My story: Building dreams in property

My story: Building dreams in property

Updated: 24 May 2006

By BBC Action Network team

Campaigner Richard Clarke
Richard Clarke is helping people to get on the housing ladder in Etwall in South Derbyshire. He’s pushing for a community land trust which would give people outright land ownership to build affordable homes.

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The idea of community land trusts (CLTs) came from the US, and around 100 years ago the first known CLT in the UK was in Hertfordshire. The aim was to ensure that profits made by the Letchworth Garden City estate would be ploughed back into the community.

CLTs consist of people in a local community who can choose how they want to use the land. Examples can include housing, schools, business units, a shopping centre or even a farm. I think this is an excellent way to get local people involved in creating local solutions. It also encourages active citizenship, without the need for public subsidies.

Housing needs

If a CLT decides to build homes on the land, there is an agreement stating that sell-offs for individual profit isn’t allowed. If you later decide to leave the property, you must share the equity with the new owners. This keeps the ownership within the trust.

I became interested in CLTs a couple of years ago when I started working for the Building and Social Housing Foundation, an organisation that promotes sustainable development and innovation in housing. But when work took on another project, my interest in CLTs remained, and I developed a passion for it.

I have been encouraging my local parish council in Etwall to start a CLT but it’s proving quite difficult. The council say they don’t want social housing. But local people are becoming interested in having a CLT in the area. So the parish council is planning to produce a housing needs survey which sounds hopeful.

Planning setback

We did suffer a big knock. In High Bickington in Devon, the entire community wanted to join a CLT. Locals wanted to build affordable housing and a new school. They sent a planning application to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, now the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The plan even impressed Prince Charles who sited it as a model of best practice. But the DCLG later rejected the plan for breaching guidelines. I think this contradicts local planning policy for promoting affordable housing.

CLTs can provide affordable housing
My main aim is to have CLTs up and down the country. Through the campaign I have met so many people who want to know more about starting a CLT. I have also been asked to write articles and attend conferences both here and in the US.

I believe CLTs could help the government save money on affordable housing provision, but a big problem is trying to persuade them that it is a good idea. I have spoken to government policy advisors who have given me positive responses, but action is still slow.

I think CLTs need a high-profiled government minister to fully back the scheme. This is what happened in the US, where a member of congress convinced the local government to give $250,000 to start the scheme off in Burlington, Vermont. But once the British government realises its potential, CLTs will definitely become a way of life in the future.

To find out more about CLTs, view my campaign here: