Cllr Joel Davidson is a councillor in Brent and was the Conservative Party London Assembly candidate for Brent and Harrow last year.
A recent survey by Planning magazine showed that councils have so far spent only 16 per cent of the millions of pounds raised from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) on infrastructure. Given that the very point of the levy is to ensure that there are adequate local services to cope with population increases that follow new housing developments, this is worrying, and requires Government attention.
As a councillor in the London borough of Brent and having stood as a GLA candidate for Brent and Harrow, I have found the issue of unspent and loosely targeted CIL since 2014 to be increasingly concerning as we see continued population growth in the capital putting strain on local services.
Far too often, I have witnessed large-scale developments waved through with minimal strategic thought by the Labour Council. Many schemes do not offer tangible and transparent benefits to the community, and in turn do not help to improve the local environment and economy.
Therefore the way in which councils raise CIL, and how and where it is spent, needs to be re-examined and made far more transparent and fit for purpose.
This is especially so in light of last week’s Budget, which demonstrates the very welcome priority that the Government is placing on housing. The Chancellor signalled that the government stands ready to enact measures such as compulsory purchase orders to end landbanking, a welcome sign that they are serious about meeting the target for delivery of 300,000 homes per year by the middle of the next decade.
This amount of new homes means a potential windfall for local authorities in funds raised from the CIL.
With such ambitious targets for housing, there needs to be a system in place to ensure that money from developers goes directly to the areas where new homes are being built to ensure that communities are well served for transport, green spaces, schools and other essential local amenities.
Currently CIL does not have to be spent in the area where new developments are built, just within the district. But money should and needs to be spent within a certain radius of a new development to make sure that it goes back in to the immediate vicinity that will be impacted by new homes and the attendant population increase. It should also be compulsory for councils to spend CIL on infrastructure and there is also a case for there to be greater transparency about what the funds will be spent on before developments go ahead.
Closing loopholes that allow developers to avoid payment should also be looked at. In a case last year a developer avoided paying CIL on a retail development in Swindon because they submitted two separate planning permission requests. The High Court sided with the developer, agreeing that this was a lawful way to avoid paying the rate and that the council could not treat the two applications as one despite the fact that it was for the same building. It’s clear that developers will seek advice from property agents about ensuring that their payments of CIL are as low as possible. Therefore it’s essential that developers are not allowed to hold authorities or politicians to ransom over this issue – and pay what is owed.
If we are to allay the very real fears that communities in London and the south east often have about new developments and the impact they will have on their neighbourhood, there needs to be a reform and toughening up of current CIL rules. We need more homes, but we also need communities that are sustainable and able to cope with new residents.
Far too many developers in London especially have got away with insufficient commitments to improve the local area and far too many Councils are not properly enforcing these commitments. Government action needs to be taken to ensure we create a better planning and development system for all.