Graven hill, Oxfordshire

Affordable Land

The key to solving the housing crisis lies in the land beneath our feet. Over recent decades, the UK has experienced massive land price inflation. Though once thought of as an engine for growth and regeneration, we are now realising that the opposite is true: high land prices put a huge burden on society and the real economy, they stifle investment and block the construction of the homes we need. The problem is, they are incredibly hard to climb down from.

Affordable Land (or ‘Community Land’) is a form of leasehold that precludes speculation, and so allows councils to license land as a low-cost platform for society and the economy, instead of simply selling it to land traders. It requires no government borrowing, no new legislation and it can exist alongside the existing property market.

In effect, it creates a new form of home ownership, unlocking prosperity and wellbeing by liberating citizens, communities and businesses from the burden of economic rent and the self-defeating stranglehold of land speculation.

Authors    Alastair Parvin, Open Systems Lab
                Andy Reeve, DemoDev

                Download this white paper as a PDF here.  

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The answer to the question ‘what is land?’ is, in a sense, so obvious that we rarely ask it. Land is the 242,495 km² of rock and mud beneath our feet.

The real answer is more interesting. When we use the word ‘land’, usually we are referring not to the mud itself, but to a system of social contracts, legal and market frameworks that confer usefulness – or rights of use – onto a piece of that mud: military protection, title, tenancy, planning consents, bylaws, rights of way, the judicial system, infrastructure, and so on. Mud is a natural structure. Land is a social structure.

As a society, there are two ways that we can view the land beneath our feet.

The first is as an investment asset; a commodity that grants its owner monopoly over a particular plot, including the right to use it or to charge economic rent for its use. As the economy grows, people can afford to pay or borrow more, so rents and land sale values increase. Through this lens, rising land prices mean rising national wealth. A good investment.

The second is to view land as a platform: the infrastructure on which our economy runs, rather like language, roads or the World Wide Web. Through this lens, rising land prices mean a rising cost burden on the economy and on society as whole. The higher the cost of land, the more of our hard-earned monthly pay cheque goes straight into the pockets of landlords or mortgage lenders instead of being spent or invested in the real economy (that is, productive enterprises providing goods and services). Higher rents and mortgages also mean longer commutes, less time to care for each other, fewer new businesses, more people stuck in cramped homes or bad relationships, or entirely homeless. Put simply, the more money we have to spend on the cost of land, the less we have to spend on the buildings and activities that happen on top of it. If our objective is to create a high-productivity, low-cost, high-wellbeing economy with good quality buildings, then high land prices represent a kind of private sector tax. A drain on the economy.

So which view is true?

The answer is: they both are. Yet clearly, these two truths fundamentally contradict one another. Policy cannot pursue both.

In recent decades governments have tried to square this circle through what can essentially be described as a ‘compensation’ strategy.

It works like this. Investors are encouraged to treat land entirely as an asset class. Land is released to them through the planning system and public land sales in the hope that a percentage of their profits (or efforts) can be claimed back in return. These ‘developer contributions’ take the form of ‘Affordable Homes’, or other community assets through negotiated ‘Section 106’ agreements or ‘Community Infrastructure Levy’ (CIL) payments. So, let’s say a developer aims to build 100 new homes. The idea was that, say, 30 of them would be Affordable Homes (rented at 80% of market value), or alternatively, perhaps 15 of the them would be Social rented homes (at 50% of market value).

Despite the lack of irony with which politicians have often used it, the term ‘Affordable Homes’ was always an ironic piece of doublespeak in that, by definition, the term only existed because most housing was becoming systemically unaffordable in the first place.

Governments are now realising that this mechanism simply hasn’t worked.

The most obvious failure is that... even the ‘Affordable Homes’ that do get delivered are often not affordable. The ‘Affordable Homes’ mechanism was based on charging a percentage of the standard market price, and that was based on the assumption that the market price of land as a commodity would be limited by what people can afford to pay for it, and that, in turn, would be limited by what families earn. So prices would rise only as fast as middle class incomes, and only the poorest would need ‘Affordable Homes’.

