Lewisham Council says it is the first in the country to allow residents a say in how cash from developers is spent – and to focus spending on deprived parts of the borough.
Councillors last week approved its new neighbourhood community infrastructure levy scheme, which will see money raised from developers spent on projects chosen by the council and residents.
Lewisham has so far raised £9.28 million from developers using the levy, and so far has been able to spend 15 per cent of it in the ward it was collected.
The approved plans will see this increase to 25 per cent – half of which will stay in the ward, a quarter will be allocated to areas of deprivation and a quarter will go towards a borough-wide fund.
The Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) 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, although these continue for affordable housing, local employment schemes and “non-strategic transport”.
A similar version of this scheme has existed in Greenwich for 18 months, but the Greenwich Neighbourhood Growth Fund only uses 15% of the money from developers and decisions are not made on a ward-by-ward basis.
In Lewisham, the council has decided to use its system of 18 individual ward assemblies, which have long been able to decide on small grants for their areas, to decide where and how to spend the money. Any resident can attend one of the quarterly meetings. Greenwich has long resisted ward assemblies, instead dividing the borough into four areas and holding public meetings in those areas under the title of Better Together, which cannot make decisions. The meetings were “paused” last year before being reintroduced this year.
Lewisham’s elected mayor, Damien Egan said: “Neighbourhood CIL is a charge that a local authority can levy on new developments. It’s very similar to, but of course it’s more flexible for us, than the section 106.
“The new strategy gives us the opportunity to take money into the local community and make the community at the helm and at the forefront of decision making.
“Lewisham is the first local authority in the country to be devolving a CIL to local communities in this way … and including a level of deprivation in distribution funding.”
He said this was because some areas, particularly wards in the south, had very low levels of development and were deprived.
“This means additional money is going to deprived wards that need it,” he added.
Lewisham’s approach – which effectively ensures areas such as Bellingham and Downham get money – again differs from Greenwich, whose system has been criticised for allocating smaller sums to wards in the east of the borough such as Abbey Wood and Thamesmead.
In Greenwich, money is allocated through dividing the borough into four areas and using the money collected by developers in those areas – 15% of the total CIL cash, rather than Lewisham’s 25%. Projects then must fit priorities identified in a residents’ survey carried out in 2017. Half the money is then allocated by a project board, the other half is decided by a residents’ online vote.
Greenwich’s scheme has been criticised – even by its own councillors – for being confusing and favouring “the usual suspects”, and has struggled with a lack of applications for funding. It has awarded £500,000 to a total of 36 projects so far.
How will Lewisham’s programme work?
Lewisham’s process for choosing the projects will see local assemblies setting priority themes for the ward with their councillors.
The council will then make an open call for projects over either a one, two or four-year basis, which council officers will then filter into a long list.
Ideas must “to support the development” of an area through improving infrastructure, offering value for money, benefiting the community, addressing a local priority, and meeting the demands in the area.
That list will go to a vote at a ward assembly and the ideas will be prioritised by the director of planning.
Ward funds will then be allocated by the council, and the borough wide projects will be allocated by the mayor and cabinet.
Lewisham is looking at how best it can market this to residents, with officers investigating the use of an online platform alongside leaflet drops, to engage more residents in all stages of the process.
Greenwich context added by Darryl Chamberlain
Bridie Witton is the Local Democracy Reporter for Lewisham. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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