Bristol Community Land Trust, United Kingdom

The Bristol Community Land Trust (Bristol CLT) operating in the City of Bristol, in the United Kingdom, presents an example of a CLT that is benefiting from low-cost transfer of city-owned surplus land and delivering sustainable, resilient, affordable housing options for lower-income residents. Bristol CLT is building shared-equity and affordable rental units that meet the highest standards of energy efficiency and incorporate renewable energy with back-up batteries, air-source heat pumps, shared green space, “car share,” and other environmental and social amenities. The city adopted a policy in 2020 that will help the CLT develop affordable housing by recognizing the social, environmental, and economic benefits delivered by a project as part of the “consideration” it receives in exchange for the transfer of the land. This policy will better enable Bristol CLT to access low-cost land by rewarding the unique values of CLT-housing, including engaging residents, building social cohesion, and delivering permanently affordable housing. It also demonstrates how cities can change policies related to how they dispose of surplus lands to ensure transfer to community-led organizations that will redevelop these properties for publicly beneficial uses, like affordable housing.


The City of Bristol in South West England faces both affordable housing and climate resilience challenges. Bristol is a medium-sized city with a population of approximately 450,000 people and the Bristol metropolitan region has the 10th largest population in England.1  Bristol’s city center is located at the confluence of the Avon and Frome rivers, which empty into the Severn River and the Bristol Channel, where the Port of Bristol and the Severn Estuary are located at Avonmouth. The City was awarded the European Union Green Capital Award in 2015. 

Bristol is one of the most expensive cities in terms of rent and property prices in England, just behind London. On average home prices are 12 to 14 times higher than average earnings, and the average renter in Bristol dedicates more than 50 percent of their income on rent each month. The city has approximately 15,000 people on the waiting list for social housing. In 2016, the Labour Party won local elections and the new mayor, Marvin Rees, set ambitious goals of producing 800 units of affordable housing per year. To advance these goals, the city partnered with the Bristol Community Land Trust to develop community-led housing for lower-income residents.2  

Bristol also faces unique climate challenges. The city has set ambitious goals of becoming “carbon neutral and climate resilient by 2030” as articulated in its Bristol, One City Climate Strategy. Under a high emissions scenario the city anticipates that by 2080 it will see over 2 feet of sea-level rise along its coastline, a 48 percent increase in winter precipitation, and 68 percent decrease in summer temperature, and 9℃ increase in maximum summer temperatures. These climate change effects will increase threats of flooding, high heat, and drought. To meet both its climate mitigation and resilience goals, the city acknowledges the need to both build new housing and ensure that housing is both carbon neutral and climate resilience.3 

The Bristol Community Land Trust (Bristol CLT) was established as a community benefit society (a British nonprofit) in 2011 as a grassroots initiative supported by the City Council. It operates throughout “West England” and provides services in the four local authorities around the City of Bristol.

CLT Projects & Activities 

Bristol CLT is already supporting efforts in the region to develop permanently affordable housing that advances the city’s climate resilience and carbon reduction goals. 

Community-Led Housing: Bristol CLT is developing homes that it rents at 35 percent less than market price in the region. It has completed 12 units (called the Fishponds) and has a second project with 50 units that is under construction (Shaldon Road). It is also looking at opportunities to develop workspace and additional affordable units. The CLT allows residents to buy between 25 to 75 percent of the equity and rent the residual share that they do not own. This provides residents with some financial stake in the home and allows them to share in the home’s appreciation in value. And it also helps the CLT finance housing construction. Residents contribute “sweat-equity” to the projects. The CLT offers classes in carpentry, decorating, and other skills that residents then use to help build the housing improvements and landscape the property. Bristol CLT also supports other housing initiatives in the region by facilitating a Community-Led Housing Hub, which provides technical and financial assistance to local community groups looking to develop community-led housing projects. The Hub is helping community-led organizations access city-owned plots for redevelopment under the City’s new Community-Led Housing Land Disposal Policy (described below).

Sustainability & Resilience: The CLTs first project, called “the Fishponds,” adaptively reused a former chapel and school site into 12-unit development, which will include some rental and some ownership units and will be powered with renewable energy. The CLT’s second project at Shaldon Road is in construction and will provide approximately 50 affordable shared-equity housing units. The project will be built to meet passive housing standards,4  will include a renewable energy powered microgrid and air-source heat pumps, making it one of the most energy efficient developments in the UK. The CLT’s Shaldon Road project will also include shared green space and will preserve a wildlife corridor to support local biodiversity.5  The project will also incorporate a “car share” and shared e-bikes on site to enable residents to give up car ownership and to reduce space allocated to parking.6  For future projects, the CLT is looking to incorporate open space and community gardens to support food growing.

