Ripples usually start with a splash in the centre and spread outwards. The way interest in community land trusts is spreading shows a reverse ripple effect, spreading from the margins and starting to make waves in Westminster.

Draw a map of the places where communities are battling to find new ways of providing homes and assets for local people and you’ll see the peripheral places coming to the fore: Devon and Cornwall, Cumbria, Lincolnshire.

And for those who might want to dismiss this emerging movement as the bubblings of a bucolic backwater, there’s growing evidence that community ownership of land and assets is seen as a solution in the marginalised urban areas too: Shoreditch, Hartlepool, Liverpool.

Like every emerging movement, the community land trust contingent has its share of anoraks. It also has its share of lawyers and lenders, who, with the best will in the world, risk drowning the vision in technicalities.

We need to look beyond that and grasp what this is all about. What is striking is the way local organisations, most of them without recourse to public funding, are looking to take their future into their own hands.

They are doing so because experience tells them that the housing and labour markets create just as many problems as solutions: house prices beyond the reach of people in modestly paid work, community assets like shops, village halls and post offices at the mercy of speculators and short-termists.

Community land trusts offer a way of creating assets that are accessible to local people in perpetuity, protected to a large extent from the feverish distortions of the market and the fickleness of public policy. No wonder the appeal is so wide.

The good news is that politicians have now cottoned on that this could be a vote-winner. Tory, Liberal Democrat and Labour spokespeople have all made encouraging noises. You might wonder why it’s taken so long for the penny to drop at the DCLG [1], but now that it has, let’s make the most of the opportunity the promised consultation offers.

The promises now need to be transformed into action. Most of those looking to set up CLTs are wise enough to see beyond the gushing of politicians with one eye on the next election.

The new Homes and Communities Agency provides an opportunity to factor in real and continuing support that will be acceptable to all parties. It’s time to move from warm words to negotiation.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine

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Notes Edit

  1. Communities and Local Government (Government Dept.)

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