London council spending thousands on art and security patrols in opulent wards

An example of Tory council priorities! – Owl

One of Britain’s most unequal boroughs is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds in social infrastructure funds on sculptures and security patrols for wards filled with multimillion-pound homes.

Robert Booth 

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has agreed to spend £226,000 on an artwork outside a new luxury housing development where two-bedroom flats sell for close to £2m. It is also spending £50,000 erecting a sculpture by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi on a green off Kings Road.

In 2021 and 2022, £173,000 also went on community safety wardens to patrol wards including Holland and Brompton and Hans Town where a terrace house sold recently for £33m and a flat went for £5m.

The spending has sparked accusations the borough is failing to level up and prioritising the wrong things. Close to 70% of households in the poorest wards in the north of the borough, where Grenfell Tower is located, suffer deprivation, according to the latest census, while in the richest wards in the south less than a quarter are deprived.

The funds come from planning agreements with property developers – known as S106 and neighbourhood community infrastructure levy (NCIL) – and are meant for “local infrastructure”. Government guidance suggests potential projects such as affordable housing, in the case of S106, and play areas, healthcare facilities and schools in the case of CIL.

But over the last two years, the amount of neighbourhood CIL spent in Conservative-controlled wards in the south of the borough has been 10 times higher than in the poorer wards that are represented by Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors, Guardian analysis of spending records shows.

The council has agreed to allow luxury housing developer, Berkeley Homes, to use £226,000 from its own S106 payments to erect a 3.5-metre high bronze sculpture by the artist Nick Hornby at the entrance to a new housing complex. Berkeley Group agreed to contribute the funds as part of a deal to secure planning permission for 375 apartments at Royal Warwick Square. The sculpture will “sit right at the heart of the scheme, providing a point of curiosity”, the developer has said. The council said some S106 money was collected specifically for public art.

But John Lowery, a local resident who obtained details of the deal under the Freedom of Information Act, said: “The north of borough is in receipt of a pittance whilst in the south almost a quarter of a million pounds is lavished on a Nick Hornby commission right outside the development that made the S106 contribution. How is that mitigating the impact of the development? It’s enhancing it for the very few rich people who can afford to live there.”

Hornby has produced works for Glyndebourne opera house in East Sussex and exhibited at Tate Britain. The council has also allocated £94,606 from planning payments for a second Hornby sculpture at De Vere Gardens and £54,000 for a Sir Eduardo Paolozzi sculpture of Oscar Wilde to be erected at Dovehouse Green, off Kings Road in Chelsea.

Labour’s candidate for the Conservative-held Kensington & Chelsea parliamentary seat, Joe Powell, said: “RBKC is failing to serve the whole of Kensington fairly. While neighbouring Westminster extends free school meals and Hammersmith provides adult social care, RBKC continues to fail its residents and prioritise the wrong things.”

RBKC said national planning rules limit where it can spend money from NCIL but it is able to redistribute 25% of the funds “to make this fairer”. It also said Berkeley’s S106 payments have funded a new state primary school and affordable housing. The council funds the operator of the Tabernacle arts centre in the north of the borough and part-funds the Notting Hill carnival, it added.

“The amount that developers contribute to local communities is linked to land values,” a spokesperson for RBKC said. “With some of the most expensive land in the world in parts of borough, the NCIL funding pot is bigger in some neighbourhoods.”

Neighbourhood CIL is meant to be spent on priorities identified by local communities. RBKC consulted residents in 2020 who identified air quality, policing and emergency services, parks, streetscape and community safety as needs.

The council collected close to £19m in community infrastructure levies from approved planning applications and spent £3.8m in 2021-22. Most of these funds are allocated for use on borough-wide projects. More than £3.3m has been spent in the last two years on a replacement for the Grenfell Tower nursery and the refurbishment of Oxford Gardens and Park Walk primary school, both in the north of the borough.

“In North Kensington NCIL has funded everything from community kitchen gardens and a new sports pitch near Ladbroke Grove, to extra CCTV near Barlby Road and improved estate security at Notting Barn,” an RBKC spokesperson said.

Berkeley Group declined to comment.

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