Community Rights - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

3  The Community Right to Build


33. The Community Right to Build empowers local people to propose a development in their area and to obtain permission for it without having to go through the usual planning process. The Right can be used to approve the building of homes (new-build or conversion of existing buildings), shops, businesses, affordable housing for rent or sale, community facilities or playgrounds. It is up to the community to decide the type, quantity and design of properties for the development. A proposal can be developed as part of a full Neighbourhood Plan or on its own.[73] There is a defined procedure for taking forward a Community Right to Build Order:

·  a group of local people must form a legally constituted organisation;[74]

·  the scheme must take place within a defined area;[75]

·  the community organisation must engage with the local community to gauge support for the development they seek to approve;

·  the organisation then has to formulate its proposals and draw up a draft order;[76]

·  the order must then be submitted to the local planning authority, who will arrange for it to be examined by an independent examiner;[77] and

·  the local council will organise a referendum of voters in the defined area to decide whether they support the order.[78]

Evidence of awareness and use

34. When the Community Right to Build was launched in May 2012, the Rt Hon. Grant Shapps MP, then Housing Minister, said:

    The Community Right to Build [...] puts communities in the driving seat by ensuring they can bring about the development their neighbourhood needs. The funding and advice service being offered will provide a big boost to those communities eager to take up their Right and bring about change to their area.[79]

DCLG told us that over the last two years there had been 3,100 enquiries and 14,000 web hits on the Community Right to Build.[80] Its actual use has, however, been limited. As of July 2014, eight applications to fund Community Right to Build Orders had been made to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and the Greater London Authority,[81] the bodies responsible for funding. In September 2014 the first three Right to Build Orders, all in Arun in West Sussex, passed their independent examination.[82] In December they were put to local votes alongside a Neighbourhood Plan referendum. Some three quarters of voters were in favour of each order, on a 45% turnout.[83]

Assessment of the operation of the right

35. The Community Right to Build may have been launched with enthusiasm and optimism but, two and a half years in, the programme has been criticised by housing groups and others for its focus on procedures instead of people. Locality, which provides support to groups interested in the Community Rights, said community groups were "disincentivised by what is seen as a fairly complicated process when a traditional planning application would be simpler, quicker and less adversarial" and, instead, groups were "keen to try and develop support from the local planning authority".[84] The UK Cohousing Network and National CLT Network agreed, calling it "an overly complex process" based on the premise that planning is the main obstacle to housing development, which they said is "rarely the case".[85] They also criticised the referendum requirement, as the "risks" associated with it offered "scant incentive" for people to use the Right to Build, unless in conjunction with a Neighbourhood Plan.[86] Some suggested that the referendum was disproportionate and should be removed: Jennifer Line, from the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF), noted there was no referendum on a normal planning application of 10 dwellings.[87] Tony Armstrong, from Locality, said the Right needed to be folded into the Neighbourhood Planning process, removing the need for separate referendums and orders. He noted that the Government's new invitation to tender documents—to contractors to manage the Community Rights programme—did bring the two processes together.[88]

36. Take-up of funding also points to a lack of interest in the Right. In March 2013 the Government re-launched its Community Right to Build fund as the Community Led Project Support Fund (CLPSF) to enable community groups choosing the normal planning application route also to apply for grants. DCLG said as a result there had been "significant take-up […] with over 80 applications […] already approved".[89] On this basis it appears to us that, as only eight applications were for funding for Community Right to Build Orders, the remaining 72 plus may have been by groups using the normal planning application route.

37. The Community Right to Build is clearly not the most popular way of starting a community-led housing project. It has been described as complicated, adversarial and risky, and, based on funding applications, it appears that nine times as many groups opt to apply for planning permission as choose to use the Right to Build process. The referendum requirement also seems disproportionate to the scale of development. It is difficult to see any significant benefits to its retention in its current format. We consider that it would be better to incorporate the Right to Build process into the larger-scale Neighbourhood Plan process and referendum.


