Greenwich Growth Fund: Council backs residents’ votes for spending developers’ cash

Trinity Walk, Woolwich
New developments such as Trinity Walk – the old Connaught Estate in Woolwich – are already swelling the Greenwich Growth Fund coffers

Plans to put money from developers into a “growth fund” were backed by Greenwich Council’s cabinet on Wednesday night – with residents able to vote online on how to spend some of it.

Money from the new Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) will be placed into a new Greenwich Growth Fund, and local groups will be able to apply for cash from January for projects which will benefit their areas.

But residents’ groups said the scheme was being implemented too quickly and more time was needed to digest the report and submit proposals.

The scheme is due to begin in January, with the first grants due to be decided in March.

There is already half a million pounds in the Greenwich Growth Fund, and the funds will be split between four areas roughly covering Blackheath and Greenwich; Charlton and Woolwich; Plumstead, Abbey Wood and Thamesmead; and Eltham, New Eltham and Shooters Hill.

Neighbourhood map

The sums available reflect the pace of development in each area. Blackheath and Greenwich have £273,000 in the pot (£93,000 comes from one development alone – the 23-storey Creekside Wharf tower in Deptford) while the Eltham area has £132,000 (much of which is from Kidbrooke Village, but also the Waterford Place development on the New Eltham/Sidcup border).

Charlton and Woolwich have £102,000; but Abbey Wood, Plumstead and Thamesmead have only £1,410, reflecting the slow start to Crossrail-related developments in this area. For the first round of Greenwich Growth Fund applications, this will be topped up to £30,000 from other CIL funding.

Any money not spent in the first year of the Greenwich Growth Fund will be rolled over to the following year.

The proposal was passed unanimously by the cabinet.

Where does the money come from?

40 Victoria Way
When this land off Victoria Way, Charlton is developed, money will be paid into the CIL, with 15% going to the Greenwich Growth Fund (in this case, for Greenwich & Blackheath as this is in Peninsula ward)

The Community Infrastructure Levy came into force in Greenwich in 2015, and is designed to ensure developers pay for the impact their schemes will have on communities. It largely replaces the Section 106 agreements between councils and developers, which will continue for affordable housing, local employment schemes and “non-strategic transport”.

Until very recently, Greenwich did not routinely publish details of Section 106 agreements, unlike other authorities such as Southwark – and they were often spent in completely different areas with no consultation with communities, even though some of these deals are worth many millions of pounds.

For example £16,000 of S106 money from the Enderby Wharf development in east Greenwich has found its way to the renovation of Hervey Road playing field in Kidbrooke, which is to be occupied by Blackheath rugby club.

Much of this cash also remains unspent – despite criticism about the poor state of much of the borough’s streets and public realm, an area S106 money can be spent on.

The new CIL changes this. Most CIL cash goes into strategic plans – but 15% has to go into plans that benefit the area where the development takes place; to address the demands a development may place on an area or to build, maintain or replace infrastructure. This is officially called Neighbourhood CIL.

By law, the council has to demonstrate it has consulted with residents on how this cash is spent – hence the Greenwich Growth Fund and the plans for online votes. This is a clear departure from past practice in the borough.

The new rules also mean Greenwich has to publish what it does with Section 106 money for the first time.

How will the Greenwich Growth Fund work?

Community groups will have to put forward fully-costed proposals of over £5,000 that are supported by all councillors for that particular ward. The council plans to take applications for one six-week period each year, starting this January.

Proposals “must address the demand that development places on an area and be for community benefit” and can’t saddle the council with future costs.

They should also aim to meet one of these priorities identified in a residents’ survey, which attempted to identify issues that needed addressing in each area:

Neighbourhood priorities

Proposals will then be assessed by a project board. Half the Greenwich Growth Fund in a particular area will go to projects shortlisted by the project board; the other half will be made available to other projects that meet the criteria, and the public will be able to vote for their favourite.

Millennium Village phase 2
Developments such as the latest phase of Greenwich Millennium Village have boosted funds available for Greenwich & Blackheath

What did residents’ groups say?

Representatives from three residents’ groups attended the cabinet meeting – and all expressed misgivings that the scheme was being implemented far too quickly, without giving them the chance to work up proper proposals.

Maggie Gravelle from the Westcombe Society said: “I realise the report may have been delayed, so clearly the dates in the report need to be amended because it is unrealistic to expect any groups to submit proposals within six weeks of today.”

She also said it was unclear just how the residents’ survey had been carried out, and pointed out that “things that need improvement are different from spending money on infrastructure”.

Sheila Keeble, speaking for the Greenwich Society and East Greenwich Residents Association, said: “We’ve been attempting since the summer to engage Greenwich in a debate about how this will go forward, so far without any success.

She added: “There needs to be a much greater public awareness of what CIL is – I haven’t spoken to anyone in East Greenwich who knows what it is, even people who are quite clued up about Section 106 agreements.” To laughter, she continued, “At the moment, the only people who know about it are sad people who come to council meetings on a regular basis.”

“It therefore follows that the well-intentioned desire to reach hard-to-reach communities is not going to work. This is absolutely key to making a success of this – identifying projects that aren’t worked up by the usual suspects, among which I count us.

“However lovely better planting or York stone in Greenwich town centre will be, this is not what CIL is about – it should be about, for example, making some really good BMX bike space for the many youngsters take their lives into their hands by doing wheelies on Trafalgar Road.”

She also called for more time for groups to feed into the process for a scheme which had the potential to be “life-changing in many of our communities”.

Trinity Walk
Trinity Walk money will go to funds for Woolwich, Charlton, and the eastern side of Kidbrooke

What did Greenwich Council say in response?

Director of regeneration Pippa Hack defended the council’s quick implementation of the scheme, saying: “We tried to do is make sure there is an opportunity to come forward swiftly with some projects, because we know this is long-awaited, and the to take them to the March cabinet – as you’ll appreciate, there’ll be a hiatus if we leave it later than March as we may not come back until after the local elections.

“It means we can get projects up and running should communities wish to proceed quickly.

Hack said that as well as using the council’s communications team to spread the word, “we’ll be reliant on all ward councillors working with the comunnity to support them and make sure they are aware of the CIL”.

She added that the council thought its Better Together public meetings were “a good foundation” on which to explain to residents what the Greenwich Growth Fund was.

Cabinet member Chris Kirby said splitting the Growth Fund into two streams – one picked by a panel rather than a public vote – would help stop hard-to-reach groups getting “lost in the process”.

‘We could use CIL for Thamesmead DLR’

And council leader Denise Hyland said that the other 85% of CIL money – cash that isn’t part of the Growth Fund – could also be used in neighbourhoods or across the borough.

She added: “So if we want to bring the DLR to Thamesmead, we might decide – hypothetically – that in the same way we brought Crossrail to Woolwich when it wasn’t [originally meant] to come to Woolwich, we might put some CIL against that.

“It gives us the opportunity to do two things – one is to mitigate the effects of development, whether it’s a primary school or a zebra crossing. And secondly it gives us the chance to address some of the inequalities in the borough. For example, community centres are the lifeblood of our community. If they need a new boiler or a new roof, it may be that we are able to support those community initiatives.”

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