Why not ask the Community about how to spend Community Funds?

Communities in Bloomsbury are painfully aware that Camden seem to have thousands of projects up their sleeve for the area. The implementation of these projects appears to follow a common pattern:

  1. Camden quietly put a fully-fledged proposal to consultation.
  2. Only a small proportion of residents affected find out about the consultation.
  3. The community goes to great lengths to oppose the proposal.
  4. Camden ignore all objections and try to force ahead the changes.

And yet in the midst of all this, when the community asks for small improvements – or indeed for Camden to do the bare minimum of what they are expected to do – we get back ‘budget cuts’…. ‘the Council is stretched enough as it is’…. ‘a decade of austerity has drained the public purse’….. ‘public services have been starved of public funds’…..

So how can Camden simultaneously be claiming to have no money yet spend tens of millions on pointless projects?

The Community Investment Program

The reality is that the claims that Camden have no money are more or less political nonsense and Camden actually have more money than they know what to do with.

As Camden has had their governmental budget cut year on year, they have turned to more devious means to raise funds.

We have found that through a combination of:

  1. Selling public property, and
  2. encouraging large development to maximise payments from developers,

Camden have raised a total of £442M over about five years, and £188M of this has come from the Bloomsbury area. You can read more about the statistics here.

For comparison, Camden’s annual budget is about £800M this year.

This scheme has been loosely termed the ‘Community Investment Program’ by Camden, as some of the money raised is spent contributing ‘towards’ affordable housing. However the reality is that most money raised in this way does not go towards community investment at all.

The problem is that funds raised in this way generally must be spent locally, and that some of these funds have a time limit on being spent (five years). What we therefore see is a scrambling to ensure that these funds are spent in the area, and hence the various schemes that we see being imposed on Bloomsbury.

Camden have more money than they know what to do with.

A further problem is that ward councillors get a say in how these funds are spent. Theoretically our ward councillors live among us and have a good idea about how funds should be spent to benefit the area. But our recent FOI request found that none of the King’s Cross ward councillors live here, and only one of the three Bloomsbury ward councillors live here.

Many of these councillors also have a poor repututation.

It all conspires to create a large pot of money for Bloomsbury, but nobody knows how to spend it.

The Latest Instance: A Pointless Pavement on Cartwright Gardens.

Camden recently proposed to install a brand new pavement on the eastern half of Cartwright Gardens. As usual, Camden attempted to make the consultation as quiet as possible and failed to even consult with their own ‘Cartwright Gardens CLG’ – a group set up by Camden with the express purpose of consultation on such things.

After protest we managed to get the consultation significantly extended.

The question arose in some minds as to how Camden could afford to just build a brand new and largely pointless pavement with apparently no motivation, and against the wishes of all locals affected.

We have found that Camden are scrambling to spend Section 106 funds raised from the One Cartwright Gardens development, which will expire this year.

One Cartwright Gardens – opposed at great length, but approved.

Section 106 funds are generally time limited. Applicants must pay a sum of money to have their application approved, and larger applications carry larger payments. The infamous One Cartwright Gardens development carried with it a payment of more than £500,000.

However the time limit for spending these funds is fast approaching, so Camden are trying to splash out the funds last minute on a pointless pavement, rather than give the funds back to the developer.

We are trying to see if we can have these funds diverted to better means. After all Section 106 funds are raised to ‘offset the harm caused to a local community by development’.

So why not actually ask the local community about what we would consider to benefit the community?

Related letter featured in the Camden New Journal.

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