Revealed: Greenwich Council sitting on many millions of pounds for years from new developments

Greenwich Council recently published information on how they’ve been spending income derived from new developments across the borough. It’s big sums which reveal they are sitting on £37 million with much, much more to come; £174 million to be precise and rising as each new development is approved.

The Royal Greenwich Time site has done a marvellous job breaking down income and where it goes, or rather hasn’t, as much has lay in bank accounts for many years. In some instances for so long it had to be returned as Greenwich Council did not spend in time.

New housing in Woolwich. Much money has gone to pay for Woolwich Crossrail station

Going public with this information is a recent change for the authority, and prior to this Greenwich Council did not not routinely reveal how they were spending the income, in contrast to many other authorities.

There’s some information here that doesn’t paint past decisions in a great light which may explain the reticence.

The poor condition of streets around Charlton, east Greenwich and Greenwich Peninsula is an issue regularly covered on this site.

Newly released information shows a plethora of developments in the area have brought huge sums to council coffers. A Parcel Force building on Bugsby’s Way, to give one example, brought in £234,000 in 2015/16.

Not one penny went to the area or improving local streets.

A seperate £110,000 came in during 2011/12 due to development by Bugsby’s Way and Brocklebank. Again, no improvement for pedestrians.

Poor streets for pedestrians. No improvement in decades

Then again, even when money is allocated for local area improvements it hasn’t been spent, as the new Brocklebank retail park at Bugsby’s Way shows.

Sainsbury’s on Bugsby’s Way brought in over £500,000 four years ago for public realm improvements.

Not a penny has been spent according to the figures.

Not spending money for such a long period risks the cash being returned.

New Homes Bonus and the rest

The Greenwich Peninsula ward, which includes retail parks, has seen particularly large amounts of income from both the New Home Bonus fund, covered here, and Section 106.

£127 million has been secured through developments in Peninsula ward of which £32 million has been received. Yet just £13 million of that has been spent in the area and little on improving the public realm.

Greenwich Councillors for the area have either ignored requests as to why this is happening, such as Chris Lloyd, or blocked people on Twitter after raising issues, such as Stephen Brain.

New builds in Greenwich

Head a little south of Peninusla and the same story continues. A new building now going up by the junction on Trafalgar Road and near the Greenwich Centre brought in £212,000 in 2016/17. You guessed it, not one penny allocated to improving the junction beside or streets nearby.

The money is there to improve these areas. It’s just not being allocated or spent.

What the figures show is what is starkly clear across the borough; better public space, streets, parks, estates and more are just not a priority. The importance of these in reducing congestion and better public health through increased walking or cycling isn’t being realised.

What is this income?

The funds in these reports come from two sources: Section 106 which was the standard method to receive development-related income until 2015 and the Community Infrastructure Levy which has mostly superseded S106 and is based on a set rate per square metre. Here’s the CIL rates:

S106 still exists but will only be obtained from large schemes with income from at least five developments combined to fund projects.

All income is in addition to income from the New Homes Bonus. That has brought in another £54 million over the past seven years in ever increasing amounts and totals £13.7 million this year. That puts Greenwich Council in the top 10 of 300+ local authorities in the country.

Then there’s the annual millions from TfL which I’ve covered regularly. This year it was £3.5 million. Little consultation ever occurs with this source of revenue which has been coming in for over a decade.

All that income and the borough still sees some of the worst public housing, public space and streets in London.

What other authorities do

What this newly released information shows is the gulf to other authorities in terms of where to prioritise spending.

Many councils in London focus heavily on better parks, council estate upgrades including public space as well as public realm improvements to boost areas that are the centrepiece of towns – the shopping areas that contain community centres and local business.

Here’s an example in Southwark of park improvements from S106:

Here another another of Section 106 income from five developments pooled to improve an estate in Bermondsey:

Combining income from five developments to improve a park on an estate? This doesn’t happen in Greenwich. And even under the new rules this is STILL possible.

Job schemes

This is not to say all money is squandered of course. Greenwich certainly do some good work with funding but priorities do seem a little odd. Very large sums go towards GLLab, for example, which is predominantly a job scheme to find employment for local people.

There’s much merit there, but so much income is going towards it above and beyond other areas when it appears to simply replicate what job agencies do.

I raised an eyebrow when I saw Greenwich Council tweeting about the council agency looking for staff to work in a huge multi-national coffee shop in Greenwich. That kind of thing is not uncommon.

The private sector can find jobs for people in coffee shops and do in most places. The private sector is not going to renovate crumbling estates or improve grim shopping parades or install better crossings to improve access for those on foot or cycle.

Now revenue is in the public domain we’ll likely see more instances where income for GLLab vastly outweighs other areas which are ignored and overlooked.

Amount spent locally

One change that the CIL has brought about is that 15% of income must now be spent in the local area from which it derives. If a town, ward or local area adopts a local plan they can retain 25% of CIL income raised. Areas of Lewisham borough are doing this.

Some councils have adopted the rule that 25% should stay locally even without a local plan. Greenwich Council have not done this and gone for the lowest amount permissible by law at 15%. So a hulking great development can appear in an area and 85% is still sent away to other areas.

Elsewhere in the borough

There’s a bunch of other info that really requires separate scrutiny, such as the housing development at King’s Highway in Plumstead that famously saw £54,000 designed for “local community” sent to Cutty Sark Gardens in Greenwich.

Since then new information reveals that £135,000 for “open space” went to Well Hall Pleasaunce in Eltham.  Nothing from it for the frankly crap public realm in much of the town.

Also, this info raises questions of accountability due to the fact many sums of allocated spending have no descriptions whatsoever on where they went.

The council have now enacted a program to give a greater say to the public in where the 15% of local spending will go, including online votes next year. The 853 site has covered it here. A welcome gesture but it’s penny change compared to the huge sums sitting in bank accounts unspent or going to pet projects.

The full list of developments, income and allocations can be seen here.

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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

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