That assumption turned out to be wrong. Since 1971, house prices in the UK have inflated by 3878%, far outstripping incomes.

The most common explanation for this market failure is that we didn’t build enough new homes to keep up with demand, but the reality is a bit more complicated than that. Although undersupply was a factor, it alone cannot account for anything close to such an exponential rise (as confirmed by the government’s own analysis) . In truth, the primary driver behind this price inflation was not the undersupply of new homes, but rather the oversupply of cheap mortgage credit; new money created by banks in the form of loans. Because families could borrow more, they had more to spend, so prices began to inflate. The banks counted this increased land value as security to lend against, and so created even more, even cheaper debt, lending even to those with little chance of ever repaying the loans. They bundled these debts, and traded them as ‘mortgage-backed securities’).

Thus began a vicious cycle of land inflation and rising household debt.

Soon, capital began to ride the wave by speculating on land and property, pushing prices higher still. During the 2000s, many homes regularly out-earned their occupants, so for investors or families with savings it became a no-brainer: why bother investing in risky productive enterprises, when you can just buy property and watch it inflate? This pattern of divestment from productive industry and investment into speculation and financialisation is a story that – as William Lazonic, Mariana Mazzucato and others have pointed out – runs deep through 21st century capitalism. But perhaps nowhere is it more obvious or significant than in housing and land. From individual families treating their homes as retirement funds to offshore investors, parking their capital in UK property on a buy-to-let or even buy-to-leave basis, everyone was encouraged to get in on the game.

The result is that, today, the inflated value of land alone makes up more than half of the UK’s net wealth. (The global picture is not dissimilar)

Through the first lens of land as an asset, this makes the UK an incredibly wealthy nation. Yet much of this wealth comprises household debt and stagnant savings. From the perspective of real growth, it’s a disaster.

It also comes at a huge cost. The most visible cost is the literal price that citizens have to pay just to have a roof over their heads. Today, the average house costs £225,000 – the median annual income is around £27,000. At current typical mortgage rates, that means 53% of your monthly pay goes straight into the cost of housing. 58% if you include the cost of energy. That’s far higher than the widely-recognised benchmark for affordability, 35%.

As house prices have inflated, a growing percentage of the population find themselves left behind: too poor to buy, but too well-off to be eligible for social housing (known as ‘intermediates’ or ‘generation rent’). They are a captive market, stuck paying exorbitant rents, often to live in crumbling properties with little security of tenure, exposed to exploitative or prejudiced landlords.

Further down the income spectrum, rising rents mean rising demand for social housing and more homelessness, pushing Councils into a permanent state of emergency.

The cost also falls back onto central government. In 2018–19, the UK housing benefit bill will rise to £23.4bn. For perspective, that’s more than we spend on police, roads and military equipment put together. Much of this (about £9bn­) is paid straight on to wealthy private landlords, inflating rents even higher.

The ‘Affordable Homes’ strategy also has another profoundly damaging cost, one that is fairly obvious but not widely understood. As we know, under the Section 106 model, all potential development land is allowed to inflate to its maximum value. This creates a market for a class of companies whose business model consists of buying land, getting planning permission, building homes on it and selling the property into the secondhand homes market, capturing the uplift as profit. We call these companies ‘developers’ or ‘housebuilders’ – but in truth building homes is only incidental to their business. In reality they are speculative land traders. Sometimes they don’t even build out sites themselves, but just sell them on.

These land-trading intermediaries lock out the land market, since they are the only players who have cash in their pocket to outbid other potential buyers.

This is a big problem, for four reasons.

1. Developers will never, ever build a sufficient number of homes to meet demand. If they did, they would exceed the ‘absorption rate’ of local markets (the number of new homes that can be added without prices falling) and incur a loss. Instead, they deliberately withhold development and trickle properties onto the market to keep prices high. This has now been clearly articulated by the Letwin Review.