Community Engagement & Social Cohesion: The Bristol CLT operates as a community benefit society (a British nonprofit), where all members are shareholders and contribute £1 annually to the CLT’s administration and have one vote at the CLT’s annual general meeting. The CLT has a classic tripartite governing board with 9 members, 3 from the community, 3 residents of the CLT, and 3 “stakeholder” members.7  In developing homes, the CLT also engages prospective residents in all phases of planning and design of the project. The CLTs projects also incorporate community space, such as shared gardens and a common house, to provide spaces for building social bonds among residents. It is also looking at other “place-making” roles where they can steward shared community resources and spaces to support local businesses and nonprofits.


CASE STUDY: London Community Land Trust

Bristol’s sister CLT in London is also supporting community ownership models for delivering housing and other amenities in neighborhoods throughout London, which is one of the most expensive cities in Europe. The London CLT originally had a service area focused on East London but expanded in 2012 to cover the run up to the the London Olympics, which exacerbated the city’s affordability crisis.8  London CLT stewards 23 homes in St. Clements, a repurposed former hospital, and has another 100 homes in early stages of pre-development.

London CLT has benefitted from low-cost land from local councils representing London’s 33 boroughs, the Greater London Authority, and Transport for London (which administers London’s road and rail networks). Specifically, the CLT has accessed land through London’s Small Sites Program, which offers publicly owned parcels to smaller developers and community-led organizations for purposes of building affordable housing. The program eases transaction costs by transferring the land with development agreements to facilitate redevelopment of smaller sites that are often more complex to develop and less attractive for private developers. 

It also supports community-led initiatives and works with Citizens UK, which helps with community organizing and helps to ensure genuine community involvement at all stages of the project for early advocacy through design.9  However, London CLT has struggled to finance the additional costs needed to incorporate sustainable design features into its projects, but is in the process of creating design guidelines and standards for sustainability that will be used to inform bids for development of future projects.

The UK has also benefited from national initiatives designed to build capacity of CLTs and community-led initiatives. The National CLT Network provides technical support to help catalyze community land trust initiatives around England and Wales. Government entities in the UK have also been supporting community-led housing hubs, to support community groups looking to develop cooperative housing. In London with funding from the Mayor’s office and UK Housing, CDS Cooperatives facilitates the Community-Led Housing Hub for London that provides technical support to help groups organize, fund, develop community-led housing projects.10  


Supporting State & Local Policies 

The Bristol CLT benefitted from a close relationship with the mayor, who made it his campaign issue to tackle the city’s affordable housing crisis. The City of Bristol supported the CLT in its start-up phases and in helping it access land and capital to build its first affordable housing projects. First, the city provided an initial grant of £40,000 to host a start-up event and to help the CLT hire a part-time employee to help the CLT incorporate. It also provided an initial endowment grant of £300,000 to help the CLT acquire sites and to assess the feasibility of developing community-led housing. Second, the city has helped the CLT access publicly owned land for redevelopment as affordable housing. The CLT’s first two projects were built on  city-owned plots, including a former school and an open space site. The city made the sites available by using a “tender process” that was specifically designed for CLTs by inviting proposals for “an exemplary sustainable custom build-market and affordable self-build housing scheme.” The CLT partnered with a housing association on a joint bid and the property was transferred to the CLT for a symbolic £1. Accessing land in this way was critical to the land trust’s ability to build its initial portfolio of properties and deliver affordable housing in the region because it enabled the CLT to complete permitting and pre-development without having to carry the costs of financing the property.11

To facilitate more land transfers at below market rates, the Bristol City Council passed a Community-Led Housing Land Disposal Policy and Self-Build Housing Land Disposal Policy in February 2020. The policy allows the City to consider the social, economic, and environmental benefits delivered by community-led housing models as part of the “consideration” — i.e., the benefit the city receives in exchange for the land transfer. This new policy enables the City to meet requirements at section 123 of UK Local Government Act of 1972, which says that local authorities “cannot dispose of an interest in land for less than the best consideration reasonably obtainable, without consent of the Secretary of State.” The policy recognizes the unique benefits delivered by community-led housing models — such as those led by CLTs — in terms of creating permanent affordable housing, empowering community decision making, and supporting long-term stewardship of property.12  Development proposals under the policy must also meet the city’s requirements for sustainability and resilience, including “zero carbon” or “passive” housing standards for energy efficiency, access to walking and cycling or public transport, flood design standards, tree preservation, and other requirements.13   

The Community-Led Housing Policy reinforces the City’s Social Value Policy, which was adopted in March 2016 and updated to January 2019 and enables the City to consider the wider benefits to the community delivered by a contractor when procuring goods and services, rather than choose the most “economically advantageous bid”.14 Through the Social Value Policy the City can consider environmental, social and economic benefits that will be generated when it spends its nearly £600 million annual contracting budget. The policy defines “social value” as “ a process whereby organizations meet their need for goods, services, works, and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a whole life basis in terms of generating benefits not only to the organization, but also to society and economy, whilst minimizing damage to the environment.” Examples of social values recognized by the policy include: 

  • Economic — local employment, promotion of local business, payment of living wage; 
  • Social — encouraging community participation, engaging local volunteers or cooperatives, promoting equity and fairness by directing efforts to those with the greatest need or facing the great disadvantage, supporting fair and ethical trading in the supply chain; 
  • Environmental — reducing traffic congestion, carbon emissions, waste and air pollution; limiting energy consumption, sourcing materials from renewable and sustainable sources, among other values. 

