£1.5 million for parks: A look at Greenwich Council’s budget plans in 2020/21
Greenwich Council this week launched details of budget plans for the forthcoming financial year starting in April 2020.
They’ve also released a consultation alongside. Let’s see what it contains and try to put some of it into context. It covers money to support those receiving Universal Credit, council tax relief, money for parks and more.
It kicks off by highlighting heavy cuts faced by local Government imposed by central Government. It totals £130 million. The council however do not state new sources of income such as money related to housebuilding. One of those funds is called the New Homes Bonus which was introduced in 2011. By 2020/21 it will have brought a total of £87 million:
- 2011/12 – £924,000
- 2012/13 – £3.15 million
- 2013/14 – £5.8 million
- 2014/15 – £7.6 million
- 2015/16 – £10.8 million
- 2016/17 – £13.5 million
- 2017/18 – £13.7 million
- 2018/19 – £12.2 million
- 2019/20 – £11.1 million
- 2020/21 – £11.9 million
Other sources of income such as Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy related to new developments also brought in sizeable amounts. Last year saw £3,494,119 in CIL income unspent and around £1.5 million from S106.
The council’s parking department has suffered chronic problems which has resulted in budget shortfalls totalling over £12 million since 2010. They’ve missed budget targets which are already some of the lowest across all of London.
Interestingly, documents revealing these long term problems have just been wiped from the councils website.
Those sources of income – or missed sources due to departmental problems – are not included in the preamble to this consultation. It’s all the more baffling that lethargy with parking problems and spending developer income should occur as central Government makes life harder for councils. Under CIL rules the authority can allocate more money to administration of spending than they actually are.
This site has long covered lack of investment in parks. Last year just 0.3 per cent of Section 106 income was allocated to parks – many of which have seen little investment for many years including years before the financial crises and cuts.
Recent spending on parks via the Community Infrastructure Levy was restricted to the Neighbourhood CIL portion which caps spend at just £30,000. That was while £3.5 million in the CIL strategic fund was left unspent last year.
£1.5 million is therefore an improvement but given income from new developments, and how much is unspent, the total still appears to be a relatively small sum in context. To give one example, Southwark Council approved £700k on green spaces and play areas on one estate last week just a day after Greenwich stated they could not do the same.
The authority state: “In transport we are looking to invest more in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, car clubs and measures that discourage car use and enable people to walk, cycle and use public transport.”
This is what we’ve heard many times for many years. Despite the rhetoric, when it comes to allocating money from new developments and car parking towards streets that encourage people to switch to walking and cycling for short journeys, the authority are 31st out of 32 in London and last among Labour Councils.
Submission of funding to TfL for 2020/21 through the Local Implementation Plan was always going to be interesting to see if that would change. It hasn’t. Greenwich Council are allocating zero from those areas towards better streets. This is far, far less than every other London Labour Council. No other council is allocating zero towards better streets and public spaces from those key sources of funds. It actually pushes Greenwich down from 31st last year to 32nd across London this coming year.
How that tallies with the statement in this consultation isn’t clear.
Encouraging people to leave cars at home for short journeys is a crucial tool to reducing pollution. To do so means improvements at every estate, town centre and across all corners of the borough, and not just at flagship projects. Yet it’s one area the authority seem extremely reluctant to invest – against the prevailing mood across the capital.
Supporting the vulnerable
Other measures include offering 100 per cent council tax relief for the poorest and most vulnerable. The consultation states:
“At the moment, working-age residents in receipt of council tax support still need to pay at least 15% of their bill. We would like to increase the maximum level of support up to 100%. This is one of the key recommendations made by Greenwich’s independent Fairness Commission and could save some of our most vulnerable residents up to £200 per year.”
Universal Credit is now firmly in place in Greenwich borough. The heavily criticised scheme, which went extremely over-budget, has been blamed for increasing hardship for many. The council are looking to assist those in need. They state:
“Last year we set up a temporary Universal Support Team which has offered assistance to over 600 households. We are proposing to make this team permanent and agree to provide £750,000 for our emergency support scheme which helps our most vulnerable residents in times of crisis.”
Helping those most in need will be welcomed by many, as will money for parks. As stated though, this is still a relatively small sum given the level of income from new developments and other authority spending. A welcome step forward, but given how many parks have been neglected it won’t go too far.
It should at least improve some, which will push more people to become active, assist youth sport and games, act as focal points for communities and increase peoples pride in their local areas – and for that the outlay is more than worth it.
What I’m most dubious about is spending to get people out of cars, improving streets and encouraging walking to help cut pollution. Firstly, there’s no spending amount mentioned. We’ve been here before after hearing promising words.
The failure to allocate any money from S106, CIL or parking income this year through the Local Implementation Plan in addition to TfL’s annual funds doesn’t bode well. To slip from 31st to 32nd tells its own story. All the more so when the borough is in the top five boroughs in London for new housing and thus receives more income than most – even accounting for Crossrail commitments.
There needs to be a seismic change in both the Housing Department and Highway Department’s understanding of what makes a safe, attractive and appealing street or space for pedestrians. They show little to no understanding. Couple that to the borough’s political leadership showing little interest in funding change – and don’t expect much this coming year. Lots of talk and reports but few funds for action seems the name of the game so far.
I’d love them to prove me and many others wrong.