Community Land Trusts: A Solution to the Housing Crisis?

That Haslemere and surrounding villages are on the sharp end of the national housing crisis takes a while to sink in. Our leafy lanes cannot be the scene of a crisis, saving some pretty tense scuffles over parent and child parking bays. Yet evidence of younger age groups leaving the area is clear. 15% declines in the 30-35 year old group alone are in the main attributed to difficulties finding family homes at reasonable cost. In reality the figures are likely to be higher: with almost 50% of property purchases historically made by London buyers (many of the same age with young families of their own) the real figures of local young are leaving are probably hidden by commuter replacements.

It is difficult for those in local jobs to compete with commuter salaries, so it is our dental nurses, carers, hairdressers, retail workers and the like who are faced with tough choices on whether to move out of the area in which they grew up. 71% of respondents to a Waverley survey of local employers highlighted a lack of housing that people can afford in the local area as having a great deal of negative impact on their ability to recruit or retain staff.

Affordable housing is the phrase oft bandied about as the solution, but many view the phrase with suspicion – does it really mean council estates or ugly/flimsy construction? Well no, it doesn’t. It simply means any housing that receives funding that in some way enables it to be supplied at 80% or less than market rates. This includes homes for those on the register for social housing as well as a variety of schemes to provide homes rented at below market rates or sold under a variety of subsidised and joint ownership schemes e.g. part rent-part buy.

Builds of affordable homes are usually funded via profits from larger open market developments e.g. the proposed Sturt Farm development south of Haslemere station has promised approximately 54 affordable homes within walking distance of local amenities and public transport (so people on lower incomes don’t have to budget for a car as well). This approach makes use of economies of scale to lower build costs and integrates different types of housing together, but sites in this area are rarely big enough to accommodate additional homes, especially not in central areas.

Developing brownfield sites within settlement boundaries will provide funding for a few more affordable homes but allowing big developments that would provide significantly more are likely to expand settlement boundaries into countryside and this is unlikely to win community support (understatement of the year). When land is as scarce as it is in this area, surrounded as it is by steep hillsides and beautiful countryside, the community may need to think beyond what is usually done. So what other options are there? Matthew Bowcock of Haslemere Vision says “residents could combine to form a Community Land Trust (CLT) to develop and manage homes, ensuring they are truly affordable based on what people earn in the area, not just for today but in perpetuity”.

This is cutting edge stuff (50% of the 170 CLTs nationwide have formed in the last 2 years) but also a practical umbrella under which communities can club together to fund, design and manage builds such as affordable housing, new community facilities or even a pub or other business premises. CLTs can be used to purchase and develop self-build plots as per the Ashley Vale development in Bristol ( featured on Channel Four’s Grand Designs program (current series).

Taking control of projects as ‘amateurs’ rather than professionals experienced in maximizing use of space may be daunting to some, exciting to others. The change in focus away from profit means developments can be affordable even without the benefits of experience and scale. If residents are interested in investing their time, a CLT solution may be very relevant to our situation. In addition, the community and local land owners may be more interested in supporting development led by a CLT, which is more likely to explore innovation, variety and to have a distinct local character.

The questions of affordable housing and CLTs are asked in the Housing Consultation landing on your doorstep on 7th September. The Consultation is a huge opportunity to influence the future of the area and we hope every resident takes the time to express their views.

Download or fill it in now at

Crowd In or Crowd Out?

Of all the issues confronting Haslemere Vision it is housing which generates the most heat. In the last quarter century the built appearance of the area has changed significantly as its unique qualities of substantially unspoilt countryside and varied and appealing architecture have made it a highly desirable place to live for those fortunate enough to be able to aspire to buy a house here. Houses have been built in many gardens and odd corners and re-development has provided more housing units so the overall density has risen significantly.

It is ‘quality of life’ in the work/life balance that has led to this. Ready access to London for work and recreation has provided the stimulus. A healthy environment, good schools and the greatest concentration of National Trust owned (and thus inalienable) land in the country adds to the attraction.

Many of our local employment sites have been redeveloped in the pursuit of ‘highest economic value’ housing to meet demand. However the natural constraints of the place suggest the limits of ‘Town cramming’ have almost been reached. The narrow lanes, the dense woodland and the fresh-water springs which gave rise to the settlement in the first place provide significant obstacles to more development.

Demand for housing continues however. Haslemere Vision’s population projections suggest we need between 700-1200+ homes (between 2013 and 2031) to house all those growing up in the area. The lower figure is based on conservative population projections (slower growth than current levels) and a higher number of people per household – the higher figure vice versa. There will be some reduction in the figures to consider as not all our young people will want to live here, however real market demand is likely to be significantly higher as buyers from the London area historically account for almost 50% of purchases.

There are currently 6879 homes in the area, of which 4407 (64%) have 3+ bedrooms: ‘family’ homes. There are high single occupancy rates (mostly elderly) in these homes and only 87 of them are considered affordable. An affordable property should be available to rent or buy at 70-80% of the open market price based on local salaries versus costs of rent or mortgage. In this area, affordability is low and local workers and the young are priced out, finding it difficult to find a place to live.

Of the 1575 two bed homes, 123 are considered affordable and lastly, there are 917 one beds, with 238 being affordable. There are at least 200 more affordable homes needed before 2031 and getting these homes built presents one of the biggest challenges.

