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Park Royal and Old Oak Common: Why Cargiant claims the ‘Canary Wharf of West London’ will never be built

Sadiq Khan’s City Hall calls it “the UK’s largest regeneration project” and it was hailed as a future “Canary Wharf of the West” under Boris Johnson. But last month, the largest private landowner within the 1,600 acres of Old Oak Common and Park Royal, where this vast new piece of London is intended to take shape, loudly and publicly slammed the mayoral body set up to deliver it.

Cargiant, a major second hand vehicle sale and refurbishment firm employing 770 people, called for a “full inquiry” into the strategy of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) and claimed its financial calculations for the project “just don’t add up”. It said the OPDC will get nowhere near delivering the 25,500 new homes and 65,000 new jobs it has been promising and for that reason the government should not give it the tidy sum of £250 million of public money it had asked for to help it on its way.

Managing director Tony Mendes spoke plainly: “This is an absolute scandal and Old Oak Common is fast becoming known as Old Oak Cock-up”. Strong words, they brought a strong response from City Hall. “These comments are barely worth the paper they are written on,” was one reported response. Another was more diplomatic but also more pointed: “The Mayor is disappointed Tony Mendes is looking to frustrate a project that will deliver tens of thousands of much-needed homes and jobs”.

The row continued in Estates Gazette, where OPDC chair Liz Peace stuck to her target numbers and enthused about “the largest and perhaps the most exciting mixed use regeneration programme in the UK”. She said that she and the OPDC are working cooperatively with local landowners and business to that end. But Mendes scorned this as “barely credible”. He asserted that, on the contrary, the OPDC bid for the £250 million of government money “is based on utilising land which we own and which is essential for the operation of our business”.

It is therefore unsurprising that Mendes did not greet with delight last week’s announcement by Chancellor Philip Hammond that the £250 million has indeed been awarded to the OPDC. And while government, the Mayor and the corporation said the money would prepare the ground for 13,000 of the new homes it says will be built, Mendes retorted that “it does nothing of the sort”. What makes him so sure?

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To understand this row it helps to grasp how important to the OPDC vision the land Cargiant occupies is and the size of the task of transforming it. Neither Park Royal nor Old Oak Common are as leafy as they sound. The first covers the western side of the regeneration area. It contains around 1,700 businesses, notably food manufacturers, and has been described as “the bread basket of the capital”. The largest area of formally designated strategic industrial land in the city, Park Royal currently employs about 43,000 people. The Mayor says he wants to strengthen and “intensify” it through the OPDC, increasing job capacity by 10,000 and also building 1,500 homes there.

On the eastern side of the regeneration area, Old Oak Common is no sylvan enclave either. Bisected on its east-west axis by the Grand Union Canal, it is threaded with railway tracks and sidings. A recent addition to the landscape to the south of the canal is a Crossrail depot, where over half of the Elizabeth Line trains will eventually be stabled. Also in what has come to be called Old Oak South is the site of the forthcoming High Speed Two (HS2) station, images of which were released by the government on 5 February. The prospect of what will be called Old Oak Common station being put there is what led to the OPDC area being identified as a regeneration zone in the first place – rail investments are big catalysts for wider development. It has been billed as an interchange of similar size to Waterloo – a “superhub” as the government calls it, connecting Heathrow, Central London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

Greeting publication of the designs, Liz Peace underline the case that the planned HS2 station represents an opportunity “to create a vibrant new quarter of London that will bring jobs, housing and a whole new social infrastructure” for the benefit of local people and newcomers alike. It is, after all, in Old Oak, on both sides of the canal, that the brand new London neighbourhood and the vast majority – 24,000 – of the new homes are pledged to be. But it was just two days later, on 7 February, that Cargiant went public with its objections to what the OPDC is promising and the way it has been going about its work. In jarring contrast to all the upbeat assessments, the company painted a picture of slow progress, recurring ineptitude, fanciful predictions and poor treatment of itself at the OPDC’s hands.

Though situated in Old Oak North – the area north of the canal – some of the company’s displeasure was directed at the plans for Old Oak South. Alarm about these had already been expressed by veteran architect and city planner Sir Terry Farrell. In March 2016, Sir Terry, who had previously conducted an assessment of Old Oak’s development potential for Hammersmith & Fulham Council, pointed out that construction of the Crossrail depot had failed to make provision for it to be decked over at a later date, creating space for offices and homes to be built above it. In his view, this showed a lack of foresight under Mayor Johnson, which risked turning the wider project into London’s “worst cock-up in 50 years”. Cargiant cited Sir Terry saying it could cost £1 billion to get the depot moved somewhere else and claimed that the OPDC had “accepted that the development at Old Oak South could not happen” as a result.

