The British Communities Taking House Building Into Their Own Hands

Increasing numbers of people in the UK are joining forces to build their own housing developments.

By Annette Barlow January 9, 2017

Since Britain’s disastrous decision to leave the European Union, the UK has been experiencing a spot of financial difficulty. The pound sterling plummeted, hefty global investors started to act with extreme caution, and the real estate market became more tentative than ever.

So it’s perhaps unsurprising that a growing number of fed-up residents are taking matters into their own hands, as the number of Community Land Trusts (CLTs—nonprofit corporations that develop and steward affordable housing, community gardens, civic buildings, commercial spaces, and other assets on behalf of a community) significantly increased in 2016.

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In fact, in the last year, Britain has seen, on average, one CLT pop up each week, with the current number totaling 225. This is a six-fold increase in the past six years, and speaks volumes about Britons’ faith in the established real estate market.

And how do CLTs affect the market? They buy land (or have it donated to them) and organize the funding of building of homes by and for members of the local community. These homes tend to be rented on a sliding scale, relative to individual wages, or bought at affordable prices. Indeed, these homes can only be sold at below market value. In other words, affordable, sustainable housing that benefits local communities without putting profits into the pockets of large corporate firms. Developers should be shaking in their boots.

Indeed, there has been a 23 percent fall in the amount of affordable housing built in the UK in 2016, paving the way for CLTs to flourish. One such example is Saffron Acres in Leicester, a CLT led by Neil Hodgkin, and Europe’s largest eco-friendly social housing development. Offering an enormously impressive array of local services, Saffron Acres is made up of 68 homes on a previously derelict, former industrial site.

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Each home comes furnished with an allotment for growing vegetables, and is priced at 20 percent below market value. Bills cost just 80 percent of traditional homes, due to their eco-friendly Passivhaus design—a rigorous standard for energy efficiency, significantly reducing a building’s ecological footprint. Local resources include a charity shop, day care and activities for vulnerable adults, a community workspace, drug & alcohol counseling services and debt management advice. Something profit-seeking developments just can’t compete with.

And it seems as though the rest of Britain is cottoning on to this way of thinking, with 3,000 CLT homes set for completion by 2020. This number will be helped along the way by a £60 million ($75 million) grant from the UK government, funded by a three percent increase in stamp duty on second homes and buy-to-let properties, sending a firm message contractors who monopolize the newly developed housing market. CLTs are not only providing an important service, but also going some way to re-balancing the UK’s off-kilter real estate market.

Catherine Harrington, director of the National Community Land trust Network, sums it up pretty neatly: “These are people taking the housing crisis into their own hands.”


Annette Barlow



Annette is freelance editor, sub-editor, journalist and proofreader with a fierce love of all things feminist, food and music. She is a regular fixture on the arts, culture and feature desks at The Guardian, and her words have appeared on NME, Great British Chefs, The Fly, The Line of Best Fit and Australian Times.
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