Money for the community: where should it go?

Regular readers will know that I keep wittering on about Section 106 money as if it’s some sort of pot of gold at the end of a development rainbow. But how does this money get allocated, to what, and how will its successor – the marginally less obscurely named Community Infrastructure Levy – work?

Eric Pickles, MP
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

There was a public meeting last Thursday to discuss just this. I was at whampreview, but Father Andrew Cain from St James and St Mary’s was taking notes for me! Here’s his excellent report.

“At a crowded and occasionally boisterous public meeting on Thursday, a gathering of (as was pointed out) mostly older and white residents gathered to learn more about the potential largesse that the spate of building development might bring to West Hampstead. If only we can find out who has it, discover what it is meant to be spent on and agree where it actually might be spent without fighting each other in hand-to-hand combat to secure a slice for our own pet projects.

Arranged by WHAT, and ably chaired by Viginina Berridge, the panel consisted of Cllr Valerie Leach, cabinet member for Regeneration and Growth, David Morrissey, principal planner, Sites Team, Camden Council, Cllr Flick Rea, Fortune Green ward, and Di West, manager of West Hampstead Community Centre.

My strongest thoughts at the end of the evening were two things: first, I was struck by just how wonderful a local trooper is Flick Rea. She treated us to a fantastic rant against the iniquities of the secrecy of the council. Second, was just how little anyone seems to know about how decisions are actually made in the council, including our lovely local councillors, many of whom were present and equally frustrated and confused as the rest of us!

Val Leach spoke first about the desire to open up the issue of the allocation of money for community use in the area and then David gave us a rather interesting run through the background to Section 106 money, why it’s important and what is happening to it.

For those who don’t know, s106 money is the cash that developers are sometimes required to give to the council in order to build whatever it is that they want to build (Flick referred to it several times as being like a legal bribe). There is, however, little point in learning much about it since the government wants to replace it with a new wheeze for raising money called the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). Both are intended to ensure that something is done locally to alleviate the impact on local communities of major developments.

In the past, s106 was tailored to larger projects only and sometimes meant there was cash for schools, parks and roads and sometimes that infrastructure improvements had to be made at the developers’ cost. Occasionally, and hence the number of community group representatives at this meeting, there is money for community amenity and support. At the moment there is a lot of s106 money theoretically sloshing around in West Hampstead. The plans for 187-199 West End Lane alone represent £355,000 for community amenity – and with so many large project in various stages of the planning pipeline, there is plenty more to come.

In the future, the CIL will apply to every building project – even small house building projects – and will be a flat rate in different zones across the borough. Rather than being tied to specific named benefits, as s106 is, there will be more flexibility on how this CIL money is allocated. This is why CIL is important although, as David Morrisey explained to us, the government has yet to make it terribly clear how it is going to work: there is some suggestion that only 15 to 25% of CIL money raised will have to be spent in the area where the building developments take place. The higher figure will apply only where the community has got itself organised and formed a Neighbourhood Development Forum in order to draw up a Neighbourhood plan. The rest is not fixed to the local area (unlike s106 was theoretically) and may well be siphoned off to other parts of the borough where there is (perceived to be) a greater need.

So, at this point, a big plug for the Fortune Green and West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum. It has got itself organised for us and is developing a plan for the area (it is also looking for local support and for people to join in). Given that West Hampstead is earmarked as a Growth Area for Intensification in the London Plan, with an anticipated 800 new homes already under planning or construction there is likely to be lots of change coming – so speak now or for ever hold your peace (if you can find any amongst the influx of cars, concrete, students, babies, people looking for doctors surgeries and trying to get a seat in the Alice House).

After David had told us all this and after Flick’s fabulous rant about the lack of transparency we heard a little from Di West about how hard it is to raise money for community groups in the area, something we all know about!

The open question session then revealed a seething mass of unhappiness from everything to do with the library floor (I’m not entirely sure how that was relevant to the subject under discussion) to the prospect of the children’s library being replaced by an internet café and the ugliness of the new Jewish Centre on Lymington Road. (I can’t be alone in thinking it rather lovely, surely?). It was hard to keep people focused on the issue that was actually meant to be being discussed and without Tulip Siddiq (who is rather good, I thought) calming things down about the library and reassuring people that the children’s library is safe things might have got harder for Virginia than they did.

The upshot of the long (too long) evening was the recognition that there is a need to find a way both to decide what the local community thinks it is important to do in the area to improve local amenity, and to get a local voice heard within the arcane and shadowy world of Camden’s planning and legal departments. Needless to say I think a post office is a vital public amenity and the fact that our local one is going to close soon should focus minds and resources on making sure we keep a post office locally.