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Cargiant’s land.

However, the company’s most detailed and urgent critique was of the OPDC’s approach to Old Oak North, where it is situated. There had been a tense build up to this. A letter from the OPDC’s lawyers to Cargiant’s, sent earlier this year and seen by On London, reveals a wrangle over OPDC proposals to build a road, at that time to be called Park Road, whose route would impinge on Cargiant-owned land. As the planning authority for the area, the OPDC has the option of using compulsory purchase powers to take ownership of land it wants. Concerns had been expressed by Cargiant that land taken from it to make way for the road, along with additional space for future building, would have a serious impact on its operations. The OPDC’s lawyers maintained that the impact would be minimal. However, the same letter stated plainly that the OPDC had yet to undertake a detailed assessment of Cargaint’s operations as a whole. The letter went on to say that the OPDC did have information about these matters that Cargiant itself had provided. But for Cargiant that simply wasn’t good enough.

On 4 February, Cargiant’s owner, Geoffrey Warren, wrote to the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). This is the department to which the OPDC had made its bid for the £250 million, a substantial portion of the government’s housing infrastructure fund (HIF). Cargiant had not been able to see the bid document – or, to its annoyance, play any part in compiling it – but had already advised the MHCLG that it did not believe it could possibly meet the necessary requirements to succeed. Warren restated this point in his letter, and added:

“In view of the consequences for Cargiant, we would have no option but to challenge the process being undertaken by the OPDC to deliver these plans and seek to hold it transparently to account, at every legitimate stage.”

He continued:

“It cannot be right that such an important and long-standing major business – built-up over 40 years and directly employing over 700 local skilled workers – faces potential closure when a basic and fundamental assessment of the impacts of the proposals has not taken place. Such an assessment should have taken place with informed talks with Cargiant when the original bid was contemplated.”

Warren went on to explain that Cargiant has suggested to the OPDC an alternative route for Park Road, designed for it by engineering giant Arup. He assured the MHCLG that this would “enable the successful delivery of early infrastructure without significant impact on our business operations” although adopting it would entail the OPDC submitting a completely fresh HIF bid. As we now know, the department was not persuaded by this argument, though the OPDC has since said that it will give the Arup alternative consideration.

However, Warren’s argument to the MHCLG went wider than the alignment of the proposed Park Road. In his letter of 4 February he maintained that:

“Even if the delivery of Park Road were to be facilitated through joint working with Cargiant, we believe the costs of developing the Cargiant land to be prohibitive and that such development is extremely unlikely to be capable of being delivered without enormous further public subsidies that simply cannot be justified”.

He continued:

“In such a scenario it is wrong to lose further important local industrial land, especially when so much has already been lost to residential development, causing unprecedented price rises in both land and rents.”

Warren said that the designation of Cargiant’s site for regeneration had already caused it to put on hold plans to enlarge its business by investing in new facilities to enable 24-hour working and “create many hundreds more jobs” – an expansion that would demand no money from the public purse at all. And he went on to cast doubt on the OPDC’s objective of intensifying industry in Park Royal, saying the many businesses there had no interest in helping it happen. He was, effectively, contending that pretty much the whole basis for Old Oak Common and Park Royal being subjected to a full, public body-led regeneration was hugely flawed and that putting further public money into it would be a complete waste. He signed off by giving notice that Cargiant felt it had “no option but to now put this issue fully in the public domain”.

That duly happened three days later. The heading of a lengthy press release reprised Sir Terry Farrell’s comments of 2016 – “Old Oak Cock-Up”. In it, Cargiant said that although “small scale development at the fringes of Old Oak North would be possible” it bluntly stated that a “comprehensive scheme” taking in Cargiant land “cannot be delivered”. It stressed the complexities of delivering the infrastructure necessary for creating a residential neighbourhood in Old Oak North: not only will new roads be required, the canal and the railway lines would need to be bridged; the land there is undulating and contaminated, adding to the difficulties and, therefore to the expense. To these financial strains could be added Mayor Khan’s and OPDC’s policy that 50 per cent of the homes delivered across the OPDC area as a whole should meet the Mayor’s definition of “affordable”, the point being that the more affordability any housing scheme has to provide, the less money is likely to be available to pay for the things that are needed to make a residential area function – transport links, utilities, community amenities and so on. And on top of all this would be the cost of the removal of Cargiant from its land in the first place.

