Levy plan could hit green infrastructure

Proposed changes to section 106 cash allocations risk less money being available for local green-space improvements.

Section 106: landscape benefits - image: HW
Section 106: landscape benefits - image: HW

Changes that could divert section 106 money away from green infrastructure have been criticised by park and landscape experts.

Section 106, under which contributions from developers have frequently been earmarked for green-space improvements, is due to be scaled back in favour of the new community infrastructure levy (CIL) next April.

Last week the Government said neighbourhoods that take a "proactive approach" and choose to accept new housing are set to receive up to a quarter of the cash from the levy to spend on areas of their choosing such as refurbishing village halls or council swimming pools.

Planning minister Nick Boles justified the move by insisting: "This Government is determined to persuade communities to accept more housebuilding by giving them a tangible share of the benefits it brings."

But former vice-president of the Landscape Institute Brodie McAllister warned: "106 money is specific and giving a quarter to communities is generous. The new allocation has to be every bit as specific or it might mean even less money for local landscapes."

McAllister, who worked on millions of pounds worth of section 106 money for the Bluewater mall in Kent, said: "I worry this could be a too simplistic free-for-all with people grabbing money from a central pot. Conservatives are keen to simplify things for developers and this may get you re-elected, but will it be good for green spaces?"

Consultant Sid Sullivan agreed: "Competition for CIL will almost certainly squeeze out park projects, which used to be a significant beneficiary - particularly for play and sports facilities. They will now find it much harder to compete for that cash."

Test Valley Borough Council green-space officer Noel Preece added: "I have concerns how the contributions will be distributed under this new regime. I think it will increase competition for badly needed funds.

"It will become hard for parks to continually and successfully make the case for contributions that have been secured on the back of shortfalls in existing parks and play areas when competing with other services."

However, landscape consultant Peter Neal said where communities have developed neighbourhood plans that put parks at the heart of development, green space would benefit.

Community infrastructure levy: sector views

Peter Neal, landscape consultant

"The big risk is how local authorities set spending priorities and whether transport and community buildings trump parks. The challenge is to ensure that communities have a democratic voice. Park managers would be wise to stick close to the CIL action in coming months."

Sid Sullivan, parks consultant

"The CIL debate is another blow at a time when the park sector's financial base is being eroded at an alarming rate and bringing into question the long-term viability of many parks services."

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