Did you watch Newsnight on Wednesday night? If you did you would have heard all about the ‘Boles Bung’, but if not here’s a little intro and a few thoughts from me.
The ‘Boles Bung’ as it has been dubbed is the Planning Minister, Nick Boles’, new approach to distributing the money paid by developers in England under the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). It is intended to incentivise local communities into accepting new development, particularly new housing. No specific date has been given for these powers to come into force, but a statement from the Department for Communities and Local Government says it will be the spring.
But first a little about the CIL; this levy was introduced by the last government as a way of leveraging funds from developers into local infrastructure. Planning gain, predominantly under the guise of Section 106 agreements, has been around for a long time but this money always had to be spent on a specific need arising from the development. For example, to contribute to a new roundabout to allow access to a new housing estate, put up warning road signs or provide more school places. CIL was designed to be much more flexible and more importantly most schemes would have to pay into it.
Local Planning Authorities firstly draw up an Infrastructure Development Plan (IDP) (essentially a local ‘wish list’ which could have everything from bypasses to community orchards on it), they then have to draw up a charging schedule. This would set out how much developers have to pay for every square metre for all different sorts of development. The idea is that this would be weighted in favour of different areas and uses. For example, the levy would be higher for housing in a desirable rural location, whereas business uses in a rundown regeneration area would be lower or maybe even free. These would be different across all the different local authorities.
This of course sounds like a great idea, but in practice, the uptake by local planning authorities has been relatively low – the most up to date figures that I can find (August 2012) show that only 6 local authorities have an adopted charging schedule and are eligible to charge CIL.
The idea of the ‘Boles Bung’ is that communities with adopted neighbourhood plans will be eligible for 25% of the money from CIL generated in their area, whilst those without a neighbourhood plan will be eligible for 15%.
Keen followers of this blog will know that no neighbourhood plans have yet been adopted. Upper Eden is the furthest forward, it is due to go to referendum on 7th March. Needless to say Eden District Council is not one of those authorities with an adopted charging schedule, though they are working towards it.
So in the foreseeable future we can only realistically consider that the ‘Boles Bung’ will be 15% of the funds levied. At the Woodland Trust we are big supporters of mechanisms that give more freedom to local communities around improving and valuing their environment. This money could be an exciting opportunity for communities to develop their local green spaces and enhance local woodlands, rather than relying on local authorities to recognise this need. There is however also a risk that local planning authorities could be left short of money which would otherwise go to vital infrastructure works (including green infrastructure – though we wish this was a higher priority for some) as set out in their Infrastructure Development Plan.Also, we must remember this is not new money. It is money that would otherwise be spent by the local planning authority, locally.
The new ‘Boles Bung’ must also come with a health warning: since CIL funds across authorities are variable, some areas are eligible for more funding than others. The danger is that – should development go ahead – it will be those communities that are seen as more desirable which will be eligible for more funding.
The nature of the CIL means that there will be less, and in some cases no, money available from development in less desirable areas. The idea of the CIL is to make areas more financially appealing to developers and investors. If this works it is great, but if not then some communities are left without development and the infrastructure from a developer’s contributions. Handing money directly to communities via the ‘Boles Bung’ may only exacerbate the differences between communities since it remains more likely that desirable areas will be sought for development.
At the Woodland Trust we want to see healthy sustainable communities with green spaces at their heart. We welcome the opportunity for local people to have a say in how CIL money is spent and hope that community woods will be seen as a priority. However, this mechanism will not be available to most people for a long time (until CIL charging schedules and neighbourhood plans are adopted) and when it is, may not benefit those communities that need it most.
Nonetheless, we welcome innovation if it achieves good planning, and so often it is communities themselves that know best where to steer development. In an ideal world the effect will be to steer development away from valued community woods and result in new ones being planted. For now the jury is out.
Victoria Bankes Price, Planning Adviser