Local authorities are guided to ensure that a minimum of 20 percent of a contract’s value contributes to social value. A Social Value Toolkit provides guidance to local authority and businesses on how to craft bid documents that count the social value delivered by the contractor.15  The Policy also requires the city to monitor and report on the social values delivered through its procurement practices. 

Community land trusts, like the Bristol CLT, are eligible to receive city-owned land at near donation rates under these policies. The CLT needs to demonstrate that it has capacity to deliver at least 10 affordable units incorporating a shared equity model of homeownership and providing other community benefits or “social value”. Bristol CLT can easily meet these criteria because the policies highly value the delivery of homeownership opportunities for low-income residents, local jobs created, and the social cohesion benefits of community-led housing initiatives, all of which are generated by CLT housing projects. 

Funding & Financing

In addition to the start-up grants received from the city, the CLT collects £1 annual dues from members and between £100 to £500 annual dues from organizational members. Each property stewarded by the CLT also includes a £200/year ground lease that helps the CLT manage and maintain the properties. The CLT is also working to build sponsorships from businesses and charitable contributions to support its work. 

The CLT is also working to build capacity to raise equity finance with charities and nonprofits. Currently, the CLT does not have sufficient landholdings to borrow against for debt financing and, as a result, has to use government financing to bridge the gap to build projects. But government financing is limited, so they are looking at equity capital to build the pot of funding they can draw from to make their financing more sustainable over the long term. Cities can also help CLTs by working with local charitable funders to help bring funds to individual projects. 

Considerations & Lessons Learned 

  • Recognize social value when disposing of surplus public lands. Cities committed to delivering affordable housing must recognize that land is critical to achieving affordable housing goals. Policies that recognize “social value” enable cities to transfer city-owned land to organizations, like CLTs, that steward land for public benefit and deliver social, environmental, and economic benefits not offered by private developers. Bristol developed a hierarchy for determining how to dispose of land, asking first whether the city could do something with the land; and second, could a community-led housing organization or association do something with the land. Then only if the answer to these questions are no, would sale to a private developer be considered. U.S. cities should consider similar policies that value the environmental, social and economic benefits delivered by a project, rather than just the sale price. 
  • Trust public sector partners. Monitoring and enforcing terms of the city’s social value policy will be important to ensuring that the city is getting the environmental, social, and economic “values” promised by beneficiaries. However, some values, particularly social benefits are difficult to quantify and monitor — such as increasing sense of belonging, reducing isolation, improving mental health, and enhancing housing security — and, therefore, require a level of trust that the organization will deliver those benefits. Where reporting is required, governments should provide additional funding to help nonprofits monitor and assess these types of social values. 
  • Use early advocacy to generate political support. Politics can be a key driver of action, community-led advocates approached the candidates for Mayor asking what they would do to address the affordable housing crisis. The winning candidate made a commitment to community-led, cooperative housing schemes, which then served as a basis for action once he was elected. 
  • Minimize administrative barriersTo successfully implement affordable housing projects on surplus city lands with CLTs that often have less technical and financial capacity, cities need to reduce administrative barriers, and ensure that land transfers happen in a timely way, so that CLTs can comply with and implement projects consistent with grant and other financing timelines. Bristol CLT faced challenges at the outset because the city negotiated complicated land transfer terms that enabled the land to revert back to the city if the development project could not be completed in a timely fashion. Delays in transferring the land and securing permits and other city permissions, however, made it difficult for the CLT to spend grant funding in time to meet funder deadlines — which put the success of the project at risk. To implement innovative solutions with less resourced organizations like land trusts, cities should provide maximum flexibility and work to reduce administrative barriers.
  • Promote community-led housing to reduce public opposition to development projects. The City of Bristol has also found that community-led housing initiatives have helped mitigate public opposition to affordable housing projects. This is because CLTs involve and engage the community in development proposals from early design stages and throughout the process to completion. As a result, they build community support early and face less opposition during permitting and can help city’s reduce NIMBY-ism and public opposition, which is a common source of delay for affordable housing projects. However, Bristol CLT acknowledges the need for more capacity to engage members and the residents of the communities in which it is pursuing projects. 



Publication Date: December 6, 2020

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