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Community land trust could be ‘cheap homes’ solution for Londoners

19:43 26 August 2011

St Clement's in Bow Road

St Clement's in Bow Road

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A ‘people’s land trust’ project to make owning an affordable home a reality in an overpriced London housing market has put in a bid for a derelict hospital site on the prestigious 2012 Olympics route.

The project has been seven years in the making by the London Citizens movement for homes affordable not just in today’s housing market, but in perpetuity for generations to come.

The trust held a celebration assembly on Wednesday evening after formally putting in a bid with financial backing for the former St Clement’s site in the Bow Road, on the route to Stratford—the first land trust to get this far in London.

Homes in the scheme will only cost a quarter of the open market rate if their bid succeeds, because the non-profit trust would separate housing value from the land value.

Families would own the house—not the land it stands on which currently runs at 65 per cent of the average London house price.

The trust would retain land ownership and fix the re-sale price of properties below the market rate, so even future generations get the subsidy.

But the idea has been an uphill struggle for a quarter-of-a-century, according to Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors member Stephen Hill who has been advising the project.

“We started this journey 25 years ago,” he told Wednesday’s gathering. “It’s 1988 and a few crazy people thought it would be a good idea for communities to be able to take control of the own housing solutions, with a real stake in their neighbourhood.”

Land trusts have been seen as a nuisance most of that time by house builders and housing associations, he claims.

But in 2008, they were included in an Act of Parliament. Now there are more than 100 in the pipeline in Britain, including St Clement’s.

“The lesson is that sheer bloody-mindedness and persistence will succeed,” added Stephen. “Over the lifetime of five governments, the citizens’ voice has eventually been heard.”

Housing that is unaffordable to almost everyone he feels creates social unrest and riots—and not just the disturbances of the past few weeks. But the land trust movement has radical solutions.

“We could give up the speculative increase in property value,” he concluded. “We could take on less debt to pay for our homes, take more responsibility for our neighbourhood and live more sustainably socially and environmentally.”

He has two requests of politicians. The first: “Recognise us as equal partners—we may be a nuisance, but a productive nuisance.” The second, echoing Churchill’s call to arms to the US in 1941: “Give us the tools to do the job.”

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