Our chief executive, Tom Chance, responds to a new report on community asset ownership by a Welsh Senedd committee.
In July I spoke to members of the Local Government and Housing Committee in the Welsh Sennedd (Senate) about community asset ownership.
As a charity and membership body we cover both England and Wales. But while there are 340 incorporated CLTs in England, there are only a handful in Wales, and none that have yet developed and owned any assets.
(Eagle-eyed readers may notice that the picture at the top is actually of Youlgrave CLT in Derbyshire – we have no photos of completed CLT homes in Wales!)
Given the similar issues for communities in – say – Pembrokeshire and Cornwall, Gwynedd and Cumbria, Cardiff and Bristol – this is quite striking. Even more so when you consider that the Welsh Government put community led housing into its current Programme for Government, with ministers expressing support for many years. It’s a particular shame for CLTs because Wales has a unique legal framework to give particular regard to wellbeing of current and future generations, which aligns well with the legal definition of a CLT.
So why is Wales so far behind England?
One big reason is that there has been no concerted effort on the part of the Welsh government to unpick the barriers holding communities back, and until recently – when Cwmpas stepped into the ring – little real promotion of the CLT concept in Welsh communities.
Today the committee published their report, with 16 recommendations which address many of these barriers. It picks up much of the evidence we gave, alongside friends and partners like Cwmpas and the Plunkett Foundation.
I particularly welcome recommendation 14 – that “the Welsh Government should establish a specific Welsh fund for community housing projects, similar to the funds available in England and Scotland.”
We have been making this case to Welsh ministers since 2017, arguing that the Community Housing Fund in England offers a good model to replicate. The Welsh Government has funded Cwmpas to support community led housing projects, with some money to cover early project costs in forming a group, developing a concept and looking for a site. But there is precious little funding to secure a site and develop a full planning application. Until groups reach this stage it’s impossible to access bank lending and affordable housing grants. The Community Housing Fund in England effectively provides communities with the risk capital to do this early stage work, so they can get projects to the point of being investment-ready. The Welsh Government points to its general funding for social housing and innovation, but CLTs can only access these if they have the means to get to that investment-ready stage. So in Wales, communities just get stuck.
The committee noted another problem we highlighted – by law, only Registered Social Landlords can receive capital grant for low rent homes, but in Wales they won’t let CLTs register (unlike in England) and they aren’t positively encouraging RSLs to partner (as is common in England). So again, CLTs get stuck. The committee didn’t make a specific recommendation on this point.
In response to my evidence about some CLTs struggling with public authorities reluctant to discuss asset transfers, the committee also recommended that “the Welsh Government should make arrangements for consideration to be given to whether community groups who meet agreed criteria should be able to instigate the asset transfer process for themselves”; and that guidance on transfers should strengthen the links with the Well-being of Future Generations Act, something we suggested. But they stopped short of recommending, as we suggested, that options be considered for communities to appeal or challenge where public bodies block transfer requests.
More generally, it is good that the committee recognised “the overwhelming evidence that community-run services or assets can bring substantial benefits”, and that this can include creating new assets as well as taking on existing assets. Most of the discussion around community ownership focuses on ‘community asset transfers’, but communities often lack the assets they need in the first place – affordable homes, community centres, workspace. To really bring out the potential of community-run assets, communities need to be able to pursue the full range of options as any other business and not be painted into a niche.
If the Welsh Government takes up the suggestion of a commission on community ownership of land and assets, we will be pleased to input and support their work.