As the aerial photograph above shows, Cargiant is well named. There is a lot of it: a large mosaic of factory workshops, offices and parking spaces. For a brand new residential neighbourhood to be built in its place, the whole lot would have to be knocked down and cleared. That of itself would cost plenty of money. In any case, Cargiant does not want to disappear, and re-locating the business would cost plenty of money too, not least for buying land elsewhere in a city where, as Warren stressed to the MHCLG, the price of land for industrial use has been rising. Cargiant said that should suitable land be unavailable, the business might end up being shut down – “extinguished” is the official term – by the OPDC using its compulsory purchase powers (CPO). It says the price of either relocation or extinguishment has been estimated at £600 million. Add that to the taxpayer’s bill, they argue, and the OPDC’s vision of a fine new London district is plainly unviable, however that word is defined.

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The OPDC’s view of the project is, as you’d expect, very different. But before getting on to that, there’s a bit more backdrop to Cargaint’s displeasure to sketch in.

Boris Johnson’s vision for the area began to take shape back in 2013. He set up the OPDC two years later under the chairmanship of his deputy mayor for planning, Sir Edward Lister. Cargiant, knowing that its future had been thrown into flux, decided to take the initiative. If its premises were going to be knocked down and something built in its place, why not try to become the builder?

In partnership with developers London and Regional Properties, the company came up with proposals for redeveloping its site into a residential neighbourhood called Old Oak Park, which aspired to producing thousands of the new homes Mayor Johnson had envisaged. It factored in meeting the expense of relocating Cargiant. The company (quite literally) began preparing the ground for such a move by assembling land elsewhere in West London outside the OPDC area, starting in 2015. It says it made substantial progress towards putting enough to together to create a new Cargiant home.

The Old Oak Park plan progressed further than number crunching and some nice CGIs of a high density settlement rolling back from the north bank of the canal. Its evolution involved ongoing, regular discussions with the OPDC of that time within a formal planning performance agreement and a series of public consultations, the fourth and last of which took place in July 2016. Published feedback suggested a favourable response from local people and community groups. The final version was for a development of 6,500 new homes, commercial spaces with scope for 8,000 new jobs, a “cultural quarter”, a primary school, health and community facilities, a new High Street and a new London Overground station to be called Hythe Road.

But that was as far as the Old Oak Park scheme got. By the time of that fourth and, as it turns out, final consultation exercise, the OPDC landscape was already changing. Two months earlier, Sadiq Khan had succeeded Johnson as London Mayor. Johnson’s departure from City Hall also meant Sir Edward Lister’s departure as OPDC chairman. In June 2016, as part of a broader stocktake of what he had inherited from his Conservative predecessor, the Labour Mayor Khan ordered a review of how the OPDC programme was progressing. In November he declared on the strength of the review’s findings that Johnson had left things in “a mess”. He drew particular attention to a signed understanding that had been reached with the government over the transfer of public land, which he said represented a bad deal for London. The review also recommended that Transport for London conduct “a thorough options appraisal for repositioning or retrofitting the Crossrail depot” and the appointment of a new OPDC chair.

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Map of Old Oak North land ownerships

Liz Peace became that replacement, though it was not until March 2017 that the new Mayor named her as his choice. By then, Cargiant had published findings of its final public consultation. But in May 2017, the OPDC appointed a new masterplanner, AECOM, to put together a new delivery plan for a 30-plus year period and a draft Local Plan, focussing on Old Oak North. And by the end of the year, it was pretty clear to Cargiant that the new OPDC under the new Mayor was not going to support its Old Oak Park scheme. In late 2016, the corporation had appointed leading consultants GL Hearn to assess the plans’ financial viability. A draft initial appraisal produced in August 2017 concluded that it fell short – the projected profits from the scheme were judged insufficient to meet the share of the cost of the transport and other infrastructure and the “affordable” housing that Cargiant would be required to contribute as a condition of being granted planning consent.

