scaling WeCanMake through changes in policy and practice

Policy recommendations for achieving aggregate scale and impact.

WeCanMake’s early success shows that when motivated communities and local authorities work together, it is possible to positively re-wire the existing housing system to better meet people’s housing needs now. Our model for community-led urban infill development meets specific national policy goals on land use, public land disposal, housing supply, neighbourhood planning, design coding, modern methods of construction, local economic development and affordable housing. It also supports broader policy agendas on levelling up, social value, social care, and climate change.  

Few housing projects can claim to achieve so many policy objectives at once: scaling up community-led urban infill development should be a natural priority for national and local government policy, practice and funding.  

Yet some of the steps on this path are unnecessarily slow and difficult. The following policy recommendations aim to simplify and standardise the process, making it easier for more local communities and councils to adopt the WeCanMake approach. 

A new community led urban exception site policy (CLUES)
The new version of the national planning policy framework (NPPF) should include a new community led urban exception site policy (CLUES). This should be based on the well established Rural Exception Site policy and would allow new homes on sites that would not normally be granted planning permission, and are:

  • For five homes or less (to avoid any conflict with the NPPF’s current entry level exception sites or the proposed First Homes exception sites);
  • Not on greenbelt land or in designated rural areas;
  • For permanent, community-led affordable housing (with an asset lock in place, as under the proposed definition of community-led developments in the current NPPF revisions) that meets needs identified by the local community. This policy, translated into Local Plans or referenced in planning applications, would make it clear that CLUES are, like Rural Exception Sites, intended to create opportunities for community-led urban infill development, so that such proposals did not fall foul of other policies in Local Plans or the NPPF, such as those prohibiting garden grabbing or loss of urban green space.

Internal process for supporting community-led infill development
In parallel with supportive policy statements, local or combined authorities should create their own internal process for supporting community-led infill development. These should include making small grants and in-kind resources available and identifying named individuals in housing, planning, legal and property teams to support communities in: identifying appropriate sites for urban infill development; acquiring sites, including transfers from local authority Housing Revenue Account or General Funds; producing design codes; making planning applications; securing funding from public, private and charitable sources.

DLUHC policy circular
DLUHC should issue a policy circular endorsing the principle of community-led infill development and restate existing national policies to encourage local authorities to actively support community-led urban infill. In particular, local authorities need to be reassured that they are able to transfer land to community organisations at low or nil value, so DLUHC should publicly restate:

  • The legality of transferring land out of Housing Revenue Accounts as confirmed by the Secretary of State in the consent issued to Bristol City Council for the transfers to WeCanMake;
  • Councils’ general power to sell land below its market value, as long as the undervalue is not more than £2 million.

Ensure appropriate funding and support is available
DLUHC should ensure that appropriate funding and support is available to community-led organisations that are not Registered Providers (social landlords registered with the Regulator of Social Housing), drawing on the precedents of the Community Housing Fund, the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund and the new Single Homelessness Accommodation Programme prospectus, all of which included routes for non-RPs to apply for funding. Funding should include both revenue funding for group development and capital grant for development.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill currently going through Parliament includes the proposal that 25% of the new infrastructure levy will go to parish councils and neighbourhood forums, which don’t exist everywhere. To ensure this welcome idea can support urban communities too the beneficiaries should be widened to include community anchor organisations and community land trusts.

Support for community-led urban infill projects
Local or combined authorities should publish their own cross-cutting policy statements expressing their in-principle support for community-led urban infill projects and determination to enact this through their planning, property, housing and other functions. These should include the same conditions as the CLUES policy proposed above, and encourage the creation of design codes by local communities to ensure homes meet local expectations.

These policies should be included in revised Local Plans as and when these are produced, with reference to the CLUES policy in the NPPF if this has been adopted. But they do not require the completion of a full Local Plan to be effective, as local authorities can implement them through other channels immediately, including internal practice notes for planning staff and conditions attached to planning permissions.

Materials, tools, and processes
The newly created Office for Place should provide materials, tools, and processes to help local authorities and communities to produce their own design codes, and to create and publicise exemplars of design coding in practice.