One of Britain’s most unequal neighborhoods spends hundreds of thousands of pounds of social infrastructure funds on sculptures and security patrols for wards filled with multimillion-dollar homes.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has agreed to spend £226,000 on the artwork in front of a new luxury housing development where two-bedroom flats are selling for close to £2m. It will also spend £50,000 to erect a statue of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi on the Kings Road green.
In 2021 and 2022, £173,000 also went to community security guards to patrol wards including Holland and Brompton and Hans Town, where a £33m terraced house and a flat for £5m were recently sold.
The spending has sparked accusations that the borough is not upgrading and is prioritizing the wrong things. According to the latest census, nearly 70% of households in the poorest districts in the north of the borough where Grenfell Tower is located are deprived, while in the richest districts in the south less than a quarter are destitute.
The funding comes from planning agreements with developers – known as the S106 and Neighborhood Infrastructure Charge (NCIL) – and is for “local infrastructure”. Government guidance suggests potential projects such as affordable housing for S106 and playgrounds, healthcare facilities and schools for CIL.
But over the last two years, the amount of neighborhood CIL spent in Conservative-controlled wards in the borough’s south was 10 times higher than in poorer wards represented by Labor and Liberal Democrat councillors, according to an analysis of Guardian spending figures.
The council has agreed to allow luxury home developer Berkeley Homes to use £226,000 of its own S106 payments to erect a 3.5m bronze sculpture by artist Nick Hornby at the entrance to the new housing complex. Berkeley Group has agreed to provide funds as part of a deal to obtain planning permission to build 375 flats on Royal Warwick Square. The sculpture “is at the heart of the project, being a curiosity,” said the developer. The council said some of the S106 money was raised 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 the borough receives a pittance while the south of nearly a quarter of a million pounds is generously generous to Nick Hornby’s commission just beyond the development he brought in cartridge S106. How does this mitigate the impact of development? This improves the situation for the very few rich people who can afford housing.”
Hornby has produced work for Glyndebourne Opera House in East Sussex and exhibited at Tate Britain. The council also set aside £94,606 of its planned payments for a second Hornby sculpture in De Vere Gardens and £54,000 for Sir Eduardo Paolozzi’s Oscar Wilde sculpture to be erected in Dovehouse Green, off Kings Road, Chelsea.
Labour’s candidate for the Conservative seat in Kensington & Chelsea, Joe Powell, said: “The RBKC does not serve the whole of Kensington honestly. While neighboring Westminster provides free school meals and Hammersmith provides adult social care, the RBKC continues to fail its residents and prioritize the wrong things.”
The RBKC said national planning rules limit where it can spend NCIL money, but it is able to redistribute 25% of the funds “to make it fairer”. It also said Berkeley’s S106 payments funded a new state primary school and affordable housing. She added that the council funds the operator of the Tabernacle arts center in the north of the borough and partly funds the Notting Hill Carnival.
“The amount developers are contributing to local communities is tied to the value of the land,” a spokesman for the RBKC said. “Since some neighborhoods have some of the most expensive land in the world, NCIL’s fund pool is larger in some neighborhoods.”
Neighborhood CIL is to be spent on priorities defined by local communities. The RBKC consulted with residents in 2020, who identified air quality, police and emergency services, parks, streetscapes and community safety as needs.
The council has collected close to £19m in social infrastructure fees from planning contracts and spent £3.8m in 2021-22. Most of these funds go to projects across the municipality. Over £3.3m has been spent in the last two years to replace the nursery at Grenfell Tower and to refurbish Oxford Gardens and Park Walk Primary School, both in the north of the borough.
“In North Kensington, NCIL has funded everything from communal kitchen gardens and a new sports ground near Ladbroke Grove, to extra CCTV cameras near Barlby Road and security improvements to the Notting Barn estate,” a spokesman for the RBKC said.
The Berkeley group declined to comment.