Negotiations about these things are completely normal between developers and planning authorities. But Cargiant contends it was never given a fair chance to make its case. It says that, despite having worked with the Johnson era OPDC when putting the scheme together, it wasn’t told by the Khan era OPDC until November 2017 that all previous assumptions about the infrastructure needed had been changed. The company also complains that GL Hearn’s final report wasn’t shared with it until July 2018, even though it had been presented to the OPDC five months earlier. The previous month, the latest draft Local Plan for the whole OPDC area had been published. The Old Oak Park scheme is now dead and the upshot of all this, according to Cargiant, is that a “narrow window” during which the development of its site and its business relocation could have got underway has now closed. It says it has spent £8.5 million on working up what it considered a very good scheme that would have delivered good results for all concerned. Nonetheless, it calls itself “a reluctant developer”. It is now a thwarted and fed up one too.

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So where does the OPDC stand on all of this? Liz Peace CBE is a considerable figure in the world of real estate, a former chief executive of the British Property Federation, chair of the Government Property Agency, chair of trustees of think tank Centre for London, and a member of Mayor Khan’s Homes for Londoners board. Speaking to On London a couple of weeks before the government took its decision about the £250 million of HIF money, she did not accept Cargiant’s uncomplimentary characterisation of the state of play with Old Oak and the rest of the regeneration programme. She had already written in Estates Gazette that the HIF money would enable a “public-led intervention” to “give the Mayor and OPDC the certainty that up to 10,000 new homes and 5,500 new jobs would be delivered for Londoners by the early 2030s” as a direct result and described Cargiant’s approach as “disappointing”.

Asked to address some of Cargiant’s criticisms in more detail, she described the concerns raised about the Crossrail depot as a “red herring” in the sense that what’s done is done and complaining about it now is a distraction. “It is in the way, but it’s going nowhere and we can get round it,” she said. “Decking over it would cost £1 billion. It won’t be decked over or moved elsewhere unless a developer is prepared to find the cash. We deliberately haven’t started on Old Oak South precisely because the HS2 station is getting underway there. That puts it out of bounds for the next eight years.” She said the presence of Cargiant north of the canal puts its 46 acres out of bounds too, at least for now. But the public land to the north of Cargiant is accessible, and it is therefore entirely logical for the OPDC to concentrate its efforts there for now. She said she’d told Mayor Khan that the provisional terms for its transfer agreed under Mayor Johnson had actually been OK. As for the wrangle over the road, she mentioned Cargiant’s alternative route suggestion and said she was “hoping for a negotiated outcome”.

Peace stressed that the HIF money would be only to unlock the land to the north of Cargiant, which is currently owned by Network Rail. She described Cargiant as “a fabulous business” and characterised Geoffrey Warren’s producing the rejected Old Oak Park plan as admirably enterprising: “They will want my land, here’s an opportunity for me.” But she stuck to the OPDC view that that plan didn’t stack up financially. “It had some flaws. It needed a lot of infrastructure and the problem was that they assumed a lot of it would be provided by someone else”. Who might that someone else be? Could Transport for London pay for the new Overground station? Peace pointed out that TfL at the moment doesn’t have much cash to spare.

What about Cargiant’s more general complaints about the OPDC in the last couple of years? Peace accepted that there had been “a bit of a hiatus” with the change of Mayor and that, of course, the recruitment of new masterplanners meant that some previous assumptions about how the new neighbourhood would take shape changed. She acknowledged that the 50 per cent affordable policy makes the housing finances “challenging” but that the Mayor had introduced it “for good, sound reasons” and that, with the help of some grant funding, the challenge can be met. She also stressed that nearly 4,000 homes in other parts of the regeneration area have already been completed or started, with planning approval for nearly 6,000 more granted or on its way.

There had been a long wait for a decision about the HIF bid, which was submitted to the government last July. Peace described this as “a source of huge irritation”. But now, at last, the money has been awarded, and she greeted this public sector funding as “fundamental to meeting the Mayor’s ambitious housing targets” and as making “economic sense” that “sends the right message to the market” and will “unlock opportunities for public and private sector collaboration”. The money has to be spent by March 2023. OPDC says it will begin by getting utilities, drainage and an energy centre put in, along with the “early construction of Union Way”. It turns out that Union Way is a new name for the contentious Park Road – Hammersmith & Fulham turned the name Park Road down for being the same as or similar to other streets in the borough.

