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Wokingham CIL charging schedule approved by examiner

An examiner has recommended that Wokingham Borough Council's community infrastructure levy (CIL) draft charging schedule (DCS) is adopted subject to three minor modifications.

Following examination hearings held in September, the examiner issued his report (18-page / 200 KB PDF) on the DCS last week. He said that the charging schedule provided an appropriate basis for the collection of CIL in the area, subject to the Council reducing the charge for residential housing and extra care housing outside strategic development locations (SDLs); defining, and charging CIL for, 'sheltered housing'; and removing the proposed retail CIL charge within one of the SDLs.

The Council had proposed to set different residential CIL rates for four SDLs and a flat rate for the rest of the borough. The rates proposed were: £300 per square metre within the 'South of M4' SDL; £320 per sq m within the 'South Wokingham' SDL; £340 per sq m within the 'North Wokingham' SDL; £365 per sq m within the 'Arborfield' SDL; and £365 per sq m within the rest of the Borough.

The examiner disagreed with representations that the Council's approach to residential charging within SDLs was 'out of step' with the more common approach of setting nil rates within SDLs and securing infrastructure contributions through section 106 agreements. The examiner noted that the Council included "significant strategic infrastructure necessary for the SDLs" in its list of infrastructure to be funded through CIL, and that "development viability across all SDLs is strong".

The examiner also disagreed with representations that the proposed £365 per sq m rate outside SDLs would 'kill off' small scale builders in the borough. "The evidence does not support the view that the proposed charge would render small schemes unviable," said the examiner. "Indeed, it points to strong viability and substantial developer profit, as the buffer above the CIL rate is, in many cases, considerable."

Concerns were raised by the examiner about potential effects of the proposed charges on the delivery of accommodation for older people in the borough. He recommended that 'sheltered housing' be defined in the DCS and charged at a rate of £150 per sq m outside the SDLs, to reflect its lower viability compared to other residential development.

The examiner also recommended that the proposed borough-wide rate of £100 per sq m for 'residential institutions and extra care housing' be reduced to £60 per sq m outside the SDLs, in line with the Council's viability evidence.

The Council had proposed a nil rate for retail development within town, small town and district centres, with £50 per sq m to be charged in the rest of the borough. While the examiner considered that "the evidence does support the differentiated approach, as it demonstrates that town centre viability is notably lower than other retail variants", he was concerned that the range of shops anticipated for a new district centre at the Arborfield SDL had not been subjected to viability testing.

"In the absence of any evidence, I cannot be convinced that the [£50 per sq m] CIL charge would not be an impediment to bringing forward what is clearly a very important local facility within that SDL," said the examiner. "Accordingly, I must conclude that the Arborfield SDL should be excluded from the retail charge by an appropriate modification."

The Council said it intends to implement CIL by April.

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