24 February, 2014
Wokingham is a great place to live; according to a Public Health England report published just last year, it's actually the best in the UK when it comes to quality of life. It's facts like this that cause more people to move to an area, so with the population growing pretty steadily in the Berkshire town, steps are being taken to ensure everyone is accommodated comfortably.
There's been plenty of talk about the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) which is set to come into force soon; it may even arrive earlier than expected, with the latest reports suggesting April 2015 as a possible date. Let's take a closer look at what it could mean for the area and its people...
Firstly, what does the CIL entail?
The CIL will allow Wokingham Borough Council to raise funds from the developers working on new building projects in the area. This money can then be used to pay for the infrastructure updates which are needed as a result of the development work. This could include new medical facilities, schools and public transport systems.
Why is it necessary?
The CIL will be replacing an overly complicated system which sees the council relying on donations from developers. Hypothetically, this means that the council could get the same amount of infrastructure improvement funding for a small building on one road as it does for a whole housing estate on another. Levy rates are predetermined by the communities and developers, so with more transparency, the CIL should help to streamline the planning process greatly.
How will Wokingham benefit?
To give an idea of the gravity of this change, it is thought that the mini-towns which are expected to be built by developers over the next decade could generate as much as £177 million of guaranteed infrastructure funding. This could, of course, be used to build schools, parks and community centres for new and existing residents. Broken down, each of the houses that are set to be built in the Woodley area soon - of which there are 1,000 - will be worth around £9,000 in funding.
According to officials, more than £260 million of infrastructure investment is needed in the coming years; while the CIL-affected forecasts will still leave a gap, it would be a lot bigger with the old system left in place.
What's the catch?
As is often the case with changes like these, there are a couple of downsides to be aware of. Developers, for example, may not see the CIL in such a positive light; it has been suggested (in whispered tones) that those who look to start projects in the area will be forced to pay double what they're used to.
In order to work effectively, the CIL must be mandatory (with a few exceptions). Those who don't want to bear the burden of the extra charges - or simply can't afford to - are likely to look for other sites to invest in.
What's more, the levy itself will be formulaic; it will be predetermined as a percentage of the total development cost, regardless of what the project will entail. This means the link between new projects and the related infrastructure are essentially broken and a balance can't always be guaranteed.
Exciting times ahead
Positivity is already very high in Wokingham and this guaranteed funding is likely make the future look even brighter. In theory, residents can expect to see the construction projects around them get started and finished more promptly, with the CIL preventing delays. For example, work on the North Wokingham Distributor Road has been delayed on more than one occasion because the council has been waiting for funding to be made available by developers; under the new system, the local authority would be able to use the money it knows will be coming in from other projects.
It is, however, important to look at both sides of the coin. The council must act very carefully if it is to minimise the negative impacts that such a measure can have on a town's growth.