Meet the communities taking control of affordable housing
PUBLISHED: 18:30 05 December 2019
With its chocolate-box cottages, charming tearooms, and famous Gothic church, Lavenham regularly features among list of the "most desirable villages".
But while its medieval architecture may make it a popular destination for tourists and film-makers - not all is as perfect as it may seem.
Community leaders fear soaring property prices and stagnant wages could see Lavenham become an enclave for wealthy retirees and second homeowners - driving local people away.
According to the government's latest figures, the average home in the village now costs £342,500 - up 15% in the past five years - meaning buyers would need to earn at least £55,000 a year to get a mortgage.
It is these fears - common in many Suffolk villages - that have inspired Lavenham's approach to housing through a community land trust (CLT) - a relatively new way to deliver affordable housing that is community led and owned.
Lavenham CLT formed around two years ago to provide homes for the young families and key workers who play vital roles in the community but would otherwise be unable to afford to live there
After initial resistance from some, the CLT recently unveiled its first development of 18 homes at Peek Close. Built on a former Suffolk County Council gritting depot, which was donated to the CLT for a nominal £1 fee, the development comprises a mix of one, two and three bedroom properties, mainly for social rent. Hastoe housing association will lease and manage the properties. But key to this development, and other CLT-led schemes, is that the homes will remain permanently in community ownership; available only to those with a close connection to the village.
One resident, who asked not to be named, said: "We cannot believe that we have been offered a home here, I cried (happy tears of course)! We never dreamed that we would be so lucky, not only to live in Lavenham, but also to have a beautiful new home. Our family live in the village, and whenever we visited we never wanted to leave. Now we don't have to! Thanks to Hastoe for building these affordable homes and for also bringing families closer together. Without this opportunity we would never have been able to live here in Lavenham. We are looking forward to living a very happy life with our family in our new home."
CLT trustee Bryan Panton said the village's neighbourhood plan had shown the need for more affordable housing - and the parish council had helped set up the CLT to deliver that.
"The key objective was always to sustain a viable community," he said. "Lavenham's an attractive place to live but the properties were all becoming second homes or retirement properties. The average age of the population is already considerably higher than most places - it's not good for the village."
Mr Panton said the housing offered by commercial developers tended to be "executive-style" five or six bedroom houses, costing substantial sums, which meant those whom the village dependent upon, such as its teachers, shopkeepers and carers, could no longer afford to live there.
"It doesn't make for a vibrant community if it's just a pretty film set and old people's home," he added.
Mr Panton acknowledged the process had been challenging and had relied at times upon the "evangelical" determination of CLT chairman Carroll Reeve to see it through. But having now "cut its teeth" on the Peek Close scheme, he said the CLT was keen to find another piece of land to work on.
Hastoe said CLT schemes were a useful means to help the "massive need for affordable housing".
Isobel Wright, regional development manager, said: "It's always much better if the community are involved because then they take ownership of the development, This scheme is a great opportunity to help people stay within their village."
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While Lavenham is Suffolk's first CLT scheme to deliver new housing, the idea is rapidly gaining momentum.
Nationally, there are now more than 250 CLTs - half of which formed in the last two years.
One such scheme, the Peninsula Villages CLT, was formed through a partnership of six Suffolk parishes - Alderton, Bawdsey, Boyton, Hollesley, Shottisham and Sutton - which wanted to work together to address their shared problem of affordable housing. The average house price in the villages is now more than £300,000.
Trustee Peter Widdup said the CLT idea had been promoted by district councillor Christine Block and the parishes felt they would have "more clout" working together. "The real driver behind this is that in our area there's a huge proportion of second homes, with many owners coming from London," he said. "This means local people can no longer afford the properties here."
Mr Widdup said very few new homes were being built in the area and those that were tended to be too expensive for key workers such as teachers, nurses and shopkeepers who had to travel into the village.
The CLT has identified a site in School Lane Bawdsey where it hopes to deliver 12 affordable homes early next year. It will be built by developer Crocus Homes using £450,000 of grants from Suffolk Coastal District Council and managed by Orwell Housing.
As with the Lavenham scheme, it will remain under community ownership. "We've had our challenges," said Mr Widdup. "And it's been at times a rather steep learning curve. But once it's built, it will be the community's for ever."
History of CLTs
Almost 1,000 homes have been delivered by community land trusts nationally - with a further 16,000 in the pipeline.
The National Community Land Trust Network said the movement was growing rapidly as a way for ordinary people to take greater control over housing and make their area a better place to live.
Although there are various approaches to running a CLT the uniting factor is that the community is integrally involved throughout the process and will own the housing permanently.
While relatively new in the UK, CLTs have been around since 1969 in the US, where they have become a common way of delivering affordable housing.
The movement started gaining attention in England after the turn of the century, with pilot projects launching soon after. There are now 263 CLTs nationally. These include CLTs in Leiston, Wickhambrook, Witchford, East Bergholt, Jaywick Sands, Hythe and Saffron Walden,