East End people’s land trust puts in bid to buy St Clement’s site for homes

A remarkable project has got off the ground with a ‘people’s movement’ to make owning an affordable home a reality in an overpriced East End of London in the Shadow of Canary Wharf—not just in today’s housing market, but for generations to come.

The movement to set up London’s first community land trust has grown to 1,000 members who plan to gather next Wednesday evening outside the former St Clement’s Hospital to celebrate putting in a bid for the site.

They want to keep the historic buildings in public ownership after more than a century-and-a-half and transform the Victorian complex along the Bow Road into a large public square with a fountain, caf�s and above all low-cost housing that won’t stop aspiring families owning their own home.

The project is seven years in the making by Telco, The East London Community Organisations. The umbrella offshoot of London Citizens has set up the East London Community Land Trust which has formally put in a bid for the four-and-a-half acres.

“People are being driven away by runaway house prices,” explained one of its trustees, Sirajul Islam. “This is the community taking a stand.”

At the heart of the plan lies the principle that the homes will cost just 25 per cent of the open market rate.

The non-profit trust would develop housing for long-term community benefit by separating the value of the building from the value of the land, which currently runs at 65 per cent of the average London house price.

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

St Clement’s began life as a workhouse in 1849 and was in continual public use until it closed as a psychiatric hospital in 2006.

It has remained derelict these past six years, in the middle of Tower Hamlets councillor Rachael Saunders’ ward. She wants it to remain in public hands.

“St Clement’s throughout its history has always been dedicated to the public good,” she points out.

“A land trust is the only option to keep this proud history alive and put the site once again to good use.”

But Telco accepts there will be disappointment if the land trust isn’t chosen. Its project director Dave Smith said: “We still want to make a success of our neighbourhood for years to come.”

As Stephen Hill from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors puts it, “governments alone cannot create from scratch a vibrant community or great places to live.”

That is the role of communities, he points out. St Clement’s would be “a great place to start” that process across London.