For Peace, the government’s decision is another step on a long, ever-changing regeneration journey that will take 30 years or more to complete. Old Oak Common station is a beacon on her horizon: “We can now kick start that northern arc of land and by the time that’s done HS2 will be there. That will create more viability and I will be banging on investors’ doors, if they are not already banging on mine.”

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Where does Cargiant fit into that prognosis? The OPDC still wants the company’s land redeveloped eventually because it remains fundamental to delivering its plans for Old Oak North. But Cargiant’s stance now is that this has become financially impossible. The draft Local Plan for Old Oak North includes a table (on page 46) showing how many homes would be built on the land of each landowner in the area during the 20 year life of the plan and beyond. It allocates 5,300 in total to Cargiant’s land and a further 900 to the spaces occupied by two business centres adjoining it, which Cargiant owns. So that’s 6,200 homes that will not, in reality, ever be built, according to Cargiant.

Before the HIF bid was accepted, the company called for an inquiry into the OPDC’s fitness to spend £250 million of public money wisely, given what it crossly termed “their track record of appalling waste and failure”. After the bid succeeded, Tony Mendes said that any use of CPO powers “to take operational Cargiant land” would be challenged every step of the way. In October, the Local Plan was submitted to planning inspectors for examination on behalf of the MHCLG. Next month, the examination process will move into its public hearings phase. Big regeneration programmes are long distance events. A great deal can happen and change along the way, including market conditions, national governments and London Mayors.

They also entail compiling a sort of social and economic balance sheet, with many factors to be weighed on either side. There will aways be losers as well as winners, and there will always be arguments about the balances struck between them and what outcomes represent the overall greater good. A cynical view is that Cargiant has simply moved into a new, hard bargaining phase of its response to its predicament with the ultimate goal of forcing the best financial result for itself that it can get. But if so, what would you be doing if you were them? Meanwhile, Liz Peace has set out her position followed the success of the HIF bid. “We’re keen to make sure that operating businesses are not negatively impacted wherever possible,” she says. “OPDC is committed to working constructively and flexibly with all landowners, and we look forward to future meetings and discussions.” There won’t be any shortage of those.

Categories: Analysis

London Assembly: Leading Momentum figures chosen for Labour candidate selection committee

Leading national figures from Momentum, the campaign group formed to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, will be among those conducting the selection of Labour candidates for next year’s London Assembly elections.

Jon Lansman, Momentum’s founder and chair, will be one of three representatives from Labour’s governing national executive committee (NEC) and Emine Ibrahim, who is one of Momentum’s vice chairs, was among those elected to the committee from the party’s London region.

Also elected to the committee through the London region ballot were its new chair, Jim Kelly of the Unite union and Michelle Gordon of the GMB union. Jim Kennedy and Sarah Owen, both of whom represent Unite on the NEC, complete that body’s complement on the selection committee.

The committee line-up is a reflection of the recent capture of almost every position on the London regional board by the Left of the party in the capital and appears to substantiate the view that Corbynites are eager to establish a strong presence in the Labour Group, which currently holds 12 of the 25 Assembly seats, at next May’s Assembly elections.

Two of the nine sitting Labour constituency AMs have already announced that they will not be standing again and On London understands that up to three others may do the same. Those wishing to seek a further term at City Hall will have to reach a higher threshold than in the past in order to win so-called “trigger ballots” and automatically go forward as candidates for their seats in 2020.

New procedures are also being introduced for AMs elected on a “Londonwide” basis through a form of proportional representation. Two of Labour’s three current Londonwide AMs have said they will not be running next time and the region’s new rules are expected to give ordinary party members the key say in which order candidates are placed on the party’s list of candidates for Londonwide seats.

Taken together, the rule changes and the strength of the Left on the selection committee and among the capital’s 104 party members suggest that the prospects of hopefuls from the Left becoming Assembly candidates and members have improved. Ibrahim, who is deputy leader of Haringey’s “Corbyn Council”, was strongly involved in the successful campaign by Momentum and non-Labour allies to de-select sitting Labour councillors prior to last May’s borough elections, enabling the formation of a council Labour Group and leadership sympathetic to Corbyn’s stewardship of Labour nationally.

On London has approached Labour’s London region for full details of the Assembly candidate selection process.

Categories: News

Jasmine Whitbread: London needs a positive vision for its post-Brexit future

The ability of Brexit to dominate every conversation continues to know no bounds. At MIPIM, the property industry’s international conference which took place last week in Cannes, it was a constant – particularly as news broke of votes won and lost, and what these might mean for the short and longer-term success of the UK economy.

