Land and Housing
Despite the ravages of Tory austerity – which have seen councils forced to sell off over £9bn of assets – local councils and anchor institutions still steward, manage, and own significant assets which can be productively put to use for the good of local people under a community wealth building approach.
The goal here is not simply for a local authority or anchor institution to ‘own more land’, but instead to ensure that they land they do own is run by and for the people. This can be understood through the concept of ‘the commons’- the idea that the land held by public institutions is owned by all of us, together.
When it comes to municipal housing, the Labour Party has committed to introducing a revival of council housing when it takes government:
We will remove government restrictions that stop councils building homes and begin the biggest council building programme for at least 30 years.
At the local level, many councils and community groups are already engaging with diverse models of housing ownership and stewardship.
One such model is Community Land Trusts – where land is stewarded on a long-term basis, ensuring that prices remain genuinely affordable.
Asima Shaikh, Islington Councillor and Cabinet Member for Inclusive Economy and Jobs, has also written about some of the strategies utilised at a local level to combat sky-high rents and the dwindling supply of affordable commercial space.
Looking at land more generally, a number of Labour councils and other organisations are already experimenting with ways to productively utilise assets and, in so doing, to build community wealth.
In Preston, local construction firms, suppliers, and contractors were engaged in the revamping and rebuilding of the covered market – a multi-million-pound project which was recently awarded the prize for ‘Best Use of Publicly Owned Land or Property’ at the 2019 Planning Awards. Not only does this represent a productive – and award-winning – use of public land, but there are also wider positive outcomes. Conlon Construction, the local firm awarded the contract for the market renovation, have taken on five local staff members and three graduate apprentices.
The London Borough of Hackney, too, is engaging in community wealth building through productive use of assets. There, the Hackney Municipal Energy Company is being formed, and will generate electricity by installing solar panels on up to 50 per cent of the roofing of council-owned properties in the borough. A social dividend will be provided to residents, as opposed to profits from the sale of energy being extracted; new productive assets will be owned by the municipality – it is expected to pay for itself within two years; and public land – namely the council houses upon which these solar panels will be installed – is being used productively, rather than sold off to developers.
Alongside these diverse and inspiring approaches taken by Labour councils at local level, there also a number of reports which can help councillors, members, and trade unionists get involved in ensuring local land and assets work for the many, not the few.
Among the report’s recommendations is the suspension of the right to buy in England, the reinstatement of a definition of affordable housing which links affordability to income and the adoption of ‘community benefit clauses’ in planning policy to ensure that local authorities consistently maximise the wider benefits of the construction and development process.
Bricks – Mortar – Money – APSE and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA)
As this report shows, ‘an increasing number of local authorities are acquiring property for investment purposes to plug the funding gaps created by ongoing austerity in local government.’