Our chief executive, Tom Chance, summarises our various lobbying activities and where the community land trust movement stands amid this shifting political climate.
We seem to have a knack for getting ministers sacked.
Last September we held an hour-long roundtable with the then-Secretary of State and four of our members to brief and lobby him. The next day he was reshuffled.
This Monday I was due to meet the Head of Policy at Number 10 – Andrew Griffith, an MP who has been supportive of CLTs in his Sussex constituency – with Danny Kruger MP. But Kruger resigned as PPS in the previous week and Griffith was reshuffled the day before, part of the chaos in government since Sunak resigned.
(One silver lining is that the roll out of the voluntary Right to Buy may quietly drop off the radar again as the key proponents have left office. I’ve met with officials to discuss our position. It would take months to get the scheme up and running, and our best argument is probably that trying to include CLTs would be more trouble than it’s worth.)
Whatever your view on the Johnson government, the chaos couldn’t have come at a worse time for our lobbying work.
A decision to re-open the Community Housing Fund had just been signed off by the Housing Minister and was on Michael Gove’s desk on the day he was sacked. This came after a summer of about-turns that I wrote about in June. We are now pressing for his successor, Greg Clark, to sign the CHF off.
Reminding your local MP to lobby Clark remains our most effective tactic (find everything to do that here). If they’ve responded positively while Jenrick or Gove were in post, ask them to repeat the effort with Clark. And then whoever succeeds him if the new PM wants another reshuffle. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Our combined efforts had made community led housing the ‘flavour of the month’ with ministers and advisers. We were beginning to break through with serious conversations about more transformative policies on funding and planning reform.
The government’s response to the Bacon Review was rather flat and uninspiring in its support for community led housing. Warm words but no concrete policy promises. Except the idea of a Self Commissioned Housing Unit in Homes England, which will encompass community led housing. If ministers press for it, this unit could be a key ally in reshaping the way Homes England enables housing, helping CLTs access significantly more land and finance.
I’m working on policy ideas, and we will soon launch a six month process to work through ways to scale up the sector, in collaboration with our sister bodies for cohousing and co-ops, and the network of enabler hubs and advisers.
We’re also trying to feed these into the MPs leading the leadership race campaigns. I don’t expect we’ll see any candidates push CLTs in a big way. But we want them to be on the agenda of whoever takes the keys to No 10. If you have any of those MPs in your patch, do write to them urgently and point them in my direction for more info.
In Wales, we continue to try and get a breakthrough with a Labour government that also talks up its support for CLTs but that is not addressing the barriers. I gave evidence to the Senedd’s housing committee, which is looking at transfers. I described the demoralising obstruction that some Welsh CLTs have faced in trying to buy and improve existing assets. But also suggested that the Welsh government could help communities much more by reforming the planning system and land markets to help them also develop new assets, like much needed affordable homes.
Back to Homes England – that agency can give us punch. I got a session on community led housing into their summer learning programme for councils. We had 336 delegates attend a chunky workshop with myself, Matt Dodd from Homes England giving the intro. Then representatives from East Cambridgeshire District Council and Bristol City Council spoke about their respective planning and land disposal policies. Both are stimulating dozens of projects with strong chances of success. The message was clear: move from ad hoc support to a strategic approach, one that enables lots of community led housing in your local area.
Speaking of Bristol’s land policy, Liverpool is now following in their footsteps. The city council is adopting a framework to sell land and buildings to community groups in a way that maximises social value. This is in no small part down to the brilliant work of community led housing advocates in the city, convened by our trustee Paul Kelly and the Breaking Ground enabler hub.
Our advocacy work can often seem rather frenetic. There’s so much going on.
But that’s because we, collectively, are arousing so much interest in the CLT model.
In this turbulent time, we don’t want to pin our fates entirely on consistent support from government. But we can keep surfing these waves, working to change the way the housing and land systems work so that community ownership and leadership can become commonplace.