Community land trusts (CLTs) are local, not-for-profit organisations that steward land and property democratically for their local community. They’re set up and run by volunteers to own and manage housing and other local assets (like pubs, green spaces, community centres, shops or workplaces) for the benefit of the community. Those benefits include affordable housing and essential services, and they are legally protected in perpetuity.
The CLT retains the freehold on the land, and rents or sells buildings to residents or businesses at affordable rates. If properties are sold, it is via long-term, renewable leases, so that residents can obtain mortgages and pass on the property to family members. The CLT retains the right to buy back the property at a fair price, that will recompense the leaseholders for the mortgage payments and improvements they’ve made. This way, properties are taken off the market and kept affordable.
What to do
1. Support / learn about CLTs
Join the CLT Network and support them in their campaigns – for example to exempt CLTs from right-to-buy legislation (which would make it impossible for CLTs to keep housing affordable in perpetuity). The CLT Network has a listing of UK CLTs on its site, as well as some that have open days and events.
In Scotland, there are lots of community land projects that operate in exactly the same way, but aren’t officially called CLTs. The umbrella organisation for Scotland is Community Land Scotland, who have listings for Scotland too.
2. Identify what you want to achieve in your community
Maybe it’s affordable housing, turning waste land into a park or city farm, saving a local pub or shop, or providing office or workshop space for local businesses, or a combination of several of these aims. You need to talk to as many people as possible to make sure that it’s what your community really wants. You could do this by holding a public meeting, where you could canvas opinions and ask for volunteers. Then get together a group of people to form a steering group (which will possibly turn into the board of the CLT once it’s established).
3. Start a CLT
Contact the CLT Network or Community Land Scotland and ask for guidance. There are local CLT ‘enabling hubs’ in some areas that could help you set up, plus there’s funding that you can access to get started – to get technical advice, produce a feasibility study and business plan, work out the best legal structure and incorporate. ‘Community land trust’ is not itself a legal form, which could be one of various types of not-for-profit – the most popular of which are community benefit company, community interest company (CIC) and company limited by guarantee limited charity. See here for the pros and cons of each of these forms.
NB: a CLT can’t be a co-operative society because it is set up for the benefit of its community, whereas a co-op is set up for the benefit of its members.
3. Manage and run a CLT
There are further sources of funding after you’ve set up – to investigate sites, to do further planning etc. But the CLT Network can guide you at every point in your development, including sources of funding.
You need to work constantly to build support and membership locally – after all, CLTs exist to provide benefit for the community as a whole, not just for part of it. This will be helpful when it comes to planning applications, for example. Also, stay in close contact with your local authority and with a neighbourhood planning group if there is one (you may be able to help them achieve their aims).
Good governance is all-important. This is best achieved by having a board consisting of people with a wide range of skills, including finance, planning and law, as well as a knowledge of business and the local area. Membership of the CLT Network gives access to handbooks, health checks and specific advice on management and governance of a CLT, plus customer care etc.
See here for many more resources on setting up and running a CLT.