The Community Infrastructure Levy can be harnessed as a potent force to get development moving, but a balance must be struck to allow for viable schemes and to create infrastructure, affordable housing and places that people want to live in.
Those were some of the key themes to emerge from a wide-ranging NLA conference last week, which examined the impact of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, Localism Act and CIL charges on the viability of regeneration projects in London. Development Economics – making regeneration stack up in the era of CIL kicked off with DCLG deputy director, economic and social planning Mark Lee providing an update on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. Lee said that it was a particular focus for both the prime minister and his deputy to get stalled schemes going. There has been ‘fairly rapid progress’ made on the new Bill, but areas of debate have so far related mostly to the ability to apply directly to the secretary of state, affordable housing, and broadband in rural areas. The first aspect ‘may seem like a strange kind of localism’, he said, but localism is also about responsibility and the need to serve your communities effectively. ‘There’s a recognition within government that there are a lot of stalled sites with homes on them’, said Lee. ‘We want to get those moving’.
Senior lecturer in spatial planning at the University of Westminster Duncan Bowie said he was concerned that the question of viability of schemes was now driving outputs, to a certain extent to the detriment of planning policy objectives. Proposals in the bill, he added, seemed to be based on the assumption that affordable housing is the main constraint on development, though this was not proved in impact assessments. ‘Much of this debate and affordable housing through planning obligations is an unhelpful diversion from dealing with that fundamental issue of a long-term public sector investment’, he said.
The real need, said BNP Paribas senior director, development consulting, Dr Anthony Lee, was to strike a balance with CIL between infrastructure requirements – transport, education, health and so on, and the viability of development. Thus far, Redbridge is the only outer London borough with a CIL up and running, with a flat rate of £70/m2, and the authority’s interim chief planning and regeneration officer Mark Lucas said CIL ‘needn’t be as taxing or as difficult as some might fear’. The borough has a particular requirement for schools, with a ‘staggering’ need for 44 new forms of entry, and is one of the few authorities adopting an action plan along its section of the Crossrail route. ‘I think we have not seen the last of the mayoral CILS, with Crossrail 2 the obvious candidate’, he said.
Croydon, Barnet and Brent’s CIL rates regimes have been examined so far, with Croydon aiming to promote growth in its centre by applying a nil rate for residential in the core. In inner London, Wandsworth is the only one to get to the adopted stage, with a nil rate for Roehampton to prompt development, and Nine Elms Vauxhall the chief focus, with the Northern Line Extension the key beneficiary. ‘CIL can be a catalyst for growth’, said Lee. ‘It is not all going into a big black hole’.
Assistant director of planning at the GLA Stewart Murray said the context for all of this was of Boris Johnson aiming to ‘turbo charge’ the economy and prepare for London’s major population increases, placing pressure on infrastructure. Johnson will be announcing his ambitions to create 200,000 new jobs and a minimum of 34,000 new homes per annum this Easter, although London is only achieving around 25,000 new homes per year at present. ‘The mayor is keen to unlock stalled sites in London – there are 170,000 homes with planning permission which are not being built.’ At Nine Elms, some 14,000 of the 16,000 homes have planning permission without the NLE being built. ‘We really want to make a successful piece of London here’.
The conference also heard from speakers including Speechly Bircham partner Duncan Salmon on negotiating the best deal, advising that development agreements are drafted with sufficient flexibility to allow phasing. Renewal’s Jordan Malik showed how effective collaboration between public and private could achieve the right mix in regeneration at the Surrey Canal sports village scheme, masterplanned on a difficult site by Studio Egret West, while that practice’s David West outlined some of the firm’s work in this area at Clapham One, Old Vinyl Factory in Hayes, Stratford and East Croydon.
Lucas again: ‘I would say to you that if development isn’t working in London, or stalling, or sites are not being brought forward it is absolutely not due to the imposition of CIL. If infrastructure is being delivered, it is precisely because CIL is being injected into it’.
David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterley