£3 million in the “Bank of West Hampstead” – but who’s managing it?

Camden has £3 million pounds to spend in the area thanks to the arcanely named “Section 106 money”. These are payments made by developers to the council and is allocated for spending in the following areas: community facilities, transport, highways, parks and open spaces, schools, apprenticeships and policy contributions. Yet, as Councillor Flick Rea eloquently stated at last week’s Area Action Group public meeting, neither she nor other local councillors have any idea how decisions are made on how this money is spent.

In an effort to shed some light on the matter, Rob Willis, Infrastructure and Growth Manager at Camden Council, came to the meeting. He handled himself reasonably well in the face of rather grumpy audience but he didn’t really have the answers. For example there was confusion between what was Fortune Green and West Hampstead, although it was agreed locally that the two wards should be seen as one area. Rob did say that the council wasn’t sitting on the money, sometimes it was waiting for matched funding and it wasn’t always clear when it would arrive.

Although even quite small developments can be forced to make s106 contributions but the bulk of the money comes from the big developments. Ballymore contributed £1.3 million, the student housing on Blackburn Road about £350,000, and the three recent developments on Iverson and Maygrove roads another £600,000, just to give some examples.

Time to spend some money on the interchange area?

Time to spend some money on the interchange area?  Pic: David Jacobs, Colour Division

Some spending has been allocated; £900,000 is going towards the Overground station, £500,000 has already been allocated to community facilities (£330,000 to Sidings, £75,000 to Kingsgate, £80,000 to WH community centre, £50,000 to Emmanuel Church and £50,000 to the Sherriff Centre). But there is no masterplan for spending the rest of the money or to provide a framework for linking developments. There is no ranking of potential beneficiary projects, little idea of how the decisions are made and scant scrutiny of how money is spent.

At the  meeting, several questions were raised:

  • There is about £250,000 unallocated money for community facilities. Could/should this be spent on the library? On the West End Lane loos under threat of closure?
  • The Iverson Road Open Space has been allocated £210,000 for improvement, but it recently had money spent on it. It’s tired and needs improvement but £210,000? Who made this decision?
  • Sumatra Road Open Space is getting £50,000 for improvement but, like Iverson, it had £50,000 spent on it only a few years ago.
  • Maygrove Peace Park, which is heavily used and surrounded by development, was promised £100,000 from the adjacent 65 Maygrove Road development, but that has somehow become just £59,000 and it won’t get it until 2019. (Again, Maygrove had £100,000 spent on it not that long agom which raises questions of maintenance).
  • There is more than £750,000 for highways and transport spending. Everyone agrees the streetscape round the interchange needs upgrading and it is an important part of the masterplanning – but will Camden consult West Hampstead residents on this?

From April 2015 this year CIL (the Community Infrastructure Levy) replaces the financial contributions of Section 106, and this money will be spent on projects identified by ward councillors. Some of these are the issues thrown up by the growth area. However, this isn’t linked with previous section 106 payments. Odd. Time for some joined up government?