In a move heralding the development of Kent’s very first community land trust (CLT), we’re thrilled to announce that Shepherdswell and Coldred CLT, working in partnership with English Rural, has been granted planning permission to create 10 affordable homes for the village.
Last week’s decision by Dover Council marks a turning point for community led housing in Kent and is the culmination of an idea that first formed almost a decade ago. Here, we take both a look back at the evolution of that idea and consider what the future holds for the CLT and those involved in bringing the scheme this far.
Recognising a perceived need for affordable housing for local people in the village, the Parish Council/Parish Plan Group contacted Kent Community Housing Hub manager, Tessa O’Sullivan, who was then working for Action with Communities in Rural Kent in the role of Rural Housing Enabler.
Alongside a working group, which included members of the Parish Council, Tessa undertook a housing needs survey funded by Dover District Council and a site search. Whilst the housing needs survey demonstrated a clear requirement for affordable housing in the village for single people, couples, and families alike, and despite a concerted effort to find a site upon which to build it, no suitable site was identified, and the fledging project stalled.
The project needed re-invigorating which coincided with Tessa organising a seminar introducing the concept of community land trusts working in partnership with housing associations. Presented by the Wessex CLT Project, a support service for community led housing projects across Somerset, Devon & Dorset, the seminar introduced the concept of community land trusts, illustrating how they can create homes and protect them as community assets in perpetuity for future generations. Having taken training from the Wessex CLT Project, Tessa was able to offer groups support to set up CLTs.
Duly excited by the possibilities a CLT would bring, the Shepherdswell housing group organised a public village event to present their ideas and set up a steering group.
By the end of 2017, a CLT had been formed and incorporated as a Community Benefit Society, and a development partnership agreed with English Rural Housing Association, who would build and manage the homes. The partnership’s site search resumed in earnest and when Alison Thompson, English Rural’s Deputy Development Director contacted the Church Commissioners, owners of a site adjacent to the village hall which had previously been considered in the original search (and who were now open to the idea of selling the site to a CLT) things began to happen!
Having successfully applied for funding from Dover District Council’s community housing grant scheme, the CLT commissioned a feasibility study to address some considerations relating to the site, including access. During this time, the CLT also contacted residents living opposite the site, the Parish Council and the nursery school based in the village hall, so that all were kept informed and any views they had could be heard and considered. In total, 17 sites were considered in the searches but only this one came forward as suitable and available.
2020 kicked off with a drop-in event at the village hall where the CLT, English Rural and OSG Architecture (the firm chosen to design the scheme) presented the proposed layout of the development. This event was also the launchpad for a second housing needs survey organised, conducted, and analysed by Tessa, giving an up-to-date picture of the mix of housing required to satisfy current local needs. The results of the survey were then publicised to the community.
A couple of months after the drop-in event, the Kent Community Housing Hub was launched with Tessa as manager; an independently funded project hosted by Action with Communities in Rural Kent. The Hub emerged from the Rural Housing Enabling service as a much-needed resource to support community led housing groups throughout Kent – in both urban and rural areas – to gain a foothold in what is still a fairly *new concept to the county.
As 2020 drew to a close under the cloud of Covid, the Shepherdswell & Coldred CLT and English Rural partnership submitted their planning application for the ten affordable homes and the three bungalows required for open market sale to cross-subsidise and make viable the affordable housing (the bungalows would firstly be offered on a time-limited basis to people in the village seeking to downsize from larger properties). Now all they could do was wait….
With the UK living under the restrictions of lockdowns, reducing the opportunity to engage with the community face-to-face, the CLT hit the streets, leafleting every home in the village with an update on the project. During this time, the CLT and English Rural worked with the planning department to address and resolve issues raised by them.
The year began with the first tentative signs that the pandemic was easing, and the hopeful mood turned to joy on the 20th of January when the planning committee unanimously (bar one abstention) approved the scheme.
Tessa O’Sullivan says: “We believe that the forming of a CLT helped to bring land forward and are thankful to the Church Commissioners for selling their land for this purpose. Congratulations to the CLT for their hard work and tenacity to ensure this project came to fruition. They will now have long term stewardship over the homes as they own the freehold of the land. English Rural will develop and manage the properties and will be overseen by the CLT.
This partnership between the CLT and the housing association has meant that real community involvement has been possible alongside the expertise of a specialist rural housing provider. It is the first of its kind in Kent to achieve planning consent. We are delighted that 10 households will now have a secure and affordable home, and those homes will remain affordable for the local community in perpetuity. It’s been an honour to support this project”.
Hard work now lies ahead to get the scheme onsite…watch this space, we’ll keep you updated!