There was widespread incredulity among investors and business leaders that the government is still putting so much effort into planning for no deal so late in the day, when it should be taken off the table. “This is not a natural disaster, it’s entirely avoidable!” exclaimed one chairman with considerable government experience. Although parliament’s vote to extend Article 50 has led some to breathe a sigh of relief, the only way we can guarantee that unilaterally – and avoid a no deal – is to revoke Article 50 and create some much needed breathing space; something we’ve advocated at London First for some time.

Thankfully, beyond the Brexit debate, there are many businesses eager to look ahead and focus on the future of our capital in the decades to come, not least how we ensure it continues to drive prosperity and growth across the whole of the UK.

London is the business capital of the world – and so many business leaders I speak to are just as committed as I am to keeping it that way. But we all recognise that these are complex times and that there are big questions to answer on how London maintains its reputation as a great place to invest, live and work, particularly as our place in the world changes.

For my part, I was pleased to see the recent City of London report which showed that the capital is the best global location for innovation, ahead of the likes of Singapore, New York and Paris. Importantly, it was also ahead in terms of turning that innovation into a profitable proposition.

We now need to harness this advantage as we turn our attention to meeting London’s challenges and embracing its opportunities – not least by considering how the capital retains the people it needs to power the economy, which means taking a new approach to housing, immigration and infrastructure.

London is becoming a city of renters, with almost half of its inhabitants living in either affordable or private rented accommodation. Rental is forecast to be the most common form of housing by 2025. Within that changing landscape, the role of Build to Rent is becoming an important part of how we make the sector work for people – raising standards and taking some of the uncertainty out of the process – as well as creating a new investment opportunity in the capital. This was a major talking point at MIPIM and it’s clear that if we can house the talent we need, it will go a long way towards keeping the city attractive as a place to live and work in the years to come.

But we also need to get our approach to immigration right so that London remains open to talent from across the globe, and so that all Europeans who call it home continue to feel welcome. At London First, we’ve argued that critical to getting this right is lowering the government’s proposed salary threshold for skilled migrants from £30,000 to match the level of the London Living Wage – around £20,000 annually. This would keep us open to a broader range of skills used in many jobs, from lab technicians to nurses, which pay less than £30,000; prevent a sudden cliff-edge in recruitment; and allow employers time to adjust to changes. As the government’s White Paper consultation progresses over the next few months, it is vital that the voices of business and unions spanning all sectors from health, food and drink to construction are heard on this important issue. 

Keeping London connected with the country and the rest of the world is essential for cementing its role as a global city, and as a capital serving the whole of the UK. We need to get Crossrail over the finish line and hand over the construction baton to Crossrail 2, along with other national infrastructure. We need to expand our global air links, by enabling growth across southeast airports with an expanded Heathrow and better rail links. And we need to enhance our digital infrastructure, giving Londoners better connectivity at home, in the office and on the move.    

But keeping the city vibrant and successful goes beyond that – we must have a positive vision for its future. And as we explore what that next horizon is, we must embrace the best of what London is now, as well as a forward-looking vision of what it can become. Beyond the uncertainties of Brexit, if we can retain our spark, our people and our relevance, as well as our innovative drive, I am confident our capital city can continue to prosper for the benefit of the whole UK.

Jasmine Whitbread is chief executive of leading business organisation London First. 

Categories: Comment

Len Duvall: Unlike a Conservative colleague, I see nothing good for London in ‘no deal’ Brexit

It has been an extraordinary and unprecedented time in British politics, with even those sitting in the House of Commons chamber struggling to keep a firm grip on what has been going on. Last week culminated in the rejection of a “no deal” outcome with the strange and existentialist spectacle of a beleaguered Prime Minister effectively voting against herself, and parliament pushing to extend Article 50. However, one thing is for certain: our country and Westminster still remains divided over the issue, as does the London Assembly.

I was disappointed to read a comment piece recently published by On London penned by my London Assembly colleague, Gareth Bacon, which urged Londoners to accept a form of hard Brexit to “lead the country to further greatness”. Firstly, I should make clear that I like Gareth, but not his politics, and I question his grasp of the challenges facing this city, the country and our political system now and beyond Brexit. It was an article that seemed to trivialise the serious concerns Londoners have about our departure from the EU. It also raised questions as to why he would, however inadvertently, align himself with views backed by unsavoury figures such as Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin et al.

