Parallels have inevitably been drawn between Boris Johnson’s “anti-democratic” attempt to prorogue parliament and Oliver Cromwell’s establishment of the Protectorate government.
Throw into the mix Greta Thunberg’s impassioned warning that we are at “the beginning of a mass extinction” and we have a full-blown existential crisis on our hands.
The irony? I’m not sure what can be done about our little constitutional crisis or Brexit – pleas to “Just get on with it!” beg the question: “Get on with what, exactly?” – but such is the global groundswell of support for action on climate change, there is a chance, albeit an outside one, that this is one seemingly intractable problem that actually could be tackled.
The difference with climate change is that there is a degree of transparency as to the scale of the problem, if not yet accountability on the part of those being called on to try and solve it. Transparency does not always go hand in hand with accountability, of course, but shining the spotlight on a murky-looking issue does at least help determine if it is a storm in a tea-cup or an out-and-out scandal.
It was a suspicion that we might be dealing with the latter that prompted Property Week to embark on a six-month investigation into an issue that pales into insignificance compared with climate change or Brexit but is the bane of developers’ lives: just what does happen to all those Section 106 and CIL payments made to councils in exchange for planning approval?
For years, there has been speculation that only a fraction of the billions paid in is actually spent and that most of it has disappeared into a black hole. How big, nobody knows. They soon will, though. New legislation came in this month requiring councils to report how much dosh they received and spent. Property Week’s first investigation since establishing our new investigations unit reveals that when that full picture does become clear, it could be even more damning than feared.
Our data journalist sent freedom of information requests to all 343 local authorities in England asking them how much they received in Section 106 and CIL payments and how much they spent.
Their responses were then painstakingly analysed. The findings make for sobering reading. We are still wading through the data, but the 61% so far crunched shows that councils received at least £4bn in Section 106 and CIL payments between 2013 and 2018, yet spent only £1.5bn, meaning 63% remained unspent.
These figures are likely to be grossly understated – most local authorities only supplied partial data – but a bit of back-of-envelope maths on the remaining 39% hikes the total received in Section 106 and CIL payments to £5.56bn, 63% of which would equate to a whopping £3.5bn in unspent money. That is quite a black hole….
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