Table of Contents
There is a resurgence of community self build projects at the moment, most of which have a strong green flavour. These range from established communities such as the Findhorn FoundationThe Findhorn Foundation is a large community near Inverness. There is a strong emphasis on sustainable building and living. with large development plans in the offing through cohousing developments such as Lancaster Cohousing Group and LILAC cohousing in Leeds to self build groups such Ashley Valein Bristol.
A whole raft of other schemes are at the planning stage. see -
Community self build can have a number of strong ecological advantages over the traditional norms for house building. These range from the obvious energy saving reasons through to more esoteric aspects. more +/-»
It can also offer a radically different type of ownership model more +/-»
see also Global Ecovillage Network
There are several initiatives now in place which may favour community self build:
- Community Right to Build. New measures to help with planning permissionthe legal basis for being allowed to do some form of development such as building a house. (not to be confused with Building RegulationsThese are the legal regulations which govern how a house is constructed. (not to be confused with Planning Permission which is about whether you are allowed to build the house at all or what it might look like) see Building Regulations) which is all about whether the building is properly constructed). see more on Planning Permission “The new powers give communities the freedom to build new homes, shops, businesses or facilities where they want them, without going through the normal planning application process.” see more.
- Community Land Trusts “Currently, community groups in England (outside London) can apply for funding to help them to formally establish themselves, prepare their development proposals and submit a Community Right to Build Order under the Localism Act 2011. see more
- the sale of large areas of public sector land now owned by local authorities and other public bodies
- the ‘build now – pay later’ approach to making the land available with a revolving fund to oil the wheels
- the use of Local Development Orders ‘which will help to streamline planning and reduce the risks and delay in securing planning approval‘
- community led planning and design in line with the Localism Act. Of course this implies that groups of people wanting to build in an area will be seen to benefit the area and be sensitive to its needs
- a strong emphasis on green building design leading to zero carbon housing standards. With a community group with strong green values this may count for quite a lot considering the resistance that most of the traditional volume builders have exhibited to real eco build.
One of the absolutely central problems for custom house building (or self building) concerns the size of plots being made available and the strategy does not seem to address this properly. Whereas the house building industry as a whole can handle any size plot that comes on the market (some company will be the right size to buy it) it is different for community self build groups which usually tend to be relatively small. There are four main ways to tackle this situation
- Vendors of public sector land such as councils can be sensitive to local needs and divide plots up into smaller areas which match community needs. There is quite a history of councils doing this for small self build groups
- An intermediary can buy large parcels of land and divide them down and sell them on. This has happened occasionally over the last half century or so. In some cases it has been specialist self build coordinators who have taken on this rôle, along with offering other types of support to their customers.
- Occasionally some of the more enterprising housing associations have got involved though this is rare now. The strategy mentions ‘encouraging innovation by housing associations‘ in this respect
- An agency can take on a large plot of land and provide the infrastructure of roads, services etc. and then sell the individual plots to self builders or groups of self builders. This is the model of Almere which is cited in the strategy. Almere is a new city near Amsterdam in the Netherlands and self build is happening on a vast scale. The problem is that in the UK we don’t yet have any such agency.
Almere has over 700 plots including houses and flats
Very seldom have building companies bothered with any of this sort of thing because they stand to make more profit doing the whole job and building their bog standard boxes.
The revolving fund being mentioned is £30 million, which is not a great deal when put in the context of the £400 million ‘Get Britain Building’ fund aimed at stimulating the mainstream house building industry. Considering the emphasis in the strategy on increasing the proportion of custom built housing in the UK from its present low of 10%, this sum is meagre. However the nature of revolving funds concerns how fast they revolve to achieve a multiplying effect. [/slider]
One of the first examples of such an initiative is Urban Pioneers in Middlesbrough where there is a possibility for self build urban renewal.
Types of collective self build
There are several types of collective self build models depending on how the land becomes available, how finance is raised and the ethos of the project. Examples are:
- the land is purchased by the group (or some of its members) and then they arrange the building project collectively. This is typical for Co-housing more +/-»
- the land already belongs to a group which sells part of it to members and they raise their own finance and build individuallymore +/-»
- the members of the group purchase the land as individual plots all at the same time. There may be agreed rules about the house designs or materials that can be used more +/-»
- the group forms a self build housing association or self build co-operative.more +/-»
The legal model for conventional housing is nearly always about buying or selling a house on the open market as a simple fixed asset with no regard to neighbours (although of course there are often complications concerning things like rights of way across land). Often these legal contracts do cover fairly rudimentary shared aspects of living like upkeep of common areas such as landscaping, common entrances, lifts etc. With community housing there is the added dimension of ethos built into the model and this complicates matters very considerably. People get involved with collective housing in order to enhance and protect certain ethical values which they hold dear and the legal model adopted by a group needs to be carefully crafted to encompass this. Only a handful of solicitors have much experience in this type of work although there is no shortage of contracts drawn up for collective living situations, particularly housing co-ops. Links more +/-»
Principles, practicalities and types of organisation
Before opting for a particular model for forming a group it is important to establish the principles which need to be incorporated within your group structure otherwise a lot of time can be wasted going through all this with a solicitor. Although it may seem easier at first to decide whether to be a company or a cooperative or a charity etc, it is more important to establish the basic issues first. The ethical principals which can be incorporated into a legal contract and are of concern to collective living situations are typically around:
decision making more +/-»
- financial aspects more +/-»
- ecological aspects. more +/-»
- personal preferences more +/-»
Community Sustainable Energy Programme
They can include -
- sharing communal facilities such as
- shared heating systems and CHP Combined heat and power - where the heat which is produced when electricity is generated is used within a heating system rather than wasted. This can happen at different levels - within a single house, a housing development, a town etc. . See the ESTEnergy Savings Trust report Power in Numbers on the huge potential benefits of community CHP.
