By Tejasvini (Rosie Bell)
While we remain focussed on finding a site for our new community, Suvana Cohousing has come a long way in our first year since becoming a Company Limited by Guarantee in May 2019.
The directors, who are appointed for four years, are Imogen Tennison (Secretary), Jeremy Peters, Ian Collins, Sarvajit John Turner (Treasurer), Cittamodani Jenny Henderson and Tejasvini Rosie Bell (Chair). The executive comprises the directors plus Kamalamati Mary Wild. We are also very grateful for the valuable contributions made by Jenny Arthern and Shubhanaga Simpson before they stepped down in recent months. We’re now looking for two new members of the exec, and welcome interest from any of our cocreators who would like to deepen your involvement.
Currently there are 26 paid-up cocreators, made up of 21 households. We decided to renew all the memberships from October every year to simplify the complexity of having a range of joining dates. There have been a number of workshops and social events with our cocreators and we maintain this website and regular communications with them and with a wider community of interested people.
The main challenge currently is to find a site to build on and Cambridge is a difficult place to do this as the price of property is so high.
To assist us we commissioned a site search agent who put us in touch with a number of land opportunities, but after further investigation most of them proved to be unsuitable in various ways. City sites now seem to be priced with a view to building large blocks of flats or small studio apartments, which maximise return on investment, and in many cases avoid the requirement to provide affordable housing which is central to our vision. This in itself pushes up the price of land. Although new legislation is planned in the housing sector to simplify the planning process, only an outline has been announced, so although change is on the way no firm details are known.
It has become clear that due in part to the price of land the best option for us is to enter into a partnership with a developer and we have held discussions with two large ones and one smaller.
One possibility in the further future, perhaps 7-8 years’ time, is the Cambridge North East development. Developer Town will be involved with this, and intend to build a Cohousing community in the first phase, although who that community will be is as yet undecided, but we do have good connections with them.
We have also had discussions with a housing association with a view to a possible partnership. Affordable housing is very much part of the vision of Suvana and in order to both deliver (build) and manage affordable housing, the right structure is needed. Although it is possible in theory to create our own company to do this and to fulfil the requirements of a ‘registered provider’ (RP) of affordable housing, a safer route is to partner with an existing housing association. One proviso is that we are in control of the allocations and so this would have to be agreed with the local authority at the stage of getting planning permission. We have drafted an Allocations Policy so that it is ready when needed.
We have also developed a Land Brief which sets out the kind of site we are looking for and is an initial document for the architect or developer to ascertain what we want to build.
We spent quite a lot of time and energy applying for a Community Housing Fund grant (and would like to particularly express our appreciation to Shubhanaga for his work on this), but unfortunately without a site it was turned down. This fund is now closed and has not been replaced.
Finding a site is the most significant next step for us, and we ask all our cocreators to help us with this, with local contacts or any initiatives they can take.
For those looking to occupy affordable or social housing, it is necessary to register with either Cambridge City or South Cambs District Council.
All of us could benefit from visiting and learning from other cohousing communities.
Our vision holds true during this time of uncertainty, and with the support and enthusiasm and patience of all of us together, we hope to make Suvana a reality.