‘People’s estates’ could ‘return to council control’ as Capco prepares new Earls Court masterplan

by Dave Hill

Property giant Capital and Counties (Capco) is preparing a new masterplan for the controversial Earls Court redevelopment project under which Hammersmith and Fulham Council would require two council-owned housing estates that have been earmarked for sale and demolition to be returned wholly to borough control, according to letter from the leader of Labour-run Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

Stephen Cowan, who has been negotiating with Capco to change the original scheme since winning control of the borough from the Conservatives in 2014, gave no details of a new masterplan, writing that “there are many steps before finalising this agreement”. But he states that if a revised scheme were to secure planning permission, “we would see the two estates return to council control”.

Such an outcome in the context of a new masterplan emerging before next May’s borough election would enable Labour to approach it saying that an important manifesto promise to get a better deal for residents affected by the original scheme had been kept.

It would leave Capco to concentrate on those parts of the 77-acre development site where work has begun but progressed slowly, notably on the footprint of the now-levelled Earls Court exhibition centre where a joint venture company formed by Capco and Transport for London has been intending to build a new, high-value residential “village”.

In August, Capco applied to H&F to revive for “meanwhile” use, a row of shops on Lillie Road it had bought and closed pending redevelopment, strengthening impressions that the project as a whole has become becalmed.

Capco has been hit by the slow down at the top end of the London property market, with the company’s 2016 accounts saying the Earls Court scheme’s value had dropped by 20%. In May, Capco said it had yet to decide whether to come up with a new masterplan, as it had previously suggested it would in a submission to London Mayor Sadiq Khan, including a possible increase in the number of new dwellings from around 7,500 to 10,000. However, ongoing discussions between the developer and the council are understood to now centre on increasing the number of new dwellings of all tenure types, with the council taking the lead on future plans for the estates.

Jonathan Rosenberg, community organiser of the estates’ anti-demolition campaign, said: “For nine long years, residents have been fighting to save their homes and preserve their community. Our campaign has been through some very dark times. But right now there is a tremendous wave of excitement sweeping across the estates.”

Rosenberg also said he believes that Cowan is “working very hard” to free West Kensington and Gibbs Green from an agreement signed under the Conservatives to sell them to Capco in phases once replacement homes had been supplied. Unravelling this deal has been regarded by the Labour administration as a significant obstacle to changing the masterplan as a whole. It remains a legally binding contract. The anti-demolition campaigners would like to take ownership of the two estates from the council and run them through a community-led housing association instead. 

Cowan’s letter to residents attacks the original plan for agreeing that Capco could buy the estates’ for “just £110m” and what it calls its “weak and insufficient provision for replacement affordable homes”. Approving the main part of the project in July 2013, the then London Mayor Boris Johnson called it a “landmark project”, but his successor, Sadiq Khan, has been highly critical of its additional affordable housing provision.

Updated on 8 November to add to and sharpen some of the detail around the new masterplan discussions

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