Calder Valley Community Land Trust – new housing solutions for Hebden Bridge

Sustainable homes for a vibrant future

In an area once blighted by industrial decline, Hebden Bridge is regenerating for a new and vibrant future. At the heart of this reinvigoration is Calder Valley Community Land Trust, working to create sustainable and affordable housing designed to meet the needs of the community.

Their project exemplifies community-led development, which is a way of delivering building projects that the local community wants. This includes schemes that the private development sector would be unlikely, unwilling or unable to deliver. It also enables a much more participatory approach to development, with members of the local community actively engaged in leading or influencing the scheme at all stages.

Decline and regeneration

As with many areas that developed around the growth of traditional industries, Calder Valley went through a period of industrial decline through the later twentieth century. The textile industry waned in the 1960s and 70s and the area suffered from consequent depopulation.

The challenge in such areas is in how to diversify and transform the local economy, so that losses in traditional manufacturing jobs can be balanced by attracting investment in new kinds of employment. Hebden Bridge, like other areas, recognised this challenge and in fact, the fortunes of the area have now changed significantly.

The area has regenerated and become recognised as a pocket of ‘metropolitan life’, tending to attract a younger population in particular. Its popularity is reflected in having higher land and property values compared to Yorkshire in general, but this has also created new challenges. So while Hebden Bridge is an attractive place for younger people, its higher rental and sales values makes it challenging in terms of access to housing.

Calder Valley’s towns have been described as regenerating ‘from the bottom up’. Hebden Bridge Town Hall was the first asset transfer in the country, with a charitable body taking on the building. Thus, the community-led approach was already embodied in the area when the Community Land Trust (CLT) came into being.

Establishing the CLT

Following around a year in planning, Calder Valley Community Land Trust Ltd was established in 2014 as a community benefit society in Calderdale, West Yorkshire. It aims to serve the communities of Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd. The focus of CVCLT is on community-led development to provide affordable housing and on holding land and buildings on behalf of the community.

CVCLT has been brought into being through the joint efforts of Todmorden Pride and Hebden Bridge Partnership (the two town partnership organisations, representing voluntary organisations locally). Local people came together to discuss the idea of establishing a local community land trust. As CVCLT states:

“We were keen to demonstrate that our communities could make a real difference in helping create new homes on our own terms, and not simply on terms imposed by external developers. We thought there would be support locally for the idea of a CLT.

“CVCLT was incorporated as a community benefit society in November 2014 and has since gained charitable status.

” We were right. Those early meetings led to our formal launch (in Todmorden and Hebden Bridge) in September 2014 …”

Community motivations

The decision to establish a CLT was based on them being a tried and tested model that had worked well in other towns in Britain. A CLT is a charitable body under direct community control. This fitted the requirements for the Calder Valley very well.

Calder Valley’s shortage of affordable rental housing was a key factor in establishing the CVCLT. Hebden Bridge Partnership (the community-led town team) had prepared a local strategy, proposing new housing. Part of the motivation for establishing CVCLT was the desire for the community to do something for themselves in providing housing, rather than just relying on the commercial market.

Indeed, the focus of CVCLT is on housing. This complements the work of Hebden Bridge Partnership, which is focused on wider economic development. For community organisations, it is useful to be aware of the wider strategic context and of work being undertaken by other public and third sector bodies. This helps to ensure that different initiatives by different bodies complement each other as much as possible, to meet the needs of the local area.

CVCLT’s vision is securing a vibrant future for all in the Calder Valley by holding land and buildings sustainably on behalf of the community.

Trustees and membership

The project has an underlying ethos of the community providing for itself.  The CLT wants to create houses for people to be proud of. To make this work, it was essential to attract trustees with a range of skills and experience.

Trustees elected at the AGM in 2015 included a chartered surveyor, writer and journalist, housing consultant, architect and lecturer, local government officer, joinery business owner, a charitable trust director, manager from a social housing organisation, biochemist and researcher, and a civil engineer and lecturer. Thus, there was experience of governance and third sector organisations, but also of development and housing. This balance of skills on the Board is considered of key importance in making the CVCLT effective.

