Build homes better

BedZED (Sutton)
Right now, we’re not building enough homes in the UK of the right kind, in the right place, at the right price, to meet our housing needs. As think tank New Local makes clear in its recent report Housing Beyond Markets and State, that’s because our current planning system is broken.

Local planning authorities, urges New Local, “should be given the chance to let communities say ‘Yes’. Communities should be involved in street-level planning and consensus decision-making.”
One way that communities can have genuine influence on local development is through Community Review Panels (CRP). “This approach is an alternative to the standard models of developer engagement and local consultation which are often adversarial,” says the report. One such CRP is the Southwark Review Panel, set up to bring together people who know Old Kent Road well and who want to contribute to its 20-year regeneration programme. This new development will create 20,000 new homes, schools, parks and community facilities, and should generate 10,000 new jobs.

Cohousing is another approach where people to come together to build a neighbourhood. While cohousing has a big focus on living communally, it’s not a commune! Cohousing residents have their own homes which surround shared spaces where people can meet, eat together and share resources when they choose. For example, Lancaster Cohousing was originally a modest cohousing idea shared between friends and Green Party activists, which blossomed into an £8 million development of 41 ‘Passivhaus’ eco-homes and communal facilities.

Communities can also create affordable, sustainable homes by setting up a Community Land Trust (CLT) – a non-profit organisation that owns and develops land for the benefit of the community. An inspiring example is the Lune Valley CLT, in Halton, Lancashire, set up in early 2018 and currently developing a community of 20 affordable Passivhaus homes, in partnership with South Lakes Housing and supported by Lancaster City Council. The high quality, low-carbon buildings will provide a mix of shared ownership and affordable rent, and priority access will be given to local people.

What can you do, given our broken planning system? Communities can still have real influence on local developments by taking some of the alternative pathways described.
Crawley Borough Council Crawley Borough Council
Start something new…

If you have the time and energy to take on a community housing project and build homes in a better way, get together a group of like-minded people where you live and seek guidance from existing schemes, including the ones we’ve described here. Our advice in Lancaster Cohousing’s story is a great place to start!

myCommunity has also published an excellent step-by-step guide to developing a community-led building project and The Stable Company has produced a guide to potential funding to see it through to fruition.

Want to see more? Check out the initiatives people have shared about our built environment.

… or join an existing community project:

Housing projects are massive things and it’s understandable if you’d rather join one that’s already happening. If community land trusts have caught your imagination, there are hundreds around England and Wales in the planning stage or being built. Have a look at the map produced by the Community Land Trust Network to find out if there’s a scheme in your area.

A simpler idea, especially if you live in a village or more rural area, is to volunteer to help run your community hall. These hubs of community life rely upon volunteer committees to organise them and many committees are now examining how to make their hall more sustainable.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to be an expert in construction or sustainability: a whole range of skills is needed to guarantee the success of projects like these and it’ll also be possible to learn as you go.

Other related community actions: Insulate our homes, Install low-carbon heating

What do we mean by community action?
23 community actions