24th November 2021
In our latest blog, Head of Business Development, Jeremy Brookes looks at the challenges of providing long-term stewardship and the advantages of the Land Trust model over a Community Interest Company.
At the Land Trust, working with the communities that live and work around our sites is a huge part of what we do. Giving people a say in how the green space around their home is managed plays a huge part in encouraging emotional ownership of a place.
On many schemes the community has a much more official role and a Community Interest Company is set up with responsibility for overseeing the management of the public open space within a development. These organisations can be successful – particularly on smaller schemes where the community is tight knit. However, once you go beyond the challenge of managing a few hundred units the responsibility of running a service charge can become a real burden and it needs an organisation with more experience and resources to operate effectively.
This is where the Land Trust comes in. Already managing green space within eight developments across the country on behalf of over 5,000 customers, as well as a huge variety of other parks and green spaces, our model is set up to assume the wide variety of responsibilities and challenges of running a large scale service charge site.
Our placekeeping philosophy gives the local community the ability to engage with us on matters they really care about and they can do so safe in the knowledge that we are covering the more challenging aspects of running the service charge such as taking on legal ownership, liabilities and the funding of estates services. On larger scale developments we also have the technical knowledge and expertise to deal with the management of SuDS and other infrastructure. The practicalities of collecting the service charge funds are also best done by a third party organisation as difficulties recovering non-payments from fellow residents does very little for community cohesion.
At the Land Trust we now have a focus on schemes upwards of 900 units which deliver large areas of public open space. As a charity, managing service charge sites is not about making money, it is about the charitable impact we can make and the economic and social value we can deliver to our residents.
Our experience at our other green spaces suggests that there can initially be suspicion about service charges and the ownership of the land moving to an independent body. There are sometimes concerns about the services that we can deliver on their behalf or even our motives for being involved. However as a charity we are not for profit, and our management charge is a fixed unit per household. We are fully transparent with our customers, providing them with a detailed budget at the start of every service charge year outlining the works we will complete on their behalf. At the close of the year the account is properly audited and reconciled.
We like to get involved with the development at the very earliest stage, to ensure that the public open space is managed correctly from the outset. This can be of huge benefit to the house builders as well managed green space is a huge attraction for potential home buyers.
As resident numbers increase we work more and more closely with them to provide what they want – as long as it complies with the Management Plan and S.106 agreement. We engage with our communities in a number of ways. Our Estates and Community Engagement team hold regular meetings, either in person or online to discuss any queries, concerns or ideas they might have. We have dedicated social media pages for each site which is regularly monitored by our Head Office team and on many of our sites we establish Resident Working Groups to help us with the management of the site.
Listening to our residents is so important. They might have differing opinions on how the grass should be cut. They might want more wild flower meadows or a larger community orchard. They might want us to run some health activities for them, or they might want the opportunity to volunteer and make a positive difference on the green space around their home. We encourage this interaction as it delivers against one of our most important charitable objectives – community cohesion. It gets people working together with us and builds a positive relationship that benefits the community for years to come.
One of the challenges with the CIC model is that it is heavily reliant on people from the community who are prepared to take on a lot of commitment. On big schemes this sort of commitment can be strong at the beginning but once the enthusiasm wanes the initial good intentions can turn into a real negative aspect. As interest declines over the years, the quality of open space descends into a downward spiral. People lose interest in their community, anti-social behaviour starts and what should have been a positive space for people to enjoy can swiftly become the exact opposite.
At the Land Trust we believe that taking transfer of the freehold at the end of the scheme is really just the beginning of the ongoing relationship with the new community which has evolved at that site. We will change and adapt our service according to the wishes of the community.
If they are unhappy about anything we are keen to know and to see what we can do to help. We appoint local contractors in agreement with the community who operate to standards we monitor and the community agree to. By owning the freehold we aim to carry this out in perpetuity. This is long term stewardship. This is placekeeping. This is what sets the Land Trust apart from other organisations and enables us to deliver a service that changes people’s lives for the better.
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