CVCLT is a member-led organisation. It has more than 60 members, who elect the ten trustees. In its 2016 annual report, the CLT stated:

“We have, we think, achieved a lot in our first year … our sights now are firmly on the future, not the past. We have three projects well underway, and are regularly being approached to consider other ventures. We are, we hope, beginning to make a difference.”

Other projects

In addition to the Hebden Bridge housing scheme, CVCLT is involved in two other significant projects.

The Fielden Centre in Todmorden is a Grade II listed former art school, which was gifted to the CLT by the previous private owners. The building has been restored. The CLT works very closely with the Fielden Centre Association charity, which manages and operates the building which is available for hire for a range of functions, by businesses or community groups.

The CLT has entered into partnership with the local Todmorden Almshouse charity, John Eastwood Homes, for a development project in Walsden. This involves the building of six two-bedroom bungalows for independent living.

The aim is for the bungalows to be models of sustainable, environmentally friendly construction. The scheme will complement twelve bungalows that John Eastwood has built previously. Calderdale Council transferred the land to CLT in 2016. Building work is expected to be well advanced during 2017.

Sustainability policy

To guide its projects, CVCLT has prepared and adopted a Sustainability Policy. This covers many aspects of sustainable design and construction. The first commitment and principle is:

‘to use Bioregional’s 10 Principles of One Planet Living as a framework for delivering on our sustainability commitments.’

These principles deal with a range of issues, including health, employment, culture, habitats, water use, food, sustainable materials, transport and waste.

Selection of the site

This is a brownfield site, which was previously occupied by housing demolished as part of slum clearance programmes in the 1960s. The site is roughly triangular and lies to the west of Hebden Bridge Town Centre, between the A646 and Heptonstall Road.

One of the challenges in redeveloping the site is the topography. There is a considerable slope on the land. Houses need to ‘cling to the hillside’. Also Hebden Bridge flooded in 2015. These factors make the site relatively unattractive to commercial developers and was part of the reason for choosing the site.

CVCLT’s approach is to see if housing can be brought back to parts of the town that were once built-up. Their main focus has been on the High Street area, which was once a major area of housing, until the aforementioned slum clearances of the 60’s.

A glimpse into the future

The brownfield status of the site and the location, within easy walking distance of the town centre, make this a good and sustainable location for housing.

Another factor in selecting the site was community engagement. In November 2014, open workshops were held at Hebden Bridge Town Hall. This explored whether the public was supportive of the idea of setting up a CLT. But also, the public was asked to help suggest sites that would be suitable for housing. This led to the High Street site being identified.

CVCLT has a good relationship with Calderdale Council.  The Hebden Bridge site and another site in Todmorden were both in the ownership of the local authority, but are being transferred to the CLT at nil cost. By making the sites available on this basis, the local authority is able to make affordable housing far more viable, by removing land costs from the equation.

This is an enlightened approach by the local authority. As budgets tighten, the focus of many local authorities is on maximising receipts through the disposal of building and land assets. By making the land available, Calderdale Council is enabling regeneration through the development of affordable housing, with the associated social, economic and environmental benefits that it brings.

Housing and community facilities

The project is still at a developmental stage, but is described in the following terms:

’20 local households would benefit directly from the project in terms of having housing provided, and we also plan to incorporate elements into the site to benefit the wider community, including green space, allotments, community meeting space.’

So the intention is to support the new housing and the wider community through a mixed-use approach, including community facilities. This is clearly important in creating sustainable neighbourhoods.

There a widely held view among the local population that young people cannot afford to live in the area. Data from home.co.uk supports this view, showing median rents as follows:

  • Hebden Bridge £599
  • Todmorden £495
  • Sowerby Bridge £476.

The for-sale market demonstrates similar characteristics, so affordability is an important part of the scheme.

High Street Hebden Bridge
High Street Hebden Bridge

Front cover of CVCLT’s discussion document, ‘High Street Hebden Bridge – The Past and The Future?’

Map of the site in Hebden Bridge
Map of the site in Hebden Bridge

Map of the site in Hebden Bridge, showing the previous housing before it was demolished (taken from CVCLT’s document, ‘High Street Hebden Bridge – The Past and The Future?’)

