Community led planning: what can CRTB offer us?

By Andrew Van Doorn - on 10/08/2012

HACT's Deputy CEO Andrew Van Doorn discusses the opportunities that Community Right to Build can bring, and reflects on how housing providers can support their communities to really make a success of it.

I don’t know about you, but for the past couple of weeks everything has been Olympic crazy in the HACT office. If we’re not watching out for the next Gold medal, we’re talking about the rules of some sport we know very little about, or wondering how you actually get a horse to dance!

Living in one of the Olympic Boroughs has meant a few opportunities have come my way over the past years in the build up to the games. One I have very fond memories of was being driven around the park in a minibus when it was just a building site. The Velodrome was a smoothed out hole in the ground, there were massive machines cleaning the soil, and the walls of the stadium had just started going up. We had to use a lot of imagination to picture what the park would eventually look like and we knew it would be impressive.  Fast forward a few years and I was back in the park, this time as a spectator and WOW, I was in awe at what has been a most amazing piece of planning, engineering and construction. But it doesn’t stop there. Walking in between venues and through the park you begin to imagine how it will be transformed again into a whole new community in the East End of London.

Planning and building our neighbourhoods is in no way straight forward, and seeing the size of the Olympic Park is a reminder of this. We know that involving local people in planning so that they feel ownership of the space around them is critical if we want to build sustainability into the heart of regeneration. And how housing associations play their role, not just as developers and providers of affordable housing, but as community investors, community facilitators and community leaders, is key.

The Community Right to Build, part of a new suite of community rights under the Localism Act (the others being the Right to Bid and the Right to Challenge), presents an opportunity and a challenge to the sector. How can affordable housing providers support their communities to use these new rights? What expertise do they have to bring round the table with their community partners that can unlock imagination and deliver greater ownership of local space? What resources can they unlock, in terms of land and capital that can bring small scale developments to fruition?

HACT is currently working with Locality and Urban Forum on a new CRTB support service. We think housing associations can support their tenants and residents groups and other local community organisations, to work together to start putting these new rights into action. We have pulled together a small team of experts who can offer their time to help put a proposal to the HCA or the GLA who have millions of pounds to spend on supporting new initiatives.

We know that it is not going to be straight forward. But with the planning and development expertise of housing association, coupled with the passion and enthusiasm of local people, and a little support from HACT, great things can happen.

I know this it true because I have seen it happen. Many years ago I met a group of older people in Esk Moors in Yorkshire who wanted to develop sheltered housing for themselves in their community (they didn’t want to have to move to Whitby when they got old). They surveyed their community, identified the need, identified a piece of land and set-up their own Abbeyfield Society. They worked tirelessly for years trying to pull together the support and help they needed to realise their ambition. Eventually they found the right housing association partner, the right funding and finally the right planning permission to build and open a new scheme. It’s beautiful, it’s for their community and it’s a shinning example of what can be done when the right partners come together with a whole bucketful of passion, vision and tenacity.

What was most impressive, was their unwavering commitment and determination to make something happen over many, many years of toil and graft. I wonder now how much more quickly (and less painfully) things could have happened if they had the new Community Right to Build at their disposal?

It doesn’t always need to take the size of an Olympic Park, and we can see that small scale developments with communities in the driving seat can have a lasting impact. HACT is looking for around 5 housing associations who want to work with their local community to take this forward. If you think you might be one of them, drop us a line john.coburn@hact.org.uk.

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