What do you think?
Reader’s notice from Mike Mitchell, of the Roman Road Bow Neighbourhood Forum:
When there is a new development, developers are required to pay a charge called the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). This used to provide a range of infrastructure across the borough to address the pressures of development. CIL regulations require 15% – 25% of CIL to be set aside as the neighbourhood portion. Tower Hamlets approved 25% of CIL to be used as its neighbourhood portion, known as the Local Infrastructure Fund ( LIF).
Government guidance requires the Council to engage with local communities where development has taken place. The Tower Hamlets Council website says: ‘This tells us how to spend that specific pot of money and ensure it matches the priorities expressed by our local communities.’ (paragraph 1.2, LIF Consultation Statement February 2022)
In order to consult with people about their locality and not just on a borough-wide basis, the Council divided the borough into four ‘LIF areas’. The areas are based on a mix of existing administrative and physical boundaries. The boundaries were agreed by the Mayor in Cabinet in 2016.
The Local Infrastructure Fund You Said Report November 2021 said ‘This year you suggested many projects related to public realm improvements. The top three improvement themes were cycling/walking, road network improvements and parks/green spaces across all four of the LIF areas.’
Government CIL guidance says the funds should be spent on:
‘a) the provision, improvement, replacement, operation or maintenance of infrastructure; or
b) anything else that is concerned with addressing the demands that development places on an area’.
Is there life in LIF?
The February 2022 LIF Consultation Statement outlined the next steps: ‘It is intended that the Mayor will approve the allocation of 2021/22 funding in summer 2022 through Cabinet. At this point the council will publish the final list of projects allocated LIF funding. The council will also consult on LIF again for 2022 around autumn as part of an annual process of public engagement. We will therefore invite members of the public to again take part and suggest projects for LIF spending.’ (para. 4.5)
In the 2022 local elections, the Aspire Party gained control of the Council from Labour, winning 24 seats, a majority of 3 over Labour (19), Conservative (1) and Green Party (1) councillors.
The Tower Hamlet LIF website page was then updated to say: ‘The Local Infrastructure Fund (LIF) Programme is being reviewed. As such, the annual LIF consultation will not be taking place this year (autumn/winter 2022). We will update our webpage when we have any new information.’
LIF in Bow
The November 2021 ‘You Said Report’ shows an allocation for the north east area which includes Bow (LIF Area 2), of £87,560 (page 10), and a proposal for: ‘Food recycling bins: Sustainability & food waste recycling improvements for Roman Road Market.’
A freedom on information request to the Council led to the following provisional figures from 2022 to 15th March 2023:
‘ The amount of expenditure from 2022 to date on the LIF food recycling bins project in Roman Road Market is £0.
To date £37,500 of LIF has been expended in LIF Area 2 to deliver two community garden projects (Thomas Road/Burdett Estate and St Leonards Priory) as part of the LIF Community Gardens Programme.
The total expenditure in all 4 LIF areas from 2022 to date is approximately £960,817.’
A strong community voice needed for accountability
The Council’s elected members and officers have many issues to grapple with, and have just completed the major relocation of the Town Hall from Mulberry Place on the Isle of Dogs to the former Royal London Hospital building in Whitechapel.
Lutfur Rahman, Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said concerning the 2023-24 Council budget ‘“Our 2023/24 budget is fully costed, with significant investment up front to get projects moving such as universal free school meals for primary and secondary schools and bringing services such as Tower Hamlets Homes and leisure centres back in house.’ The Mayor also acknowledges that the Council will ‘have to make around £37m of further savings from 2024/25.’
In this context it would be easy for the accumulated LIF funds to be overlooked, and the projects connected with them to be left undone, becoming part of future ‘savings’ in Council expenditure.
It’s important that the local community is therefore kept informed of what is happening to this pot of money accumulated from development that has impacted neighbourhoods across the borough. Neighbourhood Forums and other community groups can play a role in this, advocating for the local community in both proposing projects for LIF funding and monitoring LIF expenditure.
Tower Hamlets Council has some catching up to do, and we await with interest further announcements concerning LIF – we mustn’t allow LIF to become the Local Inactivity Fund!