Greenwich Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Panel will next week take a look at income from Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy and spending.
It’s a welcome look into this large source of funds. As a borough with some of the country’s highest level of new home building large sums are collected and spent each year. Back in 2017 £35 million was in council coffers and around £170 million incoming.
In comparison to many other London boroughs information on income and spending has historically been very poor. Just this week, for example, a public planning meeting in Labour-run Southwark Council published details and discussed S106 spending. This does not happen at Greenwich Council planning meetings.
Southwark have done this for many years and it was how I discovered how and where they were spending money to improve estates:
Another example showing investment in parks:
Before it became a legal requirement to publicise Section 106 income and spending Greenwich Council did not publish figures. Even now it’s the bare minimum. It was only a question at a recent council meeting that highlighted just how little Greenwich spend on parks and open space from S106. It was just 0.3% last year.
So some scrutiny is certainly welcome. The report does state more focus will be placed on these substantial funds:
“The Council currently publishes annual reports on both CIL and Section 106
income and expenditure detailing the level or receipts and utilisation. In order
to ensure that appropriate use is made of specific grants, Capital Board will
establish a corporate process to monitor such grants, and reporting will be
brought in-line with the proposals set out in this report. This will include a
report to Cabinet each July on financial year outturn, and a further report to
Cabinet on the mid-year review in December.”
That is still less than other London boroughs. Routine discussion of these funds at public planning meetings does not appear under consideration.
A full picture?
The report presented to councillors next week is lacking certain details. It highlights that “15% of Community Infrastructure Levy funds (the “neighbourhood portion” or “neighbourhood CIL”) be retained to be spent on the provision, improvement, replacement or maintenance of infrastructure; or anything else that is concerned with addressing the demands that development places on an area.”
It does not mention that other boroughs go above and beyond that to 25% spent locally.
It does highlight that 50% of S106 and CIL funds are going to Woolwich Crossrail station until 2022/23 which is a burden many other boroughs with stations do not foot.
Though as a partial compensation the amount of CIL the council must pay to the Mayor is reducing from April from £35 per square metre to £25 per square metre – the only borough in London to see a reduction.
It would be useful to highlight here the rate of CIL levy. It’s currently £35 per square metre that goes to the Mayor with various rates per square metre within the borough depending on development:
- Residential (west of borough) – £70
- Residential (east of borough) – £40
- Supermarket/Superstores – £100
- Hotels – £100
- Student housing -£65 (east and west of borough)
Is there scope to increase these by £10 to make up for the £10 reduction to the Mayor and invest locally?
It’s very hard to ever get a clear answer from councillors and council staff on how and why they spend so little S106 in certain areas – both geographically and certain apparent priority areas. If an answer is forthcoming it is along the lines of this from the report “Section 106 contributions are ring-fenced to fund investment related to the specific development from which the contribution has been derived”.
Greenwich Council often state it means funds must be the immediate vicinity. Yet as the Southwark example above shows, spending funds locally but not in the immediate vicinity can be used and justified via additional pressure that new residents can place on facilitates such as parks – or estate improvements justified via an increased number of residents using shops on estates or public space to reach nearby bus stops or rail stations – as an example.
And given that Greenwich themselves have used S106 funds for “open space” derived from Plumstead developments in central Greenwich it’s another knock in their sometime deployed argument that income must be kept in the immediate vicinity.
The argument is selective and has been contravened by the authority many times.
Another glaring oversight not in the report appendix – which is denying councillors the full picture – is allocation of S106 funds in 2017/18. Despite listing spending in the year they do not list allocation which shows where money is focused:
- Employment (GLLaB) – £770k
- Health – £31k
- Affordable Housing – £175k
- Transport £546k
- Open space/parks – £10k
- Public Realm – £27k
- Education – zero
Whilst it’s very welcome that the oversight committee is looking into S106, and perhaps even leading the way to greater transparency as in other London boroughs, this report doesn’t give them a full picture. It’s quite selective with what information is presented and some details are just not there. Hopefully the scrutiny committee will, er, scrutinise that.