Not unreasonably Waverley Borough Council will look to the area to help meet current demands for housing and with limited options some difficult decisions will be made. The recently decided case of Sturt Farm presented several planning challenges. The strip of land in question (running alongside Sun Brow and the Sickle Mill Estate) is not ‘Greenbelt’ but it was designated an ‘area of natural beauty’ and an ‘area of landscape value’ – in part due to its elevation and subsequent effect on the silhouette of the town. These protections have been set aside (the first time this has ever happened in Waverley) to allow 135 new homes to be built, with the proviso that the green silhouette is preserved and the rest of the greenspace is allocated for leisure and dog walking.

The success of the application was probably due to two main factors: the application promised 40% (54) of the houses would be ‘affordable’ and the central location of the land makes the site ‘sustainable’ in that it is within walking distance of public transport, shops and amenities.

The ‘case against’ depended in part upon the likely flooding consequences for existing housing and the need to safeguard pure water supplies which meet the local needs. Additional considerations included the traffic load and access via the minor road which is to serve the site.

It is this tension arising from conflicting interests and concerns which increasingly features in planning decisions. Proximity to the rail network is key and the cry of sustainability may justify a re-appraisal of hitherto sacrosanct areas. How long can the special low density areas be defended against the clamour for more housing in central areas? At what point is the unique character of the town considered to be worth sacrificing in the interests of meeting housing need?

While this debate may be uncomfortable for many it is unarguable that increases in population have to be housed somewhere. Downsizers and young people need new places to settle – preferably centrally if we are to alleviate pressure on our roads and encourage foot traffic in retail areas.

It may be tempting to some to cram housing into as little space as possible to avoid taking any more of our precious green spaces, but we must also consider quality of life for those who will live in them. A review on behalf of the Royal Institute of British Architects found the average size of new one bedroom homes was 46sqm: 4sqm short of the recommended minimum for a one bedroom home for two residents. It doesn’t sound much, but 4sqm is the equivalent of a single bed, a bedside table and a dressing table with a stool. It is the space that allows you to work at home at the computer in the day and also have an extra sofa when you’ve got friends round in the evening.

There is little attraction in flats with tiny rooms, lots of people and inadequate parking provision. If we are to provide housing to meet demand without detriment to the area, new ideas should be considered. Mandatory underground parking and/or community consultations on larger developments, higher build standards and Community Land Trusts are just some of things that the community can look at.

These are the questions asked in the Housing Consultation landing on your doorstep on 7th September. The Consultation is a huge opportunity to influence the future of the area and we hope every resident takes the time to express their views.

Download or fill it in now at

Should housing be prioritized over local employment space?

Starting on September 7th 2015 Haslemere Vision will seek your opinion on the growing pressures on land use in the town and villages in its Stage 2 Consultation on Housing and Land Use, which will be circulated to all homes in the area.

There can be little doubt that trying to satisfy the growth in demand for housing is a key issue facing the community. The scale of the problem has been fuelled by the internally generated growth in population added to which has been the inflow of new residents attracted to live in Haslemere. In fact, since 1980, the population of the town has grown faster than at any previous time, even including the period when the town was transformed by the railway age. But it has not stopped there; local demographic factors alone will generate a high level of demand for housing through to 2031.

Housing, however, is not the only element exercising a claim on space. A large majority of respondents to Haslemere Vision’s Stage 1 Consultation in summer 2014 wanted to, at least, maintain the amount of land used for employment, rather designating it all for housing. The problem is that virtually the only major sites available for housing in the Town are brownfield sites currently or previously used by commerce or industry. Each of the sites will be included in the Housing and Land Use Consultation, including the Baron’s Garage site in Hindhead and the boarded up land at 5-21 Wey Hill. While some of these sites already have planning approval for housing or a mixed development, the September Consultation is eager to solicit residents’ views on the nature and mix of development which is being proposed.

The change in local land usage over time largely reflects what has happened elsewhere in the UK, with a general contraction of industry but, because of other pressures on space in Haslemere, the town now has less vacant space available for industry than the other towns in the area, according to a recent survey for Waverley Borough Council. However, while the area’s industrial core has been reduced, it is now, arguably, more vibrant as it is based on a broad selection of service sectors with retailing being dominant.

But there can be no room for complacency. Decline in local employment seems to be gaining traction particularly on the high street. Competition from the internet (particularly with the growth of on–line shopping) and the expansion of regional shopping centres will continue to change the shape of the high street over time. The recent announcement that a Haslemere bank is to close, as a result of the growth in on-line banking, is evidence of the competitive forces at work but it is not all one way traffic, as evidenced by the announcement that M & S will shortly open a new food store in the Town. In such a swift changing environment it is perhaps prudent that, while promoting broad planning guide lines that encourage the retention of employment land, some “flexibility” is allowed.

In this context, while we may want to insure against a further reduction of land used for employment purposes, the first floor space of some retail designated properties, which have little commercial value, could be converted into small flats. On the other hand, allowing the subdivision of some large units could provide a launch pad for new enterprises to expand. Why should we hope that this may happen?.… because the town has a possibly a greater reservoir of new businesses than many places in the UK. The 2011 Census recorded that 17% of the town’s work force worked from home, substantially higher than the national average. While some may be self-employed, older people coasting towards retirement, there are undoubtedly many creating their own enterprises, which, given the right incentive’s, may provide the seed corn for the future. In this context, it is good to see that the Chamber of Commerce is trying to launch a business hub for newly formed businesses.

The future for Haslemere is in our hands and despite uncertainties, it looks good.

Have your say by responding to the Haslemere Vision Consultation Document that you will receive in September. What you say will be taken into account when preparing the Neighbourhood Plan for Haslemere and the villages.

It’s our town and our villages and it’s up to us!