Chairman’s Update – Spring 2020
By Julian Morgan-Jones
RACLT now has two projects in development – one in Ringmer and one in Firle.
RACLT now has two projects in development – one in Ringmer and one in Firle. It has so far received seedcorn funding from the National CLT Network Start Up Fund of £4,000, a further £3,900 from Homes England’s Community Housing Fund and from Ringmer Parish Council of £400. In addition, approximately £750 from its members in shares and annual subscriptions has also been received to date.
Much practical support by way of web design, copy for our brochures, mail deliveries, posters announcing our launch events in Ringmer (January ’19) and Firle (September ’19) have all been provided free of charge by members and supporters. All of the venues for initially, our steering Steering Committee, now formed as the RACLT Board, have been provided Free by Ringmer Village Hall and most recently by Firle Village School.
Now that both of our projects are underway, we have appointed architects and conducted Ecology and Topographical surveys on both sites, which will inform our designs and some aspects of planning conditions that we will have to satisfy in due course. In both projects, as well as our Architects, we will also have to engage consultants such as Quantity Surveyors, Structural and Drainage engineers in the near future to help produce the necessary reports for our Full Planning Applications to Lewes DC in the case of the Ringmer Project, and South Downs National Park Authority in the case of the Firle village project.
It should be emphasised that in both projects, we have an agreement to share all of these costs with the current landowners, as well as making joint submissions as regards Planning Applications, which means a very significant net cost saving to RACLT to the tune of several tens of thousands of pounds over time.
Ringmer Project Synopsis
We have outline planning permission from Lewes DC to build a pair of semi detached houses, each comprising of a 2 bed and a 3 bed house for affordable rent to young families. They will be built to a very high standard of energy efficiency, thus keeping our tenants energy costs to a minimum. There will also be provision for wheelchair access and potential for the downstairs lavatories to incorporate a shower should tenants require this facility.
We have been in contact with both the new Leader of Lewes DC and the Cabinet Member for Housing, following the local elections in May’19, both of whom have confirmed their enthusiastic support for what we are doing. They have also directed their officers to respond to our requests for funding for the professional fees, etc. that we are incurring. We have also had direct meetings with these officers, who have indicated that they should be able to contribute at least £20,000 from existing council funds, set aside from Government funding for this express purpose. We continue to press the council to provide the funding promised and only last week, we have been advised by one of the officers responsible for such grants, that he has been tasked by the Cabinet Member for Housing, to address our request. Accordingly, we believe we have both the political and District Council staff support to achieve a favourable response to our funding requests.
As a result of another major housing development in Ringmer finding that its affordable housing provider, in this case operated by Lewes DC, has not been able to take up the full provision required under the planning permission, a commuted sum has been agreed to be paid by the developer to cover the deficit. This sum has been ring-fenced to be spent on Affordable Housing in Ringmer delivered by Community Led Housing organisations, such as RACLT. Consequently, we are very hopeful that with some or all of this money, we will cover the majority of or at least a significant portion of our build costs.
Working with the Firle Estate, who will provide the land, we have agreed to jointly develop affordable houses/bungalows for rent, to both families with children and those looking to move to more suitable accommodation in the village, as they retire. The latter will also release other larger accommodation in the village, which in turn can be rented to tenants with larger families. All of which will help to regenerate and sustain both the village and its school, which have always been key aims of the Estate.
We have selected an architect for this scheme and together with the Estate engaged with the South Downs National Park Authority to jointly develop a Planning Performance Agreement to take us through the necessary steps to obtaining full planning consent.
Once entered into, this Agreement sets a pretty rapid tempo to achieve a full planning submission in a matter of months. It will commit SDNPA to rapid responses to each stage of our submisssion, as well as committing us to rapid delivery of reports and designs at each stage. We have already had our start up meeting with SDNPA and are having regular project meetings with the Estate. In addition, we will shortly be conducting a Housing Needs Survey in Firle and adjacent villages. This survey will serve to identify the number and size of households requiring affordable rented housing in Firle and neighbouring villages. Since we will be collecting sensitive data, we have asked Action in Rural Sussex, a registered charity with extensive experience of conducting such surveys, to carry out the survey on our behalf and to hold the responses in a secure manner, whilst ensuring complete confidentiality of any personal information in accordance with GDPR rules.
Once the initial assessment of potential sites for housing in Firle has been completed, we will hold a public meeting to explain the outcome of these site assessments and to develop options that are most likely to meet the housing need in Firle. Once this public consultation has taken place, we will be able to confirm the optimum mix of housing on the proposed sites, which we can then present as options for consideration by SDNPA, as part of the process leading to an application for Full Planning.
We have already conducted preliminary topographical and ecology surveys on a potential site, as well as holding a RACLT launch event in Firle Village School. This was attended by over fifty people, including Lord Gage, local MP Maria Caulfield, the Chair of Lewes DC Planning Committee and Andrew Barr, Chairman of Firle PC, all of whom confirmed their support for the project. We also received over twenty completed questionaires regarding views on what type of housing was needed, which will help to support our planning application and define the mix of housing required by the Village.
Further engagement with the local communities is currently being planned, so that we can assess views and garner support for our plans and funding applications, as we progress through the planning process.
As well as the initial funding already received, SDNPA are currently considering our application for grant funding of upto £30,000 per affordable house from an existing budget specifically set aside for Community Led Housing initiatives. Meanwhile, we have approached the Leader and Cabinet Member for Housing of Lewes DC for funding of early stage expenditure such as surveys, quantity surveyors, architects fees etc., both of whom have responded favourably and instructed their relevant officials to process our application for funds. We believe we can now confidently expect grant funding for both our projects to cover the professional fees and ecological and topographical site surveys needed.
As our projects mature to the point where we have submitted full planning applications, which will include more detailed design, we will be able to develop the budgets to complete the build of our proposed developments. This in turn will allow us to seek contributions towards these costs from sources such as Lewes DC, Homes England and other supporters of Community Led Housing.
We’ve already received quite substantial funding offers in principle for build costs from Lewes DC for both Ringmer and Firle. This in turn is a major boost to our chances of receiving matching loan funding from the likes of Co-op Bank, Triodos Bank and other previous supporters of Community Led Housing projects in England.
As well as the funding offered by Lewes DC towards our two projects, we have now received a donation from the Ian Askew Charitable Trust of £10,000 to enable us to create a Project Fund, which allows us to commit to early expenditure on these urgent projects. As funding is acquired from other sources for each project, we will then be able to backfill this Project Fund, thus giving us the long term ability to address other opportunities, as they arise.
NB We already have another potential small site for retirement housing and a Community Woodland area in Ringmer expected to be gifted to us by the end of this year!
In summary therefore, RACLT can now safely say we are up and running on two badly needed affordable housing projects in our area.
Chair of Ringmer Area CLT
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