Coin Street Community Builders

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

= example of Community Land Trust approach in London:


Jerome Birolini:

"Coin Street Community Builders (from now on referred to as CSCB) is a London-based development trust which emerged after several years of resistance and activism by a group of local residents. In the 1970's, most of the South Bank of London was owned partly by the Greater London Council (a top-tier local government administrative body which from now on will be referred to as the GLC) and partly by private developers. Due to a lack of investments, much of the land had become derelict and had attracted the attention of developers who planned major office developments. The proposals from the private sector were strongly resisted by the local community who assisted to the rapid degeneration of its neighbourhood, with many of their peers forced to move out due to a lack of affordable housing. In 1977, a group of them joined together to form the Coin Street Action Group (from now on referred to as the CSAG) and went out to draw up rival plans for the site based around the twin demands of affordable housing and open space. In 1983, after years of sustained community pressure, the members of the CSAG finally won the support of local authorities who decided to hand them over the land. The success of the community in winning over the land was not only due to the perseverance and political savviness of the campaigners but also to a very favourable political environment. At the time, the GLC was controlled by the Labour Party which was highly supportive of community-based initiatives. The Coin Street proposal notably won the backing of important political figures such as Ken Livingstone. Additionally, the abolition of the GLC was announced at the height of the campaign, providing its left-wing majority with the increased freedom and flexibility that they needed to hand over the land to the community on highly favorable terms.

In 1984, the Coin Street campaigners incorporated CSCB, a company limited by guarantee in order to buy 13 acres of land from the GLC. The estate was sold by the GLC for GBP 1 million, at a very significant discount to market price which at the time was estimated to be of GBP 4 million. In order to bring down the market value of the land, the GLC created a number of covenants on the site so that parts of it could only be used for affordable housing and open spaces. The GLC and the Greater London Enterprise Board also provided CSCB with the funding required for the acquisition on very favorable terms.

Faced by an obligation to service its immediate borrowings and develop its newly-acquired land, CSCB chose to develop a commercial strategy with the aim to become financially self-sustainable. According to Kate Swade from Shared Assets (interviewed for the present dissertation), the executive management of the trust had, from very early on, a keen idea of being as autonomous as they possibly could and did not want to be dependent on grants to be viable and any revenue activity had to be self-funding, create jobs and an economy. Profitable temporary schemes such as car parking and advertising hoarding were initially set up and rapidly enabled CSCB to start building its balance sheet. Once the organisation became more solid financially, it started to deliver on its promise to provide affordable housing and open space. From 1988 to 2001, four housing co-operatives were set up and led to the development of more than 200 units of affordable properties.

In 1995, CSCB decided to take on the development and refurbishment of what is now recognized as the emblematic flagship of the South Bank of London: the OXO Tower. Right from the start, members of the trust noticed that if they decided to partner with a private company, they would inevitably be faced with a serious conflict of interest. In the words of Iain Tuckett, CSCB's Executive Director, the interests of an investor with equity is to carry out the development as cheaply as possible, to let it as quickly as possible and then to sell off the rental stream, and that clearly is a very different approach to ours, where we want to hold the property in perpetuity and to use the lettings to achieve social and community objectives - and commercial objectives. The GBP 20 million development was eventually pursued by CSCB alone and became a great success. The OXO Tower is now a host to two highly successful restaurants as well as a set of design, arts and crafts shops commercializing high-quality and expensive fashionable items. The Tower has become a major attraction for both tourists and wealthy Londoners alike.

The development of profitable commercial ventures such as the OXO Tower have enabled the organization to meet its social and community objectives more easily by cross-subsidizing them. For instance, the high standards of development coveted for the fourth of their housing co-operatives (Iroko) were made possible by a subsidy of several million pounds by CSCB.

For Tuckett, CSCB has taken a Robin Hood approach, catering for the needs of people with money in order to fund its social objectives. According to him, one of the greatest failings of social enterprises is to confuse social objectives with economic requirements.

