Greenwich Council faces a £6.2 million shortfall on its contribution to the new Woolwich Crossrail station because of a lack of funding from developers, the latest figures reveal.
Cash is likely to be diverted from other projects – such as transport, health and education – to make up the gap when the bill becomes due next March.
The revelation comes in a document to be presented to senior councillors at a cabinet meeting next Wednesday. The Infrastructure Funding Statement, which every council has to publish, breaks down how much money was secured from developers in the last financial year, and how it was spent.
While the position is better than last year – when there was an £8 million gap – the shortage is unlikely to be filled by the spring. The figures only cover the position at the end of March; a brief accompanying report to councillors does not contain up to date figures, despite a furore over last year’s report.
When news of the gap emerged last December, some Labour councillors tried to deny that there was a problem – despite it being in a report from their own officers.
The issue highlights a wider problem where even though the north of the borough has been transformed by thousands of new homes, builders have been charged too little, too late leading to less money for Greenwich to spend on local infrastructure – something that is belatedly being addressed by new leader Anthony Okereke.
In 2013, Greenwich pledged to pay £15 million towards the fit-out of the Elizabeth Line stop as part of a deal with the government and Transport for London. The original Crossrail plans did not include a stop at Woolwich, so the council, then led by Chris Roberts, and Berkeley Homes stepped in to help fund it.
Part of this money was to come from a “roof tax” on developments in the Woolwich area, while other cash was to come from what was then a new charge on builders – the community infrastructure levy (CIL).
Greenwich was due to pay half the CIL money it received for strategic projects towards the new station, with the other half being kept for other major schemes in the borough. Other CIL cash goes to City Hall to pay for Crossrail as a whole while a portion goes to neighbourhood projects.
“Based on the projected income at the time it was forecast that the £15m would be paid by the end of 2022/23,” the statement says.
However, when Greenwich introduced CIL under Roberts’ successor Denise Hyland in 2015, it did so later than other boroughs and it set its rates lower, meaning less income. It has also not taken the opportunity to increase rates as development progressed and parts of the borough became more desirable.
Just under £8.8 million had been collected by March – £5.3m from CIL and just under £3.5m from the roof tax.
This means that Greenwich is likely to have to raid the CIL money which is officially meant for other projects – leaving residents worse off than those in other boroughs, who are seeing CIL windfalls used for major schemes.
Greenwich has collected just £10.6m in CIL money since 2015, despite the vast regeneration schemes taking place in the borough. It charges a maximum of £70 per square metre, adjusted for inflation.
But across the capital, Brent landed a CIL windfall of £16.1m in the 2020/21 financial year alone, with the north-west London borough – which has seen intensive development around Wembley Stadium – charging up to £200 per square metre.
Greenwich has previously said that key elements of major schemes such as Kidbrooke Village were approved before CIL was implemented so it could not collect the money. The council has also claimed that the £70 rate was the best it could get – even though an independent assessment found that some parts of the borough could withstand three times that rate.
Okereke told a seminar yesterday that new CIL rates would be unveiled soon, although they will have to be scrutinised in public hearings before they are adopted.
“We are looking at CIL and an uplift, we will have a paper coming up very soon,” he told The Voice of the Authority, an online series run for councils and developers.
“It’s not going to be done in a vicious way that makes development unviable, and obviously it has to be submitted to the planning inspector. It think it’ll be where it needs to be and I don’t see it being a threat to development.
“I know there’s uncertainty around it but we need to make sure there’s a real equilibrium. We don’t want to halt development but we equally need our fair share to invest back into infrastructure.”
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