Clarity around “affordability” in practice.

August 24, 2022

“There is need for more clarity around what “affordability” means in practice” – Gordon Seabright

Creative Land Trust was pleased to participate in the research by Dr Rhian Scott that has culminated in her Artists’ Workspace Consultation Report. Dr Scott brought together an informed and diverse collection of expert stakeholders to share, explore and debate views. As a result, her report goes beyond descriptions of the challenges facing studio providers to look at potential solutions and then collaboratively prioritise them.

There is, nevertheless, value in reminding readers of the pace of loss of affordable workspace for artists in London due to ever-rising land values. Dr Scott has noted the importance of defining actions that contribute to a permanent solution to this issue, rather than the (very) temporary patches that have become familiar to all involved in the sector.

Creative Land Trust embraces certain aspects of Dr Scott’s conclusions. It is absolutely the case that there is need for more clarity around what “affordability” means in practice, with councils and developers adopting widely divergent and sometimes meaningless definitions, sometimes deterring landowners from offering workspace at realistic prices for relatively poorly paid artists and other creatives. Meanwhile there is a tendency among some to assume that the generation of social value and community wealth building from the provision of creative workspace are self-evident, whereas investors and developers understandably seek quantitative as well as qualitative proofs to incorporate into their business cases. There is wide agreement on the value of forming close connections between studios and their neighbouring communities, but again this can be taken as a given while supporting evidence is difficult to cite.

The consensus among participating stakeholders that there is potential for local authorities to do more to promote the provision of workspace in their local plans and in conditions applying to new developments was striking, and matches the experience of Creative Land Trust. A welcome consensus also emerged regarding the need for more research into the delivery of social value, and Creative Land Trust is developing projects in this area.

There was less agreement around how “affordability” might be defined, and Creative Land Trust’s view is that a clear figure per square foot or metre, based on data around the actual earnings of artists and makers and revised periodically, is understandable and meaningful, whereas percentage discounts from relatively high starting points can give a false impression of what is affordable.

Finally, it was heartening to read the appetite among stakeholders for Creative Land Trust to play an important role in serving the creative sector. This role was agreed to centre on the permanence of ownership central to Creative Land Trust’s model) to protect studio providers from rising land values and to reduce reliance on “meanwhile” space with all its limitations. There was also a declared wish to see Creative Land Trust using its reputation and reach to unlock new development and funding opportunities for the sector.

Dr Scott has produced a much needed and insightful report, based on the informed views of a broad range of stakeholders from all parts of the artists’ workspace industry. Creative Land Trust welcomes her work, and looks forward to building on her research with partners in London and beyond.

About the author

Gordon Seabright, Creative Land Trust

Gordon is the Chief Executive of a charity tackling the loss of creative workspace for artists and makers in the UK. Before that he led environmental charities for a decade, most recently as CEO of the Eden Project, following periods at the helm of the national cycling charity and the Royal Horticultural Society.

Along with extensive experience in philanthropic fundraising, Gordon secured private and public funding for the launch of Eden Geothermal Ltd.

Outside work he is a trustee of a development charity operating in East Africa and a museum and garden in Hampshire, and NED of a Local Enterprise Partnership and a community orchard in Cornwall. Gordon holds an MBA from HenleyBusiness School.