Overall, the social and economic achievements of CSCB over the past 25 years have been nothing short of outstanding. Thanks to a relentless activism and a very skilled management of its operations, the local community has not only saved its area from being turned into a commercial development estate, it has created a not-for-profit company which has taken control of redevelopment and delivered on its promise to provide affordable housing, recreational open spaces (i.e. a park, a riverside walkway open to the public) as well as various community facilities that have transformed the area into a vibrant neighbourhood. Crucial to their success were the identity and the strong sense of purpose that were developed during the years of campaigning prior to the establishment of CSCB. Another factor of success was the continued presence of key people, such as Iain Tuckett, who have consistently demonstrated the skills, the business acumen, the intelligence and the probity to turn CSCB into an exemplar of what a community-based development can achieve, even in extremely difficult and competitive circumstances. Yet, none of these accomplishments would have occurred without the initial support of local public officials who believed in the project and assisted the local community to acquire and own the land for its own benefit.

Despite its many achievements, CSCB has sometimes been decried for being an undemocratic organization. Unlike the open and inclusive governance proposed by the CLT and other forms of democratic and mutual organizations, CSCB has notably refused to include local representatives in the organization management and has chosen not to give individuals supportive of the initiative the possibility to become members. Some observers have suggested that CSCB had developed a self-perpetuating Board structure where the Directors choose for themselves who they want to bring in. Some decisions that have been taken such as incorporating the trust as a company limited by guarantee (instead of opting for a more inclusive and open legal structure), or, in the words of Iain Tuckett, to have kept representing the social and community values of those involved in the campaign (instead of representing the interests of the current stakeholders) have transformed a community-led development initiative into a top-down enterprise, managed and governed by a limited number of individuals. As suggested by Andrew Bibby, a journalist who specialises in co-operative business, mutuality and social enterprise, this form of governance has ensured the Board and management had the skills it needed to operate effectively, but it could make it increasingly remote from the constituency that it claims to represent.

Yet to portray the whole Coin Street development trust as an undemocratic enterprise would clearly be unfair. On the one hand, the company limited by guarantee (i.e. CSCB) is only one of the many legal structures that have been set up by the trust over the years. For instance each one of the four housing co-operatives is managed and governed by its members and therefore fully democratic and fully mutual. On the other hand, the senior management as well as the Board of Directors of the trust have maintained the intention to remain very close to the ground. Very thorough surveys of the area, including in-depths interviews of local people, are regularly performed and have continually informed their agenda. Finally, both Kate Swade and Tim Crabtree (who has also been joined on the phone for the present dissertation) recognize that most of the development trusts that have been set up in the United Kingdom over the past two decades have also opted for this type of top-down organizational structure which gives the organization the ability to respond swiftly and efficiently before a fast-changing socio-economic environment. As previously mentioned, the skills, the leadership as well as the vision demonstrated over the years by the members of the management team has been a critical factor of success and both Kate and Tim have openly questioned whether CSCB would have been able to achieve what has been achieved without such a top-down approach. At the end of the day, and as explained by Kate Swade, the function of CSCB was to develop the land that the CSAG has fought so hard to acquire, create a local economy and make of the neighbourhood a vibrant place to live. And this is exactly what they have achieved.

It is easy to see how such an initiative can be of assistance to a growing precariat. Besides providing affordable housing, preventing the displacement of the members of its local community and bringing back a vibrant community life to a declining neighbourhood, CSCB was able to revitalize the local economy, create jobs and stop money leaking out from the community by making the whole area attractive to both private entrepreneurs and wealthy clients alike. And yet, CSCB is more a community-initiated initiative rather than a community-led one. As we have seen, the organization and management of the trust remains mostly top-down, severely limiting the involvement, the ownership and ultimately the role that the members of the community can play in the initiative and on the future of the area.

We will now look at a third and last example of a community-based development: the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative in Cleveland. Alike the CHT and CSCB, the emergence of the Evergreen co-operatives is possible thanks to the backing of enlightened local public officials which believed in the potential of a community-led alternative and had the courage to support a non-orthodox form of development. In a sense, the Evergreen co-ops can be seen as a synthesis of the best of the two models previously discussed. On the one hand, Evergreen has developed a successful commercial strategy which has permitted them to generate their own source of capital through co-operative accumulation and therefore scale their operations up quickly and significantly as well as simultaneously attend to some of its communities' multiple socio-economic needs. On the other hand, it was founded on a much more open, much more inclusive and much more dynamic system of governance which enables for upscaling while encouraging a distribution of power and control." (