The value of grant support

A common problem with community-led development is the cost of feasibility studies and of professional fees from design schemes to planning stage. For community projects, it is essential to establish feasibility before taking on sites. Also, many funders require schemes to have been designed and to have planning permissions in place, before awarding grants. This creates a dilemma as there are obviously costs associated with proceeding to a stage at which grants can be obtained.

The Community-led Buildings fund, managed by Locality on behalf of the Department for Communities and Local Government, provides a practical solution.

Pre-feasibility grants cover feasibility studies, whilst further funding is available for project development costs. This includes professional fees for things like survey works, design, project cost estimates, and other expenses. Grants from this programme were obtained by CVCLT to consider feasibility and then for designing and costing the scheme.

Financial support

  • Community Buildings (DCLG) £47,700
  • National CLT Network – £4615
  • Community Foundation for Calderdale – £4300
  • Todmorden Pride – £300
  • Hebden Bridge Partnership – £300

The pre-feasibility grant enabled the commissioning of initial survey, engineering and design works for this site. This initial stage included the following elements:

  • Geo-environmental desk-based survey
  • Flood risk assessment
  • Structural engineering input
  • Full topographical survey
  • Architectural initial concepts and options
  • Community engagement.

The various surveys were aimed at establishing that the site was capable of being developed and to identify specific site issues that would need to be addressed. The engineering input was very important, given the site’s topography and the consequent challenges in making development stable.

The architect input at this stage was fairly conceptual, looking at options for the site, which could then be considered through community engagement.

The following Project Support grant enabled further site investigation, detailed design work, and market testing and analysis. This analysis included consideration of unit sizes and build costs. The main elements of this stage were:

  • Architectural design
  • Community consultation
  • Quantity surveyor fees
  • Highways liaison, including consideration of traffic management issues
  • Planning liaison
  • Project management

A project manager leads the current project development work and this role was included in the funding application, to provide overall project coordination on behalf of the CLT. This is essential where the capacity of volunteers is limited.

The architectural team was tasked to develop the scheme to a level of detail required for planning applications. In addition, the architect team is closely involved in liaising with the local authority on planning and highways matters.

Selecting professional consultants

Given the diversity of skills needed to undertake the different elements of the pre-feasibility work, consultants were procured separately rather than tendering the works collectively. In this instance, this was considered to be the best approach to securing the different elements of the pre-feasibility work within the necessary timeframe and budget.

In commissioning professional services for development projects, it is essential to select consultants with the necessary skills and experience. Care is requiring in writing briefs for the works, setting out clearly what is required, and the skills and experience necessary to undertake the work. Appointing under-skilled professional teams in the interests of cost-cutting can be an expensive mistake.

In commissioning professional services for development projects, it is essential to select consultants with the necessary skills and experience. Care is requiring in writing briefs for the works, setting out clearly what is required, and the skills and experience necessary to undertake the work. Appointing under-skilled professional teams in the interests of cost-cutting can be an expensive mistake.

An alternative approach is to invite tenders from lead consultants, which would then put together a team of sub-contractors. Quite often, the architects lead such coalitions. This can be simpler to manage, as the lead consultant is then responsible for managing the other contractors. However, for the Hebden Bridge pre-feasibility stage, this was considered to be over-complicated given the small amount of money involved. Also, one of the consultants selected was able to advise on the selection of other consultants with the necessary skills to undertake different elements of the work.

CVCLT was very clear on the need for the selection of architects to include consideration of their ability to work collaboratively, involving the local community in the design process. The same firm of architects was used at the pre-feasibility stage and then to develop the project for planning submission. However, there were separate tenders for each stage.

Careful consideration should generally be given over whether it is necessary to retender. There are clear advantages in continuity. In this instance, the architects already had in-depth knowledge of the site and of the aspirations and required outcomes of the project.

For the design stage undertaken using the second grant, different consultants were procured separately, as with the pre-feasibility stage. The project manager was procured on a consultancy basis, not through direct employment. As mentioned, the architects that had been involved at the pre-feasibility stage also won the tender to undertake the detailed design works. The quantity surveyor appointed had worked previously on a local community project involving the local town hall, an asset transfer.

Design and Planning

CVCLT recognises that design is very important to delivering successful projects and the adoption of a sustainability policy is aimed at achieving sustainable development and considering innovative construction techniques and materials. This can lead to long-term reductions in energy consumption and running costs.

Contemporary terrace design
Contemporary terrace design

As always, there is tension between working within the confines of finite budgets, whilst achieving sustainable design. This can involve value engineering, where savings are made on less crucial parts of the development.

Good design is not just about creating sustainable and fit-for-purpose buildings, but ensuring that places work. This can include consideration of a wide range of issues, like pedestrian movement, safety and the creation of well-functioning streets and spaces.

Further engagement is planned with the local community, before the scheme is finalised and a planning application is prepared. The aim is to deal with planning consents during 2017. Contracts for the construction stage are proposed to be issued in 2018.

Community engagement

CVCLT recognised that community engagement was essential from the earliest stages of the project. The CLT’s ethos is that the community can take control:

“As a charity run entirely for community benefit, we intend to go out of our way to involve the community in our plans and in ensuring that the houses which are built are those which local people want to see.”

Two workshops were organised for Hebden Bridge at an early stage of the project. By engaging early on, the community’s aspirations could be written into the project to inform the design process. This contrasts with common, poor practice where the community is consulted after the detailed design stage, when there is far less scope to influence the development.

A very wide range of issues was identified but some key points centred on the need for affordable housing, use of sustainable construction and the need to meet a range of local needs. The CLT has also been sounding out younger people and local housing bodies. A community share issue is being considered as a way for raising funds for the development.

In February 2016, following the pre-feasibility study, CVCLT held more open workshops to test whether there was public support for the proposed housing. The work of the pre-feasibility stage was presented to the people of Hebden Bridge and their views were sought in terms of housing, sustainability, community facilities and other factors. The workshops were well attended and helped to provide clarity on how to move forward.

Potential community facilities were identified by the consultation and these included: workshop/studios, shared facilities such as a laundry, shared building for community use, storage space, park area for children, gardens/green space with trees, covered areas to get out of the rain, fire pit, public art, allotments/orchard, and bike shed.

There were some concerns raised too, and these are being addressed in the current feasibility and design stage: community engagement, what is to be built, the scale and massing, and potential impact on current greenspace, neighbours and townscape, buildability and access issues, environmental issues, and loss of amenity.

The engagement process and general publicity of the project has identified a strong level of support from with the wider community, including CVLT members, the wider public and local councillors.

More consultation sessions took place in early 2017 and a report-back consultation session is planned. In taking forward the project forward, CVCLT has been keen both to consult with the local community, and also to engage them in a process of collaborative design, working with the design team.

Community engagement_CVCLT_2
Community engagement, image courtesy of CVCLT

 

Community engagement_CVCLT
Community engagement, courtesy of CVCLT

Project management

The CLT has a strong board of trustees with a wide range of skills and experience. However, there is also a capacity issue as is often the case with people who are working voluntarily. Possible solutions to this could include employing paid staff or developing partnerships.

For this project, the employment of a project manager is a practical solution. As mentioned, the role was included in the funding application. This brings in both skills and capacity to help deliver the project.

CVCLT intends to retain the freehold of the site, ensuring that it is managed as a community asset in the long term. However, to manage the lettings they may seek to work with an experienced estates manager, such as a Registered Provider (previously termed Registered Social Landlords).

There is a possibility that a Registered Provider could also be a development partner for the CLT. This could be a way of bringing in useful experience of the development process.

Good practice points

CVCLT was asked about advice it would give to others considering similar projects. Their responses were insightful:

  • Just do it, but be prepared for hard work, the long haul and for setbacks
  • Cling to the underlying purpose and vision of the project
  • Strong leadership and governance are essential
  • The Board must have the necessary range of skills and experience
  • Learn from the experience of other, similar organisations
  • Make use of networks and of support organisations such as Locality and the CLT network
  • Find out about any local strategies and any projects being done by other local organisations
  • Community and stakeholder engagement are essential if projects are to be effective, to meet local need and gain community support
  • It is important to consider project management when preparing funding bids
  • Consider partnering with experienced housing providers in order to bring in the necessary skills
  • Acquiring land on a no-cost basis makes affordable housing far more feasible. This can include asset transfer of local authority land (or buildings)
  • The feasibility study is essential before proceeding, to make sure a scheme is viable
  • Good design is crucial to achieving effective, successful and sustainable projects.