2. Speculators only really build when and where land values are rising. Land value is determined by ‘residual value’ (the amount developers can just afford to pay, assuming the minimum development cost and profit). In areas without rising prices, or with small sites, it makes sense to sit on land and wait. The value uplift that their business model is predicated on capturing just isn’t there.

3. The short-term nature of developers’ business model means that they take no financial interest in the performance of the homes and neighbourhoods they create as places to live. In fact, they have a structural incentive to build the smallest, cheapest, least energy-efficient homes that they can; all crammed into barren dormitory neighbourhoods.

This is the great open secret of our current housing system.

Almost everyone agrees on what we want from new housing in the 21st century: high quality, low-carbon, low-energy, beauty, affordability, adaptability to people’s diverse needs, walkable streets, local businesses and strong, resilient communities and local economies. And yet, we have outsourced the production of our homes to a market that is designed to deliver the exact opposite. It sees these things not as investments, but as costs. This is not because developers are somehow ‘greedy’ – they are good people running a bad business model.

For economic growth, these ‘dormitory town’ commuter neighbourhoods are a self-fulfilling failure. Instead of seeding future regional growth by creating neighbourhoods where you can start or sustain small businesses, they reinforce the North–South divide and the dependency on transportation infrastructure that new development should be easing.  

4. The land lock-out means local councils are dependent on speculators to deliver public goods. This puts the planning system into a kind of Faustian Pact with the land trading market, with the consequence that it becomes almost impossible for any other kind of group or organisation to buy and develop land for themselves. Local communities are ‘consulted’, but essentially ignored.

With no other means of getting affordable homes built, councils are in a weak negotiating position. Developers negotiate down their contributions on a plea of ‘viability’ (profitability), to the point where they are providing only a tiny percentage of the ‘Affordable Homes’ they were meant to. Councils become habituated to a kind of tacit corruption, whereby schemes that manifestly do not meet planning policies are nonetheless granted planning permission because councils are so desperate for what few Section 106 ‘mitigations’ they can get.

Local communities are not fools. They can see this corruption. They can see that the only kind of development on offer is poor quality, and will come at their cost, contributing very little community benefit whilst the developers extract significant profits. This has had the effect of eroding public trust in development and planning, creating an adversarial planning process, making it politically almost impossible to bring new land into use.

All of these factors compound each other, amounting to a vast financial burden on government and a chokehold on the economy overall.

But behind these visible costs are the vast, invisible ones; costs that are much harder to measure. The psychological costs of depression and stress, the cost on families when parents have to commute for hours a day. The cost on businesses of an inflexible labour force. The health costs of cold, dark, damp homes, or poor diets. The cost of loneliness. The cost to a community’s pride of watching their high street in terminal decline. The cost borne by immigrants when they become victims of discrimination or abuse.

In practical terms, the inflated price of land is a form of wealth that impoverishes us.

For many today, the term ‘Affordable Housing’ has become a cruel joke. Yet political leaders continue to use it, seemingly for lack of other ideas. Instead of addressing the roots of our broken land market, they repeat the same myths, and make the same simplistic, easy promises to ‘build more Affordable Homes’, even as the words ring ever more hollow with the electorate.

In fact, in recent years most government housing policies have been designed not to reduce land prices, but to actively prop up and inflate them by subsidising land traders; from Help to Buy (public sector sub-prime debt to replace absent private sector lending) to Housing Benefit, to high speed railways.

There is a reason for this. What government is confronting is the unsolvable contradiction between land as an asset and land as a platform.

Whoever is in government today faces an impossible choice. On one hand, they know they cannot allow land prices to continue to rise. Our economy – and our society – cannot bear the burden. But on the other, they cannot afford the opposite. The introduction of a logical measure such as a Land Value Tax (LVT) would risk triggering capital flight and another banking crisis. Any significant fall in land values would wipe trillions off the UK’s balance sheet overnight, freeze all current housebuilding, throw millions of middle class families into negative equity, and destroy the retirement savings of millions of others. No one wants to be in the driving seat when that happens.

