Are CLTs slow to build?

Research and opinion | 26 October 2021

Home K Research and opinion K Are CLTs slow to build?

Our Chief Executive, Tom Chance, reflects on new research from the Nationwide Foundation.

Scepticism about communities is deeply embedded in our psyche. Whenever I speak to a professional audience I’m always asked questions like “where do they get the money from?”, as though CLTs are uniquely incapable of trading like any other business.

Of of the most damaging beliefs is that community led development is slow.

“It takes years, they go in circles, it takes huge efforts on the part of the council, and half the time nothing comes of it. We’re better off getting the land into the hands of private developers.”

Really?

The Nationwide Foundation has now published some useful research (PDF) testing this claim, looking at all community led housing approaches. The research is by Dr Tom Archer & Dr Lindsey McCarthy from the Centre for Regional, Economic and Social Research (CRESR), at Sheffield Hallam University.

Their finding?

years for communities to complete projects

years for developers to complete projects

That’s an honest simplification of their findings. The research details the difficulty in pinning down how long private development takes, and how you define the start of the process.

When does a project start?

For a CLT, the first the council hears is often when the CLT first forms as a steering group. From there they need to incorporate as a group, develop their project concept, conduct a site search, secure the site, develop a feasible project, go in for planning permission, then wait for a determination (which for some CLTs has taken well over a year, recently). That process takes years before spades go into the ground.

But the researchers found it can take private developers years to do this as well. Particularly larger developers that maintain strategic land banks of anywhere from 5 to 20+ years so they can get onto new projects as others complete.

The sceptics don’t tend hear so much about this phase of pre-development work, so don’t perceive private development as being such a slow process. Their perception of a project start is when the developer lodges a planning application, or when a housing association applies for a capital grant before starting on site. If we take these as the start points, CLTs are no slower or faster than anyone else.

The researchers also found an encouraging picture of development in recent years…

%

per cent of groups formed in 2014 completed projects within six years

This finding, using data we provided from our comprehensive national database, is very encouraging.

The researchers describe it as ‘an imperfect measure’. Of the other groups, 12% were on site and building, 6% had completed another project and were close to completing this one, and 19% never got past the drawing board. The others are somewhere in the middle of the process.

In any other sector this would be quite impressive. 20% of businesses fail in their first year and around 60% will go bust within their first three years.

Here we have data showing 53% of CLH businesses still alive after six years and with projects that have completed, or are close to completion.

The research note is well worth reading in full.

They discuss, for example, the trade-offs between speed of development and social value. Complex projects on difficult sites looking to address a range of social and environmental issues may be worth sticking with, even if they take a bit longer. A drive for efficiency could undercut this.

We are working as a sector to develop the professional skills of enabler hubs and advisers, so CLTs have ready access to high quality support. We are also campaigning for the extension of the Community Housing Fund, so CLTs can access funding to complete the pre-development phases with fewer fundraising delays. Both should speed the process up.

There’s one more techy finding that we are focused on, at the Community Land Trust Network. We’re working with the network of enabler hubs to improve our data on projects. This will give us better benchmarks for the median length of each project stage, a clearer understanding of where projects have stalled or folded, and a way to identify and problem solve outliers.

Working together, we can speed up the process for communities, and challenge the misconception that community led housing is slow.