West Berkshire’s Community Infrastructure Levy: a statement from the Acting Leader on 14 March 2024

The following statement concerning Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charges was read by Acting Leader Jeff Brooks before the start of West Berkshire Council’s Executive meeting on Thursday 14 March 2024. It has been reproduced here exactly as provided to us with the exception of some minor changes made to punctuation and formatting which were felt to be more appropriate for text designed to be read rather than spoken. You can watch a video of Councillor Brooks’ address here (from 2 minutes 30 seconds).

In April 2015 this council adopted its CIL Charging Policy. The Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) was developed to enable Councils to charge developers in order to receive payments towards a district, county, borough or metropolitan area’s infrastructure needs associated with new development. It was an adaptation of the old Section 106 charging regime, although S106 charges are still levied in certain cases that I won’t go in to here.

Many – in fact most – councils up and down the country elected not to pursue householders who were developing an extension to their home, building a new one after demolishing their old house or building an annex. I will refer to these as householder developments.

There are effectively three different categories:

  • Homeowners extending their home.
  • Homeowners building an annex at their home.
  • Individuals building their own home.

Disqualifying events were incorporated into the legislation to prevent abuse of the system by developers masquerading as individuals building or extending a house.

Our charging policy stated and still states to this day that: there will be no CIL charge for self-build housing, residential annexes and extensions.

That is what the legislation intended.

BUT the devil was in the detail. I have spoken to many people about the legislation, including a number of agents as well as the consultants we have engaged and who are currently reviewing our CIL process. All of them agree that the legislation is poor.

According to the legislation, householders must be assessed for CIL and then must complete a complex range of forms – provided by central government – in order to be deemed exempt from CIL charges.

Many councils decided NOT to ask householders developing an extension, replacement house or annex to fill out all the complex paperwork; they understood that the process was over confusing and easy to get wrong. They used a common-sense approach, deeming the applicant to be exempt through a light touch assessment regime.

But, in West Berkshire – instead of implementing a light touch approach and assisting the applicant to complete the forms correctly and thus achieve a zero-rated CIL charge as intended within the legislation – this council via the then CIL management team implemented what can best be described as a zero-tolerance policy. If the forms were not submitted in a timely manner or were incorrect, then the charge was levied, invoices were dispatched, and the collection of the charge was undertaken.

Although, within the legislation, the applicant could appeal to the council as the Charging Authority, we appear to have been inconsistent in how we reacted to such appeals and, there was no official internal appeal process developed here that enabled the application to be properly reviewed, perhaps with Member involvement. The houseowner therefore had no formal way that they could catch up and complete the paperwork correctly – we determined that they owed the money and payments were chased with what I might charitably call an excess of enthusiasm.

The sums of money involved were considerable to the householder. A relatively small extension – perhaps one reception room and a couple of bedrooms – could be assessed as over £20,000 payable in CIL charges, often some 30% of the cost of the extension itself.

West Berkshire Council did not develop an enforcement policy that would guide the way in which charges were collected and the council chased debts down with a process that, whilst lawful was, at times unpleasant and over-zealous.

Whilst the legislation allows for a notice of debt to be posted on the property of a developer that had not paid their assessed CIL charge, common sense should have prevailed, and the Council should have understood that such a tactic was only provided within the legislation to enable Councils to place such notices on the premises of builder/developers if they were behind in payments, not to place them on the premises of householders who were meant to be exempt from the charge.

Basic common sense, as well as a sense of common decency, should have prevented our officers – West Berkshire Council Officers – from visiting an ordinary resident – not a profit making developer – and affixing a notice on their gate post – which the legislation forbids the householder from taking down until the debt is paid – with that notice stating the amount of the debt for all their neighbours, visitors and passers-by to see.

But in West Berkshire we did exactly this and we certainly have one example where our officers posted such notices on the gate post of an ordinary resident.

Without a sensible and sensitive enforcement policy, this council allowed its CIL team to threaten householders; shouting through letter boxes if the householder would not come to the door, placing legal charges against their properties, and chasing them down relentlessly for late CIL payments. And these payments would not have been chargeable if these same people had completed the necessary and very complex forms to achieve the exemption from the payment that the Legislation anticipated, and our website stated, that they were entitled to.

In 32 years as a councillor, this is the most egregious example I have ever experienced of a council using the letter of the law to its advantage and to the detriment of what should be a common objective to assist residents in achieving an intended outcome in terms of fees that should be paid. It may have been legally correct according to a dreadfully poorly drafted piece of legislation, but it was morally reprehensible.

I have been fighting to put this right since I returned to the council at a by-election in early 2018. I put the blame firmly at the door of the last Conservative administration. They agreed the assessment process; they agreed and supported the collection regime; they doubled down time and time again as people protested; they ostracised their own backbenchers when they resisted this unfair and entirely inappropriate process.

In short, this episode has been a stain on the good name of this council.

So tonight, I am stating that we will introduce a process to refund and/or cancel charges – CIL payments, surcharges, and interest charges – that householders building for their own domestic purposes were forced to pay or are still liable to pay, where they simply filled out their forms incorrectly or were completely remiss in providing that documentation.

This will be done by introducing an enforcement policy which will enable householders, who believe they have been unfairly assessed, to apply to have such charges cancelled. This disgraceful episode ends here, starting tonight.

I have instructed officers to bring a report to the next meeting of this Executive to ensure that no further demands will be made of householders who simply want to extend or re-develop their homes. By the next Executive meeting we will have published a process whereby any householders who have undertaken development that has become CIL liable due to mistakes they may have made following the process will be able to apply to a panel of members and Officers at this Council to have their CIL charges reviewed, and to have these repaid or cancelled wherever it is appropriate to do so.

We have set aside a considerable sum of money for this; that money has been collected and sits in our CIL ledgers, but it must be paid back or cancelled if it has been levied to householders who would have been exempt if they had filled out their paperwork in good time and correctly.

Although this will affect some of the developments we may wish to deliver in the coming years we could not, in all conscience, deliver those developments with money that the Council was not reasonably entitled to collect if forms had been completed correctly and on time.

This issue has taken far too long to put right and cost much, much more in time and distraction than could ever be collected from a wide range of residents who have been treated disgracefully and sometimes almost as criminals by this Council. Never again will this council act in such a way whilst the Liberal Democrats are in control of it.

We have much to do as a new administration but one thing that is non-negotiable with us is an overriding sense of fairness in how we treat our residents.

I am completely confident that the values of our CEO, our Executive Directors and our Service Directors align with this Administration.

Our new Council Strategy is built upon principles that include acting with integrity and ensuring that all decisions we make are lawful, transparent and impartial; that we will listen to our customers and do our best for them and that we will always treat people fairly.

We move forward together, and we will deliver very good services to the people of West Berkshire always based on integrity, fairness and doing what is right.

Thank you.

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One Response

  1. So the legal department of West Berkshire Council and the Conservative councillors were happy with these tactics?
    Please remember Cllr Ross Mackinon was an executive member and is now running for Parliament
    Please also remember how councillors who stood up were treated by Cllr Doherty

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