So there’s no way out. All moves lose.

In order to find a sideways route out of this dilemma, we need to go back to the bottom of the stack, and answer a very strange question: who makes land?

The writer Mark Twain is credited with the adage “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.”

What’s fascinating about this comment is that it is astute, witty and completely wrong. Actually we make land all the time.

To understand how, let’s go back to the question of value. Why is it that one piece of land is worth more than another? The mud in Westminster is no better for building on than the mud in Warwickshire, but it is worth millions more.

That additional value comes not from the land itself, but from the location it gives the owner access to, and their right to use it.

Before a piece of land has planning permission for homes, and before it is near any jobs or connected to infrastructure (roads, schools and so on), its value is very low. Typically a few thousand pounds per hectare; the equivalent to a few hundred pounds per home. There’s plenty of this land available in the UK (homes currently take up only 1.1% of the land area of the UK – less than the area covered by golf courses).

The moment a local authority gives planning permission for homes on a site, or builds new infrastructure connecting to it, its value leaps upwards, usually to many millions of pounds per hectare; equivalent to something like £80,000 or £100,000 per home. When they do this they are, in effect, creating new land.

As many throughout history, from Adam Smith and Henry George to Winston Churchill have pointed out, that increase in land value isn’t created by the landowner. It is created by us, the community,  through our common consent for ‘new’ land to be made available for development, and by the public sector through its investment into community infrastructure, and their management of the growth of the local economy. However, at present we allow landowners to capture that value. All they have to do – as Churchill put it – is “sit still”.

This is the most absurd, wrongheaded aspect of the Section 106 mindset. We, the community, create 100% of that value uplift, and yet we have been getting only a small percentage (about 27%) of it back.

We have been begging for crumbs under our own table.

This raises a logical question: instead of allowing land prices to inflate and then trying to claw back a handful of ‘Affordable Homes’, why not prevent the land becoming unaffordable in the first place?

This is precisely the thinking behind the growing cross-party consensus proposing to restore to councils the power of compulsory purchase at Use Value. It would allow councils to purchase land at its original low price before it has planning permission. It can then be sold on at full market rate, or used for social housing. This allows councils to capture the value that they create, and use that money to invest in the community.

Restoring this key principle of the planning system will unlock billions of pounds for public investment. So effective is it that in the Netherlands it has been used to pay not just for infrastructure but even to literally create new land by reclaiming it from the sea.

However, what it will not do is improve the quality, supply or affordability of the homes themselves. Even if the land were used directly to build social rented homes, we can’t house the entire middle class in social rented homes. Even if we did, it is unlikely they would be successful neighbourhoods, or that such development would be popular with local communities. Government-made mass housing has a pretty poor record when it comes to growing prosperous, resilient neighbourhoods.

But what if there was a simple way to keep the land affordable and release (or ‘license’) it to local citizens, businesses and organisations to develop for themselves?

The basic idea behind ‘Community Land’ is that as an alternative to selling land or developing it themselves, councils can lease plots of land to individuals or organisations at a fixed, low price.

Written into the terms of the lease are some key covenants. They are:

1. The leasehold can only be sold for the same amount that it was purchased for, plus the base rate of interest.

This means you still own the property, and you will get your money back, but you will neither gain nor lose financially. The deal is that you get to own your home for much less, and you can sell it anytime, but you don’t get to capture any uplift if the land beneath it increases in value.

2.  Any time the leasehold is offered for sale, the landlord gets first right of refusal to buy it back

This gives the homeowner security of tenure, but allows the council to retain control of the land in future if they want to, and to update the original lease.

3. If the site is not under development within 1 year, and under occupation within 2, the lease is repurchased automatically.

This simply ensures that Affordable Land is being used, rather than sitting empty.

4. No home or workspace on the site can be let for more than 50% of market rent, except by prior agreement with the Landlord.

