Victoria Way, Charlton
Critics want more money from developers to go to improving the borough’s often tatty public realm

Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe has lashed out at critics who say his authority should be spending more money from developers on parks and public realm.

Thorpe blamed nine years of government austerity after senior councillors approved a report detailing how much had been received from developers and spent by the council via two mechanisms, Section 106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL).

The borough’s tatty public realm – particularly on its council estates, but also in shopping areas where major developments have recently opened – has come in for sustained criticism on the From The Murky Depths blog.

Areas recently highlighted include the car-dominated Bugsby’s Way retail park area in Charlton and council estates in Abbey Wood, as well as Plumstead Gardens and Abbey Wood Park.

Conservative councillors have called for money to be spent on parks and public realm, and with the council sitting on £4 million from developers in CIL money, Eltham South councillor Nigel Fletcher asked Wednesday’s cabinet meeting for more clarity on how the money would be spent.

“There has been a question raised about what the balance is being spent on – it would be helpful to know what the process will be for setting those priorities,” he said.

“There’s no categories as such as to what we spend the money on,” the senior council officer in charge of regeneration, Pippa Hack, said. “It’s for the council to decide against the infrastructure requirements what that money to spent on and how that money is prioritised.”

Thorpe said he was “very proud” to have been the cabinet member in charge of regeneration who started publishing how the council spent Section 106 money and introduced the Greenwich Neighbourhood Growth Fund, which comes from CIL and is available for community groups to bid for. However, these are both legal requirements for all councils, and Greenwich’s Growth Fund is smaller than the equivalents in neighbouring boroughs.

He added: “After nearly 10 years of decimation of public services, it’s very easy for people – bloggers – to jump on to this and say this money could be used on this. But if you think of the £1,400 per household taken away from us, it’s clear that Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy is never a substitute for proper funding of public services.”

Phipps House, Charlton
Phipps House, a council block in Charlton, is surrounded by new developments yet has seen no cash from them

What’s it all about?

Section 106 payments are legal agreements tacked onto planning permission to mitigate a development’s impact on an area. It received £4.7m in the last financial year – with £1.1m going to Greenwich Local Labour and Business, an employment and training brokerage run by the council.

The Community Infrastructure Levy began in 2015 and has partly replaced the Section 106 system. This sees developers charged for the impact of their schemes, with a minimum of 15% of the money designated for use in the development’s local neighbourhood. Unlike Section 106, developers can’t negotiate their way out of CIL commitments.

Greenwich has stuck with the minimum 15% and called it the Neighbourhood Growth Fund; neighbouring Lewisham and Southwark have increased the figure to 25% and developed different schemes for spending the money in local neighbourhoods.

The remaining money can be spent on “strategic” infrastructure, including health, education and waste services. In Greenwich, the situation is complicated somewhat by half of this money going towards the Woolwich Crossrail station – so far it has raised nearly £2.5 million of a £15 million contribution. For the rest, Greenwich has a vague list of what it can spend money on, as does Lewisham; Southwark is more specific.

In total Greenwich earned £3.1 million from CIL in the last financial year – but it has a kitty of £3.5m yet to spend on “strategic” projects built up since 2015, while there is £536,000 yet to spend on neighbourhood projects (the Growth Fund).

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