38. The Government may have changed the CLPSF to allow groups seeking to use the traditional planning application route to apply, but this too prompted criticism of its general approach to community-led housing. Funding was criticised for being focussed on planning permission, whether via a Right to Build Order or development control. The Confederation of Co-operative Housing (CCH) said this meant the funding "was only applicable in very limited circumstances".[90] CCH, which has worked with the Welsh Government on community-led housing, added that very few communities in that process would have been eligible for money had they been in England, as their housing association partner handled the planning application. It said in Wales there was "a bespoke approach that has not been about telling local people that they should use any particular model", and local authorities and housing associations had been drafted in to provide support.[91]

39. There was also criticism of the need for both community groups and their projects to be at an advanced stage to qualify for funding. CCH said groups had to be incorporated, meaning decisions about models and legal structures had to be taken before they really knew what they wanted to do.[92] The UK Cohousing Network and National CLT Network said funding was "designed back to front": the requirement for groups to have a secure interest in a property or site before they had prepared their business plan and financial modelling was "very poor practice".[93]

40. Community-led housing groups need a more straightforward means of starting their projects with funding at the start, in order to prepare their business plans and financial models and to secure an interest in property. They do not emerge as fully fledged organisations that require funds simply to secure a Right to Build Order or planning permission. In short, funding is needed to build capacity and skills. Local people also need support, primarily from housing associations, to work out which way of developing their project is right for them, rather than being directed down a complex path, such as the Right to Build. We recommend that the Government reconsider its approach to community-led housing, focusing on funding that enables communities, in conjunction with local partners such as housing associations, to build their capacities and skills, and to choose the means that is right for them for developing community-led projects.


41. There is no capital funding directly linked to the Community Right to Build, but groups are able to apply to the HCA's Affordable Homes Programme for investment.[94] The UK Cohousing Network and National CLT Network pointed out, however, that this

    is not designed for small-scale community-based organisations: organisations either need to partner with a Housing Association or, if they choose to go it alone, have to go through a rigorous and prohibitive registration process to even apply for the funding.[95]

BSHF also said not all communities have access to housing association partners, so funding was subject to a "postcode lottery".[96]

42. We recommend that Government reconsider, as part of its appraisal of the Community Right to Build in 2015, how community-led housing groups access capital funding. Whatever way local people choose to pursue housing and other projects, there needs to be a more straightforward process for them either to access capital funding directly themselves or to work in partnership with housing associations to access funding.

73   My Community Rights, 'Understanding the Community Right to Build', accessed 8 December 2014. The Localism Act enables communities to draw up a Neighbourhood Plan for their area and have more say in local development (within certain limits and parameters). People can choose where they want new homes, shops and offices; have their say on what new buildings should look like; and grant planning permission for new buildings. Back

74   This could be a company limited by guarantee with charitable status, a registered charity, a CIC or an Industrial and Provident Society. Town and parish councils (and some neighbourhood forums) are also eligible to produce a Community Right to Build order, as are tenants and residents associations if they change their constitution or form a new organisation. Back

75   The group must apply to the local planning authority with their proposed neighbourhood boundaries. Back

76   This includes a map of the area, a consultation statement, what they want to see built and a statement explaining how the development plan meets planning regulations. It must then be publicised. Back

77   The examiner may then refuse the order, ask for modifications or accept it. Back

78   If the referendum receives over 50% support from those voting, the local planning authority must grant planning permission for the development to go ahead. Back

79   "Planning permission powers firmly in the hands of communities", Department for Communities and Local Government press release, 29 May 2012 Back

80   Department for Communities and Local Government (CRS 039), p 3 Back

81   HL Deb, 29 July 2014, col 1523  Back

82   "Localism building orders 'first' in country to pass examination", Planning, 10 September 2014 Back

83   Arun District Council, 'Neighbourhood Development Plan referendums', accessed 12 December 2014.
Results of referendums:;; accessed 12 December 2014  

84   Locality (CRS 040), para 3.10  Back

85   UK Cohousing Network and National Community Land Trust Network (CRS 019), para See also Building and Social Housing Foundation (CRS 033), para 4.1 Back

86   UK Cohousing Network and National Community Land Trust Network (CRS 019), para Back

87   Q136 [Jennifer Line], [Jo Gooding] Back

88   Q186 Back

89   Department for Communities and Local Government (CRS 039), p 3 Back

90   Confederation of Co-operative Housing (CRS 007), paras 2.5, 5.5  Back

91   Confederation of Co-operative Housing (CRS 007), para 2.7 Back

92   Confederation of Co-operative Housing (CRS 007), para 5.7  Back

93   UK Cohousing Network and National Community Land Trust Network (CRS 019), para Back

94   As above Back

95   As above Back

96   Building and Social Housing Foundation (CRS 033), para 3.3 Back

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Prepared 3 February 2015