This is a kind of safety net for councils. It means the worst case scenario is that the site is used for 100% social rented housing.

5. If the tenant is a private individual, they cannot own another property elsewhere, either for their own use or as a rental property.

6. If the tenant is a company, no person of significant control in the company may live at the property.

7. The tenant has the right to construct or modify buildings on the site without the freeholder’s permission

Other specific limitations on the use of the land would be agreed as part of the lease.

Affordable Land leaseholds would, by definition, be sold at a fixed price, rather than priced through bidding.

This raises a question: when a council release a batch of sites, how should they decide who gets them, if not the highest bidder on price? Without a fair, competitive market, there is a danger of corruption.

The answer is a market, but one based on a different measure of value. As with any public good, who gets the land should be decided on the basis of maximum community benefit.

There are different ways this could be approached. Currently, Affordable Housing is allocated on the basis of the urgency of individual need. That is, if you are in urgent housing need, you go to the top of the queue. Aside from the challenge this presents of fostering resentment among those left behind on waiting lists, or not even eligible to get on them (resentments that are often played upon by racist groups), there are two reasons why this approach wouldn’t work for Affordable Land. First, those in most dire need are unlikely to be in a position to commission good quality homes. Second, by definition, those who were in most urgentneed beforehand would, upon securing an affordable land leasehold, immediately be in a much better situation than those who weren’t.

So, instead, the principle behind the allocation of Affordable Land is that plots should be allocated on the basis of the benefit to the community of the scheme being proposed, not on who is proposing it.

Based on this principle, an open and competitive bidding system would be used. Anyone can bid, and their bid will be assessed on its merit alone, not on who they are.

A transparent scoring system would be published along with every site. Points would be assigned to, for example, designated social rented homes, keyworker homes, first-time homes, older people’s homes, emergency homes or just a private dwelling. Points could also be scored on the basis of environmental or ecological performance, density, or contributing community amenities or low-cost workspace. The landlord would have the opportunity to pre-adjust the weighting of the scoring system for a particular site, allowing them to prioritise a particular policy outcome. For example, if they particularly needed keyworker housing in that area, they could give a strong weighting to that.

In effect, this would create a kind of ‘race to the top’; a free, fair and transparent market competing not on highest price, but on providing the greatest value to society. The more demand there is for a site, the higher the bar will be. So for example a plot of affordable land in central London is unlikely to be won by a scheme proposing only private dwellings.

Councils can use the number and quality of unsuccessful bids as evidence of demand, validating the release of more rounds of Affordable Land in future.

Affordable Land leaseholds would be much cheaper than open market purchase of the same site. However, they are intended to be low cost, not no cost. There would be both an initial purchase price and a ground rent.

The initial purchase price would be sufficient to cover only the  land purchase price at original use value, plus any administrative or physical costs incurred by the council in bringing the land forward.

A typical ground rent might be 2% of the local median wage (nationally this would average at around £500 for a home), but it could be much more. It may even allow the council to recoup what would have been the full sale price of the land over a deferred period. This would make Affordable Land favourable to Councils as an alternative to selling the land. It would also fund future community investment. Reasonable ground rents are not a problem from an affordability point of view, since for most people the main barrier to home ownership is not revenue, but up-front capital, and their inability to participate in a bidding war (this is why Affordable Land is priced not through the market, but for a fixed advertised price).

The result might be that a plot of affordable land in an urban area outside London might cost something like £10k per home to purchase and around £500 every year in ground rent. Within London the same plot might cost something like £100k per home with an annual ground rent of around £800.

The Affordable Land mechanism treats buildings as a separate thing from the land they sit on. It treats land as a platform whose real value neither rises nor falls, however it treats the house as a consumer durable – like a car – with a given life. If not maintained or replaced, it will crumble.

This is a form of accounting that is actually more in line with reality than our current property model. One of the problems of our current property system is that landlords have little incentive to invest in maintaining properties, so rented homes tend to fall into a state of neglect. Owners similarly can charge a similar price for a 2 bed home in a poor state of repair as they can for one in a good state of repair, so it is hard to financially justify considerable expenditure on improvements or maintenance. 

