City Council to provide land to pilot community-led housing project in Oxford

Published: Friday, 8th November 2019

Oxford City Council is set to provide land to pilot a community-led housing project in Oxford.

The Council is working alongside local architecture practice Transition by Design and Oxfordshire Community Land Trust in an innovative partnership aimed at removing some of the barriers to the community-led development of affordable homes.

The proposal would see the City Council provide a long-term lease to a community group so they could build new homes on a small unused garage site in Littlemore into around three new homes.

The homes would be for social rent – to help some of the 3,000 families currently on Oxford’s waiting list – but it would be managed day-to-day as a cooperative by new residents of the development.

If successful, the City Council could provide more unused garage sites to community groups to convert into community-led housing projects.

The City Council is also assisting community groups in a range of other ways, including with funding bids, to support the creation of a community-led housing sector within Oxford.

The projects, which are the culmination of two years’ work between the City Council and Oxford-based community groups, will be discussed at a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday 13 November.

What is community-led housing?

Community-led housing is when a community group is involved throughout the development and then owns or manages the homes afterwards. This could be a small group of people cohousing in a single home, or a cooperative managing several homes.

The aim of community-led housing in Oxford would be to help tackle the city’s housing crisis while building stronger communities through greater community involvement in the delivery of new homes.

Community-led housing also offers a good fit with the City Council’s policy aims to use more innovative supply chains and provide better quality and more environmentally friendly homes.

In Oxford there are two examples of housing co-operatives taking over existing homes: Dragonfly Housing Co-op in East Oxford, which was formed in 2001, and Kindling Housing Co-op in Cowley, which was formed in 2016.

In the UK community-led housing is estimated to make up less than 1% of housing, but in Germany it is estimated to make up 6%, in Austria 8%, in Norway 15% and in Sweden 18%.

Pilot community-led housing development

Oxford City Council has now identified one of its small garage sites to test the community-led housing model in Oxford. The site – in Champion Way, Littlemore – consists of seven unused garages and a forecourt.

Leading local architecture practice and cooperative, Transition by Design, approached the City Council in 2018 with the aim of bringing vacant land back into use for affordable and community-led housing.

In March 2019 Transition by Design, supported by the City Council, secured £40,000 in pre-development funding from an application to the Community Housing Funding and are currently developing designs for a scheme which it will bring forward to planning.

Transition by Design intends to work with Oxfordshire Community Land Trust who hope to secure a long term lease to manage the homes once complete.

With Government funding, the scheme could see three or more one- and/or two-bedroom homes built on the site. Tenants would be selected from the City Council’s housing waiting list and asked to confirm that they would be happy living in housing that had a co-operative element.

The plans are still at an early stage, but in order to progress them further the City Council needs to commit the land to the project. The transfer of land – on a 125-year lease – could be agreed at the Cabinet meeting.

The hope is that a scheme on this difficult site will demonstrate proof of concept and could be replicated on other unlet City Council garage sites in Oxford.

Expanding community-led housing

The new housing development proposals are the culmination of two years’ work between Oxford City Council and several Oxford-based community groups.

In 2017, the City Council secured £54,860 from the Government’s Community Housing Fund to investigate how community-led housing could be delivered in Oxford.

The City Council used the funding to commission the Collaborative Housing – a new support service for community-led housing groups that is a partnership between Community First Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire Community Foundation, and Oxfordshire Community Land Trust – to carry out the research.

The report, Routes to Delivery, will be officially launched by the Collaborative Housing at Oxford Town Hall on the evening of 16 January. The event will also officially launch Collaborative Housing and showcase Oxford-based community-led housing projects.

The City Council is already working with landlords to ensure empty properties are brought back into use. Where suitable opportunities arise, officers already suggest community-led housing.

The City Council has also supported a successful £40,000 bid by Oxford Cohousing to Homes England for funding to resource working up a community-led housing scheme in Champion Way, Littlemore, to feasibility stage.

Separately, the Oxfordshire Growth Board – which the City Council is a member of – has successfully bid to Homes England for £36,000 to carry out a study that will investigate how the Growth Board could help local communities across Oxfordshire find ways to secure land, finance and the appropriate expertise to support community-led housing schemes.

The need for new housing in Oxford

Oxford is regularly listed as being the least affordable place to buy a house in the country. In February, Lloyds Bank found that average house price in Oxford are £460,184 – 12 times the average annual earnings in the city.

There are currently about 3,000 families on the waiting list to receive social housing in Oxford. In November 2017, 60% of the households on the register were under the age of 44, and half had dependent children.

One outcome of the housing crisis is that many people who work in Oxford cannot afford to live in the city. According to the 2011 Census, 45,900 people (46% of Oxford workers) commute into the area each day.

“This is an excellent initiative by the City Council.

“Community led-housing has so much to offer in terms of helping meet affordable housing needs, improving community well-being and social cohesion and reducing isolation.

“We hope this is the first of many more council-supported CLH projects in the city.”

Tom McCulloch, from Collaborative Housing

“Oxford’s housing crisis is having a devastating and far-reaching impact on society, with unaffordable homes forcing young people further and further out of the city and away from their jobs and families.

“We desperately need to build new social housing in the city, but there are very few large housing development sites left within Oxford’s boundaries. This means it is absolutely essential to maximise the use of smaller sites – even a handful of garages – to help Oxford’s young people.

“I am delighted that we have been able to work with community groups in Oxford to investigate innovative ways of tackling the city’s housing crisis, and I am hoping that we can prove the theory with this pilot scheme.”

Councillor Mike Rowley, Cabinet Member for Affordable Housing