But what we need is a proper process and I do not think that the suggestion of a box in the library is a good way forward. If we were to place a box in the library then it wouldn’t be surprising if most of the suggestions were to do with the library – just as if the box went in Sidings Community Centre the outcome might favour their plans for the Peace park and football pitch and one in my church would come out in favour of our plans to house the post office and run a debt advice and family support service alongside it.

Nor do I think that a gathered wish list is necessarily the best way. What we need is some strategic thinking – possibly through the Neighbourhood forum – that identifies the needs of the area and works to support them. There has to be a process that allows for some form of planning and also appreciates timescales. Some projects need funding sooner than others, some may wait until larger sums of s106 (or CIL) are available.

What was clear from the meeting was that all present want the area to benefit and the good thing is that there appears to be a considerable amount of money around that could help many local projects and needs – we just need to be clear about what we want and find out how to get that across.

We didn’t end the evening with any consensus on what we want; nor were we any clearer about where to go and how to make our voice heard but it was a start and let’s hope that the ball keeps rolling.”

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  • @bubela

    Thank you for posting, and thanks to Father Andrew Cain for the excellent summary.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you again (and to Fr Andrew) for keeping us in touch.

    Long evening meetings in libraries and written suggestion boxes and we wonder why we are not engaging with the 20, 30 and 40-somethings that make up the bulk of the Whampstead population.

    My wife and I work long hours and we have two kids. No matter how much we would like to get involved we cannot. I see plenty of other people like us in West Hampstead and so I fear the allocation of resources and the ‘strategic thinking’ is likely to be less than democratic or medium/long term.

    • I hope you may at least be able to come along to my short meeting in April (date tbd) when we'll try to be engaging a different demographic in the process. It'll be brief and in the pub! In the meantime, do you have any suggestions for ways to engage the large population who are in your position? I totally agree that it's a silent majority.

    • As the chair of a fairly newly established group, I'm open to ideas about how to engage with different sections of the WH community. Would meetings on a Saturday morning or afternoon be better? Or drop-in-sessions (maybe in a cafe or pub)? Happy to hear any other suggestions…
      James (Chair, Neighbourhood Development Forum)

  • Anonymous

    Put some of that money into revamping the Green in West End Lane. What a waste of space this is. It could be a wonderful little oasis to sit and enjoy a coffee amidst flowers and shrubs, sculpture etc. At present it is a gloomy, unwelcoming space serving no purpose whatsoever. Look up Pocket Parks for an idea of what could be done with it.

  • Anonymous

    Suspect gloomy because you have 4 (?) very large, old and I suspect TPO trees. But agree it could be far more inviting.

  • @Marciamac

    S106 money has NEVER been ring-fenced for the area in which the development occurred. I have sat in a council meeting where representatives of residents’ groups told the council that S106 money – due for a planned development which never took place, at least not yet – should go for new doctors’ and dentists’ surgeries, a play area for children and the community centre,if not a school, and was told in no uncertain terms that it might be ‘more appropriate’ to spend any S106 money elsewhere in the borough and the council couldn’t guarantee how much would stay in WH.

    As for what we should spend the money on – yes, brighten up WE Green, and yes, support the community centre. But we still desperately need more doctors’ surgeries, more school places (I’m told; I do not have children); a play area for children, and especially somewhere for teenagers to hang out, where they can skateboard, breakdance or whatever the teensagers do these days (I know, I’m way out of date). Maybe even a youth club.

    Personally, of course, I don’t want 800-plus new homes in this area. As Flick said, this area has changed and the new homes will change it beyond recognition, in a way which I think will damage the area. It is in danger of losing the special something that attracted so many of us to WH. But I guess as there is nothing we can do about that, we have to fight to ensure the S106 – or Community Levy or whatever it’s called – stays in WH and is spent wisely.

  • Anonymous

    It the climate of ‘cuts’ to everything, it was hardly surprising that the Section 106 meeting at the library felt at times as if many different interest groups were ‘fighting over a fiver’. Austerity does this to people.
    This aggression was felt acutely at the back of the room when a community so-called worthy physically swiped at a local counsellor – for talking?? O dear. Community building isn’t this.

  • Anonymous

    I have just got a chance to catch up and read about the above event I attended . It is more or less all there . I would like to add ,as it has been commented on , at the above reply ,it might be helpfull if all the groups and cllr’s actually worked together to get their hands on the tiny , tiny, amount of money , that seems hidden from all the organizations . I will also add , it is not helpful , when as I witnessed and then later confronted ‘Jeff’ at his appaling behaviour , at not only a member of the public but also another femail cllr . I did not know who you were then , but I have since found out , that you are the chair of another organization and married to the ‘chair’ of another. Your behavior was rude and bulling – and we should have let security remove you , when you started to be aggresive towards me . Many witnessed the event and it doesnt bode well for future parnerships . Grow up and behave.