Government grants slow but opportunities abound for community led housing

Left to right Alan Taylor, Amanda Madden, Peter Stockton, Rob Tranmer, Leah Swain, Chris Kwasniewski and Yvonne Peacock.

By Betsy Everett

Government funding for community housing in Richmondshire and elsewhere has been delayed by more than a year while local authorities continue to promote the scheme which could create more affordable homes.

Community-led housing, already prolific in the south west of the country, was relatively new to North Yorkshire with only one scheme completed so far, a meeting in Bainbridge was told last night.

“We don’t yet know when the government will release the second year’s money, and yet we are already into the third year,” said Leah Swain, chief executive of Community First Yorkshire. However, she said she remained “excited and optimistic” about the future.
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The Market Place, Askrigg, building owned by the Askrigg Foundation is in line for development under the community led housing scheme.

The grants scheme launched in December 2016 with a surprise announcement of £60 million worth of government money.

Of this, £6.2 million had been allocated to North Yorkshire. Richmondshire had been given £495,000 for 2016/17 and the three-year scheme is planned to provide £180 million nationwide.

Leah said she believed release of the second year’s cash was imminent and that the main problem in North Yorkshire now was a lack of awareness.

“I visit councils all over the region and I think around 50 per cent have never heard of community led housing. We have to get the word out there as it does offer exciting opportunities,” she said.

“I have been working on the housing agenda for seven years and I have never seen the level of support that is available for these scheme. There is so much support that I would say if anyone has the slightest interest in doing it take it forward now. There will be no cost to the community to explore it.

“If you get affordable housing through a developer it will be subject to right to buy and the community could lose it very quickly. With community led housing we’re  ensuring nationally that it is exempt from right to buy.”

A scheme can be very small scale, and could be a new-build project on available land identified as suitable, or conversion of an existing property. They can be let at affordable rents, or built for sale.

They can help young people who want to stay in their own communities and pay an affordable rent with security of tenure, if they don’t want to buy, or older people who want to downsize.

“The question is, how can we keep our communities alive and good, affordable housing has wider benefits by supporting local facilities such as schools, shops, public transport, pubs and shops,” said Leah.

Jane Ritchie of West Burton challenged her statement that exploring the possibilities was free, as there was a cost in pre-planning fees to the national park authority, which could amount to hundreds of pounds if communities were looking at several potential sites. 

But Peter Stockton, head of sustainable development at the authority, said pre-planning fees did not apply to community led housing if they came through the right channels and Councillor Yvonne Peacock, chairman of Richmondshire District Council, said planning officers should make this clear to people who enquire. 

Amanda Madden, rural housing enabler for the district council, said for community groups who wanted to get together and take forward a housing project said a lot of help was available and people should not be afraid to enquire.

“It will be a long-term project, not a quick fix, but in the end you will have a valuable community asset. I will come to as many of your meetings as you want . Your project has to be measurable, achievable and realistic and you will need a business plan. But I will do that, and I will also help you find funding from many sources [other than the government grants],” she said.

There was £5,000 available for initial legal fees, with a top-up of £20,000 for architects and business planning and the scheme would fund up to 50 per cent of development costs.

Chris Kwasniewski of the community led housing hub serving North Yorkshire and the East Riding, urged people not to be scared of seeking advice.

“Community led housing is a hot topic for government and you have here a very supportive local authority.  There’s funding available and a lot of support,” he said.

This included advice on finance, legal issues, planning, development, costs and communication.

Visit www.reachcommunityhousing.co.uk for contacts and information on community led housing or call Rob Tranmer of the hub on 07974724937 or email rob@startregeneration.co.uk. Amanda Madden can be reached at Amanda.Madden@richmondshire.gov.uk  and Leah Swain is at leah.swain@ruralyorkshire.org.uk