Greenwich Council and £11.4 million income from developers. Where’s it going?
This site has recently covered £3.5 million that Greenwich Council receives each year from TfL through the “Local Implementation Plan” and the opaque and defensive attitude when it comes to revealing how and where it is spent.
There’s another large source of income the council receives (£11.4 million in 2015/16 and £11.6 million the year before) which I’ve also touched on to a lesser extent. It doesn’t appear to have done much for many areas of the borough, and looking into it reveals a similar attitude to that seen with other funding – defensiveness, secrecy and a desire for residents to keep quiet and go away.
I know other bloggers are also looking into this and I’ll also be covering this on an ongoing basis.
So firstly, what is this money? It’s income that the Local Authority receives from property developers when constructing new buildings. This money comes into the council and can go towards a wide number of projects with the idea of supporting local infrastructure.
Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy
Income to the council was formally in the sole form of “Section 106” but will normally now be through the “Community Infrastructure Levy”. There’s a set rate of income per square metre depending on what type of development it is (residential or commercial generally) and where it is in the borough. Developers in the east pay around half.
Section 106 income, which still exists in a limited form, can now only be used when income is pooled together for larger schemes. One example of this is seen later in the article, with Southwark Council pooling money from a number of developments to create a £264,000 fund to be spent on improving the environment and public realm on the Sceaux Estate.
There’s two issues with how Greenwich Council operate with this form of income.
1) where the money actually goes
2) the transparency of this process.
Firstly, when it comes to spending priorities it’s no real surprise that things such as estate improvements plus streets and park upgrades have generally been an afterthought, if considered at all. Not much income at all helps improve public spaces hence so many neglected and run down areas.
For many years local people have not benefited from large adjacent developments. I’ve written posts about estates and retail parades in very poor condition despite being encircled by brand new massive residential developments that brought in much money. Broken walls, few children’s play parks, outdated and broken street furniture and poor/ugly landscaping are all common. Very little went to aid these sites. This is unusual in much of London but Greenwich Council have not deemed it a priority.
With developments such as New Capital Quay in Greenwich (where Waitrose is located), the many Creekside developments and the “Gramercy” arriving in recent years nearby then this estate in West Greenwich really should not look like it does:
A new Creekside development can be seen behind. Just one of many. Given this area would be traversed by new residents walking to the nearest station (Cutty Sark DLR) then we can see how it’s a perfect use of Section 106 or CIL money.
I often focus on this estate as it’s the starkest example of poor communal maintenance by Greenwich Council’s Housing Department coupled with the authority’s lack of investment in better public spaces, despite income coming in from literally all around.
If that income were used here it could improve this spot to provide a more direct, legible path to make cycling and walking more attractive. Currently the mess of broken and obstructive 6 foot walls, overgrown landscaping and crap street furniture doesn’t make it an attractive spot.
The rest of the space could be remodelled with better landscaping, perhaps with play equipment, that would also benefit residents by providing a place that is safer and one they can take pride in. This spot could even house a tea hut with greenery outside. Many options that engagement could provide but all money seems to have gone elsewhere.
Lack of transparency
Secondly, when it comes to transparency regarding income and where it’s spent, there hasn’t been regularly published data in the public domain or shown at council meetings for a long time. It takes Freedom of Information requests to gain spreadsheets that still contain little that is specific and detailed.
Things are different elsewhere:
In October 2016 they approved publishing income, allocation and spending information:
The Sustainable Development Committee recommended opening the process up back in June 2016:
This includes publishing information online:
Plus the Council will be engaging locals in spending. Lewisham already run monthly meetings for each ward in the borough so have a template in place through which to operate.
Things are more open in Southwark borough too. Southwark have local Community Councils which can suggest improvements. At Planning Meetings they approve S106 spending, where spending is broken down with details and put in the public domain. Nothing like this in Greenwich borough. Southwark place a big emphasis on improving estates and public areas to create cohesive and strong communities.
Click here to see a typical allocation of developer income in Southwark from September this year, as mentioned earlier. Here’s a screenshot from the report:
This will bring to the estate:
- Landscaping and tree planting (approx. 33 across the site)
- Refreshed paving
- Pram shed refurbishment/replacement
- New car parking
- New seating/benches
- New/improved lighting
- New/improved bin stores
- New cycle parking
- Play equipment
Not bad eh? And this is a core reason why the standard of estates and public areas is far higher in places like Southwark and Lewisham than in Greenwich, where Councillors seem to support a conscious choice by the leadership not to allocate much, if anything, to many estates and public spaces.
I expect some Greenwich Councillors will pluck out one or two examples of schemes, usually in select areas, and claim there is no issue and insinuate that I’m suggesting no areas ever benefit. That sort of blanket statement seems quite common. I’m not saying nowhere ever benefits, but local improvements are very much the exception.
The Southwark Council website also reveals how they’re more open about this source of revenue. The website states:
“We have set up the Community Infrastructure Projects List (CIPL) for the local community to suggest and propose projects to be funded by CIL and S106. The lists are agreed and confirmed by the relevant community councils.
Under most circumstances, most CIL money collected from a development can be spent anywhere in the borough, but we have committed to spending 25% of all CIL raised in an area locally. S106 funds are required to be spent in the locality of the related development.
Projects on the list will need to be publically accessible infrastructure improvements. Projects funded by S106 will need to aid mitigation of local impacts of developments, while projects funded by CIL will need to provide infrastructure that supports growth.”
That 25% figure is important. They do not have to set aside that much locally but have chosen to.
The Greenwich way
Guess the percentage Greenwich Council want to spend locally now change sin planning law have forced them to come up with a percentage? Yep, it’s lower. Just 15%. The bare minimum by law. Southwark Council engage more and commit to 25%. And now have a look on Greenwich Council’s CIL page. There’s nowhere to suggest ideas. And as Greenwich Council do not run regular Local Ward meetings or have Community Councils that avenue is out too.
You could email your councillor I suppose and wait five weeks for a reply, if they do at all.
One of the first things that should happen immediately is to routinely publish all income received and where it is allocated. Transparency is needed.
Then there needs to be far better engagement with locals.
As I keep saying, despite cuts from central Government money is there to improve many neglected areas. It’s making the choice to do so. Greenwich councillors can push for it if they choose. Next time they plead poverty remind them of these funds and how other authorities spend it. Remember, it was £11.4 million last year, and £11.6m the year before. And there’s the annual millions from TfL. Plus the numerous external funds available where Greenwich have a poor record.
Many more large developments are in for planning that will bring in much income. To give one example, will the millions from forthcoming blocks around Abbey Wood Crossrail station benefit it’s run down estate or slip away yet again? I can see far more scrutiny coming with this money in the future.
They’ll be follow-up posts showing how substantial income from developments in poorer parts of the borough have not been spent locally, with little benefiting places and areas in dire need .