housing groups own or occupy around 0.03 per cent of the country. That's not counting many other forms of community ownership. In Wales, the data is too scant to show so much as a blip. Could we increase the land we own 100-fold to catch up with the Scots?

The authors of this paper propose various new policies that the Labour Party could adopt to make it happen. They include:

  • replacing the fairly toothless Localism Act 2011 powers with a proper Community Right to Buy, giving communities in England and Wales first right of refusal over land put up for sale;
  • introducing a fund to bring £200m of land into community ownership by 2030;
  • giving councils and development corporations clearer powers to designate land for community ownership, and community led housing;

More controversially, they also propose a Compulsory Sale Order. This has been floated by the Scottish Land Commission, and would give local councils the power to compel the sale of land at auction if it is not being used in the public interest, and is actively harming the surrounding community.

This may strike a chord with CLTs in places like Middlesbrough, working to replace absentee landlords who leave streets falling into disrepair and plagued by antisocial behaviour; small rural CLTs that find their villages strangled by speculator land banks; and communities up and down the country that see good land being left to rot.

The authors also back the creation of CLTs for purpuses other than housing - to protect and rewild local habitats, and support farmers and foresters.

There are already a few CLTs doing this, such as the longstanding Wyre CLT (managing farms and forest) and the newly formed Middle Marches CLT (aiming to protect and conserve land in the Shropshire Hills).

There are other community led organisations doing similar things, like the Ecological Land Co-operative, which has bought some land for tenant farmers just up the road from a pioneer CLT in Queen Camel, which has itself just completed the purchase of an old school building to create a community enterprise centre.

We'll watch reaction in the Labour Party with interest. This is not an official party policy paper.

It will also be interesting to see whether candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party give this any thought; one or two have been big supporters of CLTs in the past. We also saw the Green Party propose Compulsory Sale Orders for neglected land in their local elections campaign this spring.

As ever, we're working to build cross-party support for CLTs, a task made all the easier by the inspiration that CLTs provide to their local MPs.

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