Community action for affordable London homes

Housing
United Kingdom

An inner-city neighbourhood in north London has a radical plan to fight gentrification by setting up Britain’s biggest-ever Community Land Trust (CLT).

The residents of Camley Street in Camden live within walking distance of luxury flats in King’s Cross, where rapid gentrification has seen house prices sky-rocket.

‘There was growing concern with the “Manhattan walking up the street”,’ said Christian Spencer-Davies, in reference to two recently erected student accommodation towers in the Camley Street area.

Spencer-Davies, who runs a local business, is one of the leaders of the ambitious initiative to set up a CLT to buy land from Camden Council and develop it in the interests of the residents.

The group proposes a visionary, community-led, community-owned building scheme over a 10-year period. The project would deliver sustainable and affordable buildings for both housing and industry, with additional green spaces, including roofs that double up as public parks.

Overall, the plan includes providing up to 900 homes; for around 50 per cent of them, prices to rent (or buy over time) would be capped at no higher than a third of average local incomes, rather than at market rates.

Residents and businesses in Camley Street, a largely working-class neighbourhood, feared being priced out of the area after student flats appeared and industry buildings were knocked down.

‘We recognized the threat,’ said Spencer-Davies. ‘People are at risk of being evicted so that everything can be transformed. There was no point sitting and waiting.’

Pension funds, attracted by long-term yields and the sustainability of the project, have expressed a strong interest in investing the necessary $984 million in upfront funding.

The group in Camley Street is now waiting on a response to its submission from the Labour-controlled Camden Council.

Spencer-Davies believes the balance is tipping in their favour. ‘I think it’s a yo-yo between 60 and 90 per cent that it will happen,’ he said.

‘It would be about 20 or 30 times bigger than anything ever done,’ said Stephen Hill, of the Camley Street plans. A board member of the National Community Land Trust Network, Hill has seen the sector grow six-fold since 2010. ‘CLTs give people who are angry about housing an opportunity to really do something about it.’

CLTs started over a decade ago, mainly in small rural communities. The past five years have seen the idea spread to urban communities. Some 225 CLTs are now in existence – Brixton Green CLT just got the green light to build 300 homes, half of them affordable.

New Internationalist issue 505 magazine cover This article is from the September 2017 issue of New Internationalist.
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