8 Jul 2006

Community land trusts, Fordhall and Standish

Thursday night was the AGM of Stroud Common Wealth - an organisation founded as a land trust in 1999 to acquire property for community ownership and to enable social enterprise development - their work includes projects like The Space, Stroud Community Agriculture, Capel Mill and more.

Stroud Common Wealth has also helped the headline-hitting community farm buy-out in Shropshire. The farm was secured for the community by more than 5,500 people buying shares. See the letter below and links to read more about the inspiring story.

The AGM was followed by a talk by Greg Pilley and Nick Weir that looked at Fordhall and the national action research project which is seeing how to enable the development of community farm land trusts for sustainable agriculture and horticulture for the benefit of communities. There followed a lively discussion about how it might be possible to develop a Stroud-based Community Farm Land Trust to enable affordable access to farms for young farmers and the community.

Our Government and the EU fail to see the central role farming should have in our economic, cultural and social life - affordable farms are crucial if we are to sustain farming - and all the more needed with Peak oil - oil prices are set to soar - supermarkets hugely energy intensive distribution systems, fertilisers, pesticides, processed foods and packaging will be unsustainable in the current form. Changes will come and a return to farming the land will be essential - it is vital we sustain our farming and the associated skills - see my Blog on 15th June re Cubas' experience of suddenly not having access to oil.

As an aside I was disappointed to see Gordon Brown set up a team of advisors to look at how Britain should compete with emerging economies like India - unbelievably CEO of Wal-mart/Asda was chosen for the panel - our government should be taking the lead in making business the most socially responsible in the world, not taking the advice of CEO Lee Scott whose company is an international byword for exploitation.

Anyway back to farms - Gloucestershire County Council like many Councils own farms - some Councils are actively selling off their land while others are retaining them. Gloucestershire appear to be retaining them but there are reports that some farm homes and buildings have been sold to maximise profit while the land is being retained and merged with neighbouring farms. Locally there are farms around Standish - wouldn't it be great if they were retained forever in the hands of the community - I am afraid I have little faith in our Councils' ability to do this for us - too often we have seen playing fields or hospitals paid for by the community being sold for profit. Land trusts seem an excellent way forward.

After the meeting there was agreement to explore further how we could possibly establish a fund so that when land comes available we wcould be in a position to buy it for the community - we also need a law change like in Scotland that allows the community first option to buy - maybe then we would have had time to secure Ruscombe woods for the community - not just for walks, but also Forest Schools and to use part of it for the growing biofuel market - elsewhere in the Stroud area there are plans to set up a project to use and manage woods in a sustainable way.

Do please get in touch if you have ideas or thoughts about Community Farm Land Trusts.

Letter in The Guardian from Stroud Common Wealth:

The community buy-out of Fordhall farm by the 5,500 members of Fordhall Community Land Initiative is as significant for England as the 1996 Isle of Eigg community buy-out was for Scotland. This sparked the 2003 Scottish Land Reform Act giving the community right to buy, start-up help and the Scottish Land Fund. Fordhall shows English support for community land trusts, which mutualise landholding using cooperative, non-profit models. Mutualising land enables it to be forever affordable to individuals and accessible to the community. Land is taken off the market, rather than privatised.

Norman Warner, however, and New Labour, are busy privatising public assets on a massive scale. Health minister John Hutton described the Standish Mutual Care bid for the redundant 32-acre Standish hospital site to David Drew, Stroud's MP, as the "preferred bid". But then Warner, Hutton's successor, vetoed the community bid. This would have delivered a range of local health services; affordable homes for health staff, kept the site in community land trusteeship and reinvested any surplus. Warner awarded Standish instead to an unnamed private bidder in a secret deal. Isn't it time we mutualised assets for community benefit?
Martin Large
Stroud Common Wealth
Community Farm Land Trust Action Research Project

See also Guardian article about Fordhall
See link to Times article about French and British approached to farming.

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