However, separating the building from the land in this way does create an issue when an Affordable Land tenant wants to sell their leasehold. Do they sell the house along with the land beneath it? If so, this cannot be done through bidding, because the cost would simply inflate again, acting as a proxy for the inflated land (i.e. location) value.

There are two ways that this can be avoided, and tenants and lenders will be free to choose which approach they follow:

The first is that home can be literally relocated, as you would with a car or a boat (in Germany it is not unusual to take one’s kitchen with you when you move house). With the advent of off-site manufacturing it will become increasingly possible and financially viable to disassemble or relocate homes in this way. This will be hugely beneficial in driving the transition towards a circular (zero waste) materials economy. 

However, in cases where the buildings are being sold along with the land, the price is simply controlled by the terms of the lease.

Essentially, the house is treated like any other consumer durable, whose value is slowly written-off over the course of its life (typically 60 years). So, if I spend £100,000 building a new home, and sell it after ten years, I would recover £83,333, which is the value left in it.

Any money I might spend maintaining or extending the home is added to its value, but that investment too is written off at the same rate.

Where previously this kind of accounting required a professional accountant, today, digital tools can make it relatively simple to track, and any irregularities spotted automatically. An Affordable Land web portal would act as a live register of all affordable land properties, and all sales would be listed through that platform. The seller would not be able to choose which buyer is successful, in order to prevent bribes.

Every part of the Affordable Land mechanism has a proven precedent. It also requires no legislative change, and can exist alongside the existing property market. It is simply an additional legal tool that councils and landowners can use.

Precedents include:

Community Land Trusts At present, this mechanism for keeping land affordable forever is used only by Community Land Trusts. These are independent legal entities that allow land to be taken out of the open market, so that it remains affordable in perpetuity, as a platform for community benefit. Several councils have successfully used the asset lock inherent in the Community Land Trust model to sell land to communities for below market value without infringing best value rules. They are hugely popular community institutions, loved across the political spectrum, and regulat in incredibly successful, equitable communities and neighbourhoods.

The problem is that CLTs do not own or create the land in the first place. So they have to be bequeathed it or sold it for a below-market price (which in turn has navigate the rules of Best Consideration and State Aid) , or at a pre-planning permission price. This requires political risk and an administrative effort – usually this only comes about after a huge amout of campaigning. So despite the incredible power of the model, it very rarely happens. 

The idea we set out here is to allow councils (and other landowners) to use the same mechanism, and thus massively increasing its use. Leasing ‘community land’ allows councils to retain ownership of the land and keep it affordable, without having to navigate all this. It would be impossible for anyone to argue that the Council has not got the best possible social and financial value from the land, and that they provided aid to a particular person, since the land was allocated through open bidding.

Almere Homeruskwartier in the Netherlands, where similar mechanisms (actually 10 year ‘clawback’ covenants) were used to preclude speculation, to ensure plots were purchased only by those wanting places to live, rather than those seeking profit. The same model has now been used at Graven Hill in Oxfordshire.

Lovell Resale Covenants, which have been widely used in England, whereby the local authority retains a partial (30%) stake in the property after sale.

The ACT Land Rent Scheme (LRS), a similar model used by the municipal government in Canberra, Australia. Since its introduction in 2008 it has saved around 3000 households over $69million (£38m) in housing costs. The documentation of this scheme contains a number of lessons that have been incorporated / avoided in the Affordable Land model.

The Mayor of London’s Small Sites programme which has made sites available on a leasehold basis with peppercorn rents and a 50% recapture on land value uplift.

Affordable Land takes the best elements of all these models, combines and simplifies them.

Unlocking more new homes
The first and most obvious result of councils releasing Affordable Land would be unlocking hundreds of thousands of genuinely affordable homes. Unlike speculators, citizens and social enterprises will always build as many homes as they can, as soon as they can, provided they can access land and finance. Their developments also tend to be significantly more popular among local communities.

