The BDLT supported a fledgling community land trust, Kings Langley CBS, with a tender bid for an ex Herts. CC farm, Ballspond Farm at Kings Langley, so that the BDLT could secure 23 acres of farm land. The bid was unsuccessful, though the community support was tremendous. The bid highlighted the potential market for local BD food in Kings Langley, the potential for a CSA there, and for how housing can cross subsidise securing land for biodynamics.
Despite Kings Langley Community Benefit Society (“KLCBS”) bidding to purchase the former 27 acre Hertfordshire County Council Farm for £1.75mn, the asking price, it was sold on January 22nd for £2.7mn after a sealed bid process, for which KLCBS bid £1.85mn for the purchase. This included KLCBS and the BDLT raising £180,000 in cash in 5 days to meet the deposit requirements to qualify, an extraordinary result.
This was to purchase the farm on behalf of the local community and ensure its long-term protection from developers. Martin Large, Director, Biodynamic Land Trust said “The benefits for the local community include farm animals to visit for families, good local food, increased biodiversity, education and jobs.”
The farm would have been used for biodynamic agriculture for locally produced fruit and vegetables, with an emphasis on sustainable farming that reduces the carbon footprint. The project received widespread local and national backing with loans and social investments totalling £2.4mn to support the bid. The Community Land Trust Fund also awarded £5,000 to the project in October 2013 to help develop the business plan as an essential part of the community share offer.
Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) own Balls Pond Farm and had placed it on the market for £1.75m, a reduced price from £2mn of their original offer. The farm had tried to be sold for two years previously and no offers were made. Unfortunately, KLCBS’ bid was very public, which attracted the attention of the market. The site consists of a Grade II listed character farmhouse, a range of outbuildings, listed timber barn and 27.4 acres of land.
Charlotte Hollins, of the Fordhall Community Land Initiative supported the bid. Fordhall was saved from development in 2006 after a high profile campaign which raised £800,000 through 8,000 community members worldwide. Charlotte said that, “access to land for agriculture is becoming progressively difficult as development pushes land values higher and higher. It is only through projects like saving Ballspond Farm that growers can have affordable access to land and the community can have the opportunity to be actively involved. This project will have far reaching benefits for generations to come. Each town/village needs to be developing a sustainable vision for the future and the project at Ball’s Pond Farm, seems to fit that perfectly, where food, education, housing and jobs are all working together in a plan which is driven by the local community.”
Although disappointed by our failed bid, learning from this project is important and a full case study will be produced for others to see what took place. Some of the key lessons included:
- There is some limited land available for biodynamic cultivation in and around Kings Langley School, and there is scope for a CSA and more BD food growing, which are openings for entrepreneurial growers and distributors
- There is huge interest in co-housing schemes that could cross subsidise securing land for biodynamic food growing
- It is not possible to bid for farm land where there is such speculative pressure and when the local council wants money rather than a variety of policy benefits such as a sustainable local food system with rural jobs (£100,000 an acre for a farm with the hope value of speculative housing development)
- The pressure of market forces make it challenging for community groups to secure land.
- There is funding and “good will” out there for specific farming, food and community housing projects to be developed successfully.
- There is a disconnect between central government policy that’s supporting community led projects like these and the implementation of those by Councils and the wider market.
Jean-Paul Mertinez, one of the Directors of KLCBS and filmmaker said “It’s a shame Balls Pond will be the kindling and not the fire but I’m immensely proud of what was achieved by the community and all our supporters and hope others can benefit from our experience.” He’s currently considering making a film on the subject to help bring the diverse views of the different stakeholders together to further the conversation.