- shared energy harvesting
- shared machinery / equipment
- laundry facilities
- shared visitors’ bedrooms
- workshops / specialised tools
- office space
- sports / recreational facilities
- reducing travel / transport
- working from home
- home education
- shared transport
- producing food locally
- shared recycling
- a shared knowledge base which makes use of local opportunitiesPowered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5
- not everyone is totally enamoured of the British obsession with owning their own home. Many people would prefer to have control of their own house but not necessarily be burdened with a 20 year mortgage. After all, most countries in Europe are not so dependant on the ownership model.
- many people see the home ownership / nuclear family model as being a bit stuck in the 20th C. and would like a bit more fluidity in their lives.
- some people would like to make a political break from the capitalist model of housing finance we have now and be part of a more collective enterprise
- the deepening entrenchment of the class system in the UK is leading to a division of the way people relate to each other around neighbourhoods and housing
- many younger people are more mobile and are less keen to be totally sucked in to the long term ownership model
- older people would often like to be closer to their families and community
- there are many particular interest groups where people want to live close to each otherPowered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5
Co-operatives UK is the campaigning group for co-ops and has lots of useful contactsPowered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5
- Voting vs. Consensus and how well it is handled. There is considerable evidence that well run consensus decision making within communal housing is maybe slower but very much more effective in the long run than voting. This is especially true if three conditions are met.
- the people involved must be in a basically robust and positive frame of mind to start with
- when people feel threatened they should have a ‘buddy’ to see their side of the matter and not be rushed
- very thorough minutes should be kept so that decisions are carefully recorded in order to avoid later conflict
- These three conditions have worked extremely well at the Earth Heart community where they have always used consensus decision making (even when momentously large decisions had to be made rapidly). They have extremely well kept records detailing all kinds of decisions about the minutiae of collective living (such as a long debate about why members could have cats as pets but not dogs.) This has meant that once a decision was made it has not had to be rehashed.Powered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5
- The ability of the group to raise money from external sources.
- Most lending bodies such as banks, building societies etc. want to ensure that if something goes wrong they have a sound way of getting their money back. Ultimately this tends to involve selling the property in question on the open market. This can be awfully complicated if the owners of that property are also tied into other parts of the group’s financial holding such as shared land buildings or businesses. (It could also be disastrous for the group to have someone new move in who did not share any of the community’s shared ethics).
- Charities are not able to provide finance to groups such as companies which can make a profit.
- Local authorities which may, under certain circumstances, be helpful with providing land (especially if affordable housing is part of the scheme) have to ensure that they are not getting involved with anything which might later be seen as a money making scam.
- The proportion of money that people have to pay towards collective costs. During the construction period it may be imperative that everyone contributes a share of the design and building costs at the right time so as to not prejudice the group’s efforts. This may be particularly true in the case of infrastructure such as roads and services. After the building work is complete there may be contributions needed to shared facilities.What happens financially when someone or a family leaves the community?
- Are they free to sell their house on the open market to whoever they want or must there be some type of approval by the group?
- In what way does the newcomer buy into the shared facilities?
- Does some proportion of the increase (or decrease) in the value of a property stay with the group?
- What happens if profits or losses are made by the community?
- If the community has some form of trading arm (say for instance it rents out its community hall to non members) how is the profit divided?
- A possible winding up of the community. If the community decided it was no longer interested in having any aims or property in common, how would the common property be divided up? This could have repercussions on conditional grants or loans which had previously been given to the community such as that a few individuals could not profit from them.Powered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5
- This is relatively easy to pin down (though very liable to change) because they are about fairly well defined values such as
- children’s rights and position in the community.
- noise[for the purposes of part C of the Approved Documents] - Noise is unwanted sound. levels (easily measurable – and generally enshrined in existing law anyway but usually a major issue in practice)
- visual neatness / chaos (extremely difficult to pin down)
- then come pets, smells, farting in public – god knows what.Powered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5