Southwark Council have this week agreed to spend £700,000 improving estates including playing areas for children utilising income from developers – one night after Greenwich Councillors were again told it is not possible to do so.
In Southwark councillors agreed the spending with a council report claiming:
“Funding the measures to improve play provisions will improve the development
of children within the area. It will also help to motivate children to participate in
physical activity which can only benefit in a number of different ways including
“The redevelopment and improvement of existing council play facilities would
also help to visually improve the area. New equipment, facilities and ideas
would brighten the community atmosphere and encourage residents and
children to engage within these new spaces.”
This is miles from anything we see in Greenwich reports when it comes to spending money.
Just 24 hours before Southwark agreed the spend, a 28-floor tower was approved in Greenwich opposite a neglected estate which has seen new builds on all sides – and many more in the area now going up. Just £7,500 was committed to public realm, and that is likely to be on the actual site itself. £129,550 was committed to GLLaB.
The estate seems all but ignored once again. When a councillor enquired why so little, if anything, is going towards the estate, they were told it was not possible to use Section 106 income to improve the local area as it needed to be “site-specific” – a line which has been used for many years. Never mind that many new residents could use newly created space on the estate as well as walk through to reach public transport links.
Southwark Council agreed allocating £700,000 in Section 106 payments from the Chambers Wharf development on “delivery of play area improvements within the Dickens Estate”.
While it is true the Southwark scheme predates reforms to S106 it doesn’t preclude using S106 money being used now if pooled. Greenwich are also not using it’s part-successor – the Community Infrastructure Levy – to any great degree. Their arguments about it not being possible date back many years, before reforms were made.
Estates & parks ignored
Another example (and there’s many) is seen at Abbey Wood estate. A developer of a block on Eynsham Drive will pay £1,259,415.31 to the authority yet not a penny for the neighbouring estate was allocated after council officers had negotiated with the developer.
The developer then went above and offered a token £50,000 that Greenwich hadn’t even asked for.
GLLaB is getting £401,927.
The authority do allocate small sums using the Neighbourhood Community Infrastructure Levy which has been branded as the Greenwich Neighbourhood Fund. This is a legal requirement and Greenwich have capped spending at £30,000 per project. It does great work but doesn’t go far. Work on the scale of Southwark’s £700,000 is beyond reach.
Much of Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy is unspent. Totals at the end of 2019 were £2.2 million from S106 and £3,494,119.84 from CIL income.
Failing to look out and learn
It’s long been said Greenwich borough departments live in an insular bubble and fail to seek best practice from the rest of London. Just yesterday I covered a report that will be presented to cllrs next week from council officers that states money from Right to Buy can only be spent on buying market homes or has to be returned to Government.
That’s despite other London councils using it to partner with housing associations. To give one example, Hackney Council used £370,000 to convert six flats being built by a Housing Association and due to be let at 80 per cent market rates into social homes. In Greenwich that amount is buying one home off the market – and pushing out buyers.
Remember the Pocket Living sale? When options for public land were presented to councillors, using the authority’s own developer Meridian Homes wasn’t even on the list of available options. Nor was partnering with a Housing Association. Selling to Pocket Living to build very small box-flats at 80 per cent market rent was chosen.
All the while homelessness rises sharply. Greenwich Council may complain about central Government housing policy, and correctly in my view, but are they using anywhere near enough of the powers they do have? Why aren’t they learning from across London in a whole range of areas when it comes to housing and income?