Stretham Manor Farm – Cambridgeshire’s first community land trust development

08:23 Thursday 17th September 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: Construction work is due to officially begin in the village later on on a housing development that local residents have been heavily involved in planning. It involves around 50 new homes as well as a doctors surgery, business space and a children’s play area. They’re all being built at Manor Farm in Stretham, and 15 of those 50 houses will be reserved for local people to buy or rent. It’s part of the first community land trust set up in Cambridgeshire, and it saw around 250 people involved in the design process. Joining me in the studio now are community land trust chair and deputy leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council Charles Roberts. Morning Charles.
CHARLES ROBERTS: Good morning Dotty.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And also Phil Rose who is from Laragh Homes, Morning Phil.
PHIL ROSE: Good morning.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So Charles, explain the concept of the community land trust, how it works.
CHARLES ROBERTS: OK. The community land trust. At East Cambridgeshire District Council we’ve a new planning policy now, which allows communities to bring forward planning applications for building on land outside the building line in their community, so building on farmland surrounding the community, subject to a number of tests of course to be sure that it’s appropriate development in the right place. The community bring the application forward together with the land owner and a building developer, and a proportion of the houses are sold on the open market, and a share of the profit from those houses is given to the community, together with some land to build houses for the community.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So the idea is that local people are involved from the very start.
CHARLES ROBERTS: Yes. that’s absolutely right. This is about local people. It’s about providing homes for local people. But it’s also making sure that people are involved in the design process, and the communities actually want the development for their own people. It’s appropriate to their community.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And Phil, what’s in it for your company, as a development firm?
PHIL ROSE: Well what it did was .. obviously there were some challenges .. as a private company working with the community. But it did create new opportunities for us. This land which otherwise wouldn’t have obtained planning permission. But by working in partnership with the local residents and helping, we’ve managed to create some appealing energy efficient housing designs that will really be in keeping with the village. And at the same time provide the contemporary interiors and open plan living spaces that modern purchasers want to have in their houses.
DOTTY MCLEOD: But presumably it won’t be as profitable for you as a regular 50 homes development somewhere else might be.
PHIL ROSE: What’s happened is that the way that the mechanism works is that it’s all about capturing the land value, the increase in the land value. So there’s another partner to this in the land owner, and whilst they see their land increasing in value from agricultural value, they’re not getting as much as they would have done if it had been a traditional market housing site. And so capturing that money goes back into the CLT and into the community land trust. We are there .. still there going to be creating our normal development profit from the scheme, but what it does is it has allowed us to .. the key thing really is to create new .. bring forward new housing in an area where perhaps it wouldn’t have otherwise happened.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And why Charles is there this rule that 15 out of these 50 houses have to be occupied by local people? Why is that important?
CHARLES ROBERTS: It’s very much the key to the whole project, and the reasoning behind the planning policy. We have a housing crisis as we all know, and particularly locally with the pressures from Cambridge and London it’s increasingly difficult for people on local wages to actually stay in the communities where they’ve been brought up. So it’s something at East Cambs that we feel very strongly about, that we need good strong diverse communities. And that means providing for everyone in the community, including those that are working on local wages, who at the moment are being displaced from the villages closer to Cambridge, and are pushed further away where they can afford to live. We don’t think that’s right, and we’re encouraging all communities in East Cambridgeshire to come forward and talk to us at the Council at Ely, talk to our Land Trust team, with a view to having land trusts across the district.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Because how much difference really can 15 house for local people make? In Stretham I mean. It’s a drop in the ocean of what’s required, isn’t it?
CHARLES ROBERTS: It is, but we mustn’t forget of course the 35 private houses that are being provided as well. And there’s tremendous demand for private housing too in the village. And if we had 15 in every community that would be good. We’re already .. we’ve just in fact submitted the planning application for phase two on the site, which is a further 25 homes. So the community in Stretham is going to end up with 23 houses available for local people on affordable rents or shared ownership arrangements.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And Phil, having been through this process once, would you do it again? Would you sign up again?
PHIL ROSE: Well we are doing. Yes. (LAUGHS)
PHIL ROSE: Indeed. Certainly it’s something which not all development companies would want to take on, because it has certain challenges. We have to be careful to balance the aspirations of the residents with commercial realities. But we’ve established a really good relationship with Stretham and Wilburton Land Trust.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Has there had to be some compromise along the way?
PHIL ROSE: By all parties. Yes. That’s right. But we’ve always recognised and understood each other’s objectives in this exercise, and between us we’ve found ways that we can ensure that we’re still achieving them. We’re making our development profit. We’re creating great products. Charles is getting his houses for his local people, and the new GP surgery and small business units. And the community has been so heavily involved in the design that we think that what they’ll come to see in a few years time is a housing development that they can be really proud of.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Well ground breaks today, or work officially starts on Stretham’s community land trust project, the first one in Cambridgeshire. Charles Roberts and Phil Rose, thank you very much for your time this morning.