We estimate that, nationwide, Affordable Land could easily allow the development of over 100,000 additional new homes every year. This would allow the UK to meet its housing requirements, and help alleviate the misery of those currently priced-out of owning a home.

Creating a new, genuinely affordable form of home ownership
What it would mean for many people is choice. It would create a new form of home ownership, sitting between rental and mainstream home ownership. The deal is that you get to own your home, and you can sell it anytime, just as you might own a car, but you don’t get to capture any uplift if the value of the land underneath it goes up in value.

This would create practical hope and choice for the millions of families and young people currently locked out of home ownership, but without running the risk of plunging existing homeowners into negative equity.

High quality homes and neighbourhoods
Housing associations, community enterprises and citizen builders want to build the best, most sustainable, most healthy homes they can because they’re the ones who are going to live in them and maintain them. Affordable land would create a dedicated pipeline of land for them, resulting in places that are genuinely affordable, beautiful, sustainable, socially resilient and loved and maintained by the people who live there. Places to be proud of.

Affordable Land can be seen as a huge market-creation play, inviting much-needed innovation in housing, including low-energy homes, digital construction, the circular economy, older people’s cohousing, shared-living and new forms of preventative health and care investment. It is likely that it would lead to a revival of peer-to-peer finance models akin to the traditional building society, as exemplified by platforms such as Abundance.

Encouraging saving and investment
At present, the UK is stuck in a cycle of household debt, rather than household savings. By freeing money from mortgages and rent, Affordable Land will increase the amount of money families have available to spend and save. In turn, these savings should be directed towards productive businesses and building loans, instead of into land price speculation. This will support the UK’s productivity and wider earnings growth.

Affordable Land would unleash a dramatic boost to the economy, in the form of a micro-construction sector which would have a significant economic impact both nationally and locally. For example, if only half of the 13,000 empty sites already identified in the West Midlands were taken on and developed, we estimate the result would be a £325m economic boost to that region’s economy, creating thousands of jobs.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Affordable Land proposal is that it can be done with little or no government spending. Its power comes not from the brute force of capital or political upheaval, but the recognition that value is a function of common consent. We, as a democracy, already have the power to shape the markets we want, to unlock the kind of growth we want, and to end our housing crisis.

We just have to decide to use it.

Councils and landowners
Affordable land will be pioneered by councils or other landowners who simply decide to use it, most probably starting with a pilot using small sites.

Most local authorities already own a number of small, long-undeveloped sites that they do not have the capacity to develop themselves and either cannot find a developer willing to purchase it, or, if they did, they would be unlikely to see any affordable housing on. So in this sense they have very little to lose from offering these sites on a Community Land lease.

Other councils may already be looking to sell land to individuals or community groups on their Self & Custom build register, but are struggling with the challenge of selling sites at below market value, within the constraints of Best Consideration, since there is no established way to establish social and economic value. In this situation an Affordable Land lease may be a preferable option, and also allow them a way to recoup better returns over time.

We would be pleased to talk to councils or landlords interested in pioneering the use of Affordable Land leases to achieve their affordable housing and placemaking objectives without waiting for developers.

Citizens, companies or organisations
If you’re fed up with the housing crisis, and you would like to see your council, or councils nationally using Affordable Land, please share this idea to them directly, and spread it as widely as possible on social media and in the public discourse.

Investment in digital infrastructure
We propose the creation of a  template contract, and a national digital platform for Affordable Land, aimed at making the whole process simple for everyone and automating much of the administrative work. Through it, Councils would be able to publish available sites alongside an open contract. Users would be able to search for available sites, rapidly shape and submit their bids and agree contracts if successful.

The platform would also serve as a national register of affordable land, recording all Affordable Land leases currently in use along with their terms, and ensuring future sales and purchases of Affordable Land are simple, transparent and within the rules. We would like to hear from any organisation willing to fund this work.