Now more than ever, it is vital that we retain a calm and rational approach to Brexit that respects and follows parliamentary procedure. However, it is clear that we are in an endgame situation, where our options are becoming swiftly attenuated and the Prime Minister must now respect parliament’s rejection of no-deal, go back to Brussels, ask for an extension of Article 50 and then call a general election or, failing that, a People’s Vote.

In his 955-word diatribe against Remainers, the Mayor and, more obscurely, “the children of Blair”, my Conservative fellow AM waxed lyrical about the benefits that an ill-defined hard Brexit will bring to British democracy, but is perhaps unsurprisingly vague on the details. He draws ambiguous comparisons with the Suffragettes and Chartists, though it is hard to imagine which aspects of their direct action approach he’d support.

He’s even more unclear about whether he supports those ultras who would like to take us back to the dark ages. I suspect that our democracy would not be strengthened if parliament pursued a hard Brexit, which was not part of the Leave campaign, which ignores the needs of a significant portion of Leave voters as well as Remainers, and which will leave the next generation to pick up the pieces of a disastrous outcome that some were not even given the right to vote for.

His article also betrayed a lack of acceptance of basic facts. We had an advisory referendum, which resulted in an extremely tight vote margin, leaving a vast number of complex legal and economic implications to be untangled. We live in the real world, and any trade agreement we enter or leave comes with rules and conditions that must be negotiated.

In a healthy and progressive democracy, why would Brexit not be subject to an intense and protracted process of parliamentary scrutiny and some level of passionate dissent from the public? It is concerning that even amid the current tumult and confusion this banal, but fundamental truth needs to be reiterated – that as politicians it is our duty to protect our constituents and our country from unnecessary harm and risks. Gareth refers to Leave voters as “mostly optimists”, but politicians who have been elected to implement historic decisions such as Brexit simply cannot do so with their head in the clouds.

It is also worrying that he so nonchalantly derides the overwhelming number of concerns and warnings issued by financial experts and business leaders as “Project Fear” or letting the country down. As a member of the London Assembly, he will be well aware of the potential consequences of a hard or no-deal Brexit for the capital.

Firstly, our security could be put at significant risk in the event of a no-deal Brexit. We have heard warnings from the Met that they would lose access to key European criminal databases. There are also legitimate concerns that food shortages could cause riots, hate crime could spike in the same way it did following the referendum result and officers could be abstracted from London to police the Irish border. In the longer term, there could be consequences for the union of this country should it result in efforts to bring forward a referendum on Northern Ireland’s future in the UK. After all, the Democratic Unionist Party does not speak for all unionists – in fact, many people in Northern Ireland view Brexit as a threat to their security and their prosperity.

We could also see a huge shock to the City of London, integral to the UK economy, with major job losses in our vital financial services sector and businesses scrambling to move outside of the capital and the country altogether. Our NHS services in the capital would also be likely to suffer, with limited access to medicines and spiralling staff vacancy rates likely to get even worse. Tackling the housing crisis in London would become even more of a challenge as our construction workforce would be hit. We simply don’t train enough people in this country in the necessary skills to fulfil the needs of our economy.

With all these things in mind, would Gareth venture to repeat his claim that his preferred, reckless form of Brexit would resemble a “progressive step” akin to “Chartism and the Suffragette movement”? On this, I am with, as he puts it, “politicians like Mayor Khan”, who “cannot understand why anyone would ever want to commit such reckless self-harm”.

Len Duvall is leader of the Labour Group on the London Assembly.

Categories: Comment

Vic Keegan’s Lost London 82: Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Theatre

There is not even a plaque to draw attention to it, but it was arguably the most iconic place in William Shakespeare’s life. When you consider that he is the most written about writer in the world, it is bizarre that there is nothing to record the site of the Blackfriars Theatre, the playwright’s main money earner, which was situated in Farringdon Street in the former Blackfriars monastery. If you want to know what the playhouse looked like you will have to go to Staunton in Virginia where Shakespeare-loving Americans have built a replica.

The monastery building actually contained two separate theatres. The first staged performances by boy actors, children of the chapel royal, from 1576 until 1584 and the second was built after the actor and impresario James Burbage purchased the Upper Frater or refectory rooms in 1596. