Identifying land or buildings for community-led housing

Securing land or buildings will underpin your business planning and bring your community-led housing project to life. It all depends on whether you own or manage the land/buildings in question, or if you are required to purchase or transfer the land/buildings.

Securing land or buildings can be a lengthy and complicated process – often with no guarantee of success – so it is recommended that you cover this area before any significant time or resources are put into project planning.

You do not own the land/buildings

Securing land or buildings can be a lengthy and complicated process – often with no guarantee of success.

We’re outlining two options for acquiring land/buildings:

Option agreement

An ‘option agreement’ gives your community group the future opportunity to buy a piece of land or property. It’s an agreement with the land owner that will also fix the future purchase price and is generally time limited. You will probably need to put down a deposit and if you don’t go through with the deal in the allotted time, this deposit is normally lost. The important thing is that the option agreement can buy your group some time to develop plans and raise the funds to deliver your project. Then when everything is in place, you can take up the option to buy the land.

What to consider when searching for suitable land or buildings

Considerations for land/buildings
Considerations for land/buildings

Checking the status of land/buildings

Asset transfer

Community Asset Transfer involves the transfer of ownership and/or management of land or buildings from a statutory body (such as a local council) to a community based organisation or group (such as a charity or CIC) at less than market value for local social, economic or environmental benefit.

A number of public bodies, in particular local authorities, have the power to dispose of land and buildings at less than market value where they are able to show that doing so will result in local improvements to social, economic or environmental wellbeing. The legislation that allows local authorities to do this is the General Disposal Consent (England) 2003.

There are also examples of local authorities disposing of land or housing on an ad hoc basis based on their desire to generate more housing. Both Liverpool and Middlesbrough local authorities have transferred vacant properties at virtually no cost, to local organisations wanting to provide housing, and there are also examples of land being transferred at no cost or below market value.

You can read more about Asset Transfer here.

You own or manage the land/buildings

If your group owns or manages the land/buildings that have been identified to be a part of your community-led housing project, then you can move on to the feasibility studies.

Is my project feasible?

A feasibility study is about taking a rational and level headed view of whether your ideas actually stack up in financial terms; whether it is likely to achieve planning permission and so on. Someone needs to sit down and work through the various possibilities posed by the project to identify which one in the most likely to succeed when all critical factors are taken into account. It is at this point that a formal site appraisal will also need to be carried out.

You may be able to carry out the bulk of feasibility work if your board has a good range of skills and enough available time, but you could also consider paying a professional to do it for you.

Selecting a professional to do this for you

Before appointing a professional, you will need to design a project brief stating clearly the objectives of the project, what you want from the feasibility study, the timescale you have set and any conditions or restrictions on the project as a whole.

It is vital that project advisers need to be managed. This is very much a job for the group’s board of trustees.

Read more about Commissioning Consultants here.

What is feasibility based on?

  • Availability and cost of land or buildings forming the basis of the project
  • Cost of construction or refurbishing homes and connected services/infrastructure
  • Availability of funds/cost of any borrowing over time
  • Ongoing running and management/staffing costs.

A feasibility study can prevent you going too far down the route of an unworkable option and could save your group a lot of time and money in the long run. It could alternatively provide reassurance to your group and to potential backers and funders that your project is basically sound and ready to proceed.

Funding is available

Funding is available to assess the feasibility of a community-led housing project through the Community-led Housing fund. Find out more here.

Read more about community-led housing project planning here