Magazine article Times Higher Education

No Relief, No Facilities

Magazine article Times Higher Education

No Relief, No Facilities

Article excerpt

If universities aren't spared the local council levy on new development, their communities will suffer, warns John Cater.

When the government introduced new planning regulations in the spring of last year, the message was clear. The aim was to put an end to the rag- bag of practices whereby local authorities might seek improvements to the local infrastructure and amenities as a condition of approval: for example, a new school building in return for the release of playing fields for a supermarket; or a new library and community centre in return for permission to build a block of flats. Local authorities reached such agreements in only 6 per cent of plans approved.

The catchily titled Community Infrastructure Levy (Amendment) Regulations 2011 (CIL) instead provide a formal structure to allow authorities to raise funds from developers undertaking new building projects. This money, in turn, will be used to fund a wide range of infrastructure projects such as new road schemes; road safety initiatives; flood defences; education, health and social care facilities; green spaces and leisure centres.

So far, so good. But, as ever, putting theory into practice is problematic.

First, a levy that is sustainable in a prosperous borough with enthusiastic developers and a buoyant property market will not be sustainable in a poor one desperate for infrastructure investment, with concomitant implications for the quality of service provision. Second, a levy set at a time of economic growth may well stifle investment in tougher times.

But, faced with cuts in direct public funding and a cap on rateable income, there is no doubt that most authorities will seek to use the levying powers granted to them. So what are the implications for the higher education sector?

Crucially, the Department for Communities and Local Government's guidance does not differentiate between types of developer or development. It states that "most buildings that people normally use will be liable to pay the levy" and it will "be charged in pounds per square metre on the net additional increase in floor space of any given development" at the planning permission stage.

Many universities have become used to paying so-called Section 106 monies on residential developments, usually levied on a fee-per-unit basis. …

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