As noted previously, Hampstead receives a raw deal from Camden on capital investment. Despite Hampstead bearing the brunt of development, and developments in Hampstead paying millions a year in CIL and s106 payments, it receives almost nothing in return.
I wrote the below column for this week’s Ham & High (below version was unedited) on this unfair treatment, which amounts to a £13m a year tax on NW3. It’s time for Camden to treat Hampstead with proper respect and give it a fair share of the CIL pie.
200 years ago, while lodging locally, John Constable completed a series of paintings memorialised Hampstead as a sleepy village, then perched past the outskirts of London: the very model of idyllic country living.
Today, it’s a different sight that dominates the vistas: that of cranes and construction sites. Whether busy streets like Fitzjohns Avenue or small residential roads like New End, the Royal Free Pears Building or the coming 100 Avenue Road, the rise of cranes across Hampstead has been unmistakable.
While these building sites can mean big money for developers, they can also mean big money for Camden – and that makes up a large proportion of the funding for the council’s spending plans.
Developers pay money to the council through two inter-related mechanisms: Community Infrastructure Levy (or ‘CIL’), and section 106 payments. This can amount to serious money, with seven developments each earning Camden over £1 million just in CIL funding since 2015.
The levy is meant to defray the downsides of development and ease pressure on public services locally. Although some is ringfenced locally, the vast majority of this money is spent at the discretion of Camden’s Labour administration: making it a subject ripe for additional scrutiny from Camden’s Conservative opposition.
Earlier this month, I asked the Cabinet member responsible for CIL what was being done to ensure this money was spent equitably across the borough – especially in Hampstead and Highgate.
To my astonishment, he replied that capital investment wouldn’t be spent in Hampstead, because development hadn’t taken place there.
The Labour councillors are trying to pull the wool over residents’ eyes – and they’re fooling no-one when they say there are no development pressures in the north of the borough!
Indeed, so much development has taken place in Hampstead that over half of all CIL receipts in the whole borough come from NW3. And those seven developments I mentioned earlier that each raised over £1m in CIL? All seven have been in Hampstead or Highgate.
Large developments in Hampstead and Highgate are charged over three times the levy rate as they would be in the south of the borough. It’s unfair to treat the north as a cash cow – additional money should be spent, as much as possible, in the areas where that building work happens. So is it?
Last year, Camden spent £27m of money from CIL and similar payments through s106 agreements. But while more than half of CIL revenue was raised in NW3, just £1m – 5%! – was spent there according to the most recent annual report.
That means Labour’s approach to CIL makes it a £13m a year tax on Hampstead.
Needless to say, that’s a huge amount of money. It could restore weekly bin collections for all Camden residents fifteen times over. Under the Met’s match-funding scheme, it could fund 400 extra police officers. But instead, it’s taken out of the communities over-burdened with development and spent elsewhere instead.
This is not acceptable and amounts to a complete reversal of the rationale for CIL: that funding is provided for areas where development takes place. Sadly, reasonable requests to do that have been flatly declined.
Immediately after I asked the Cabinet member about the disparity of funding, my Conservative colleague Cllr Steve Adams requested £500,000 in match-funding to unlock £1.5m of grants to renovate WAC Arts in Belsize Park.
This school and performing arts centre is a beacon of hope for young people across the borough. Although based at Hampstead’s old Town Hall, it caters for people across Camden that are alienated from mainstream education, especially fostered children, excluded pupils, or ex-young offenders.
Moreover, by using CIL to match-fund grants from other bodies, it stretches Camden’s money further than any other project would. It is exactly the sort of strategically-important and financially-savvy project that Camden should spend these CIL receipts on.
Instead, the Cabinet member said that the money would be spent elsewhere, and that despite the school serving children from across the borough – and NW3 having already paid several times its fair share – local residents should pay for it themselves.
Deciding how to allocate taxpayers’ money is always a difficult task, but to Hampstead and Highgate residents, it seems our communities come bottom of Camden’s priority list every time.
CIL is a really effective way to allow communities affected by large developments to keep the benefit locally. However, the revenue it raises needs to be allocated far more evenly and equitably, so the north of the borough sees the benefits of all those cranes and construction sites, too.
It’s time Camden stopped CIL being just a £13m tax on Hampstead and Highgate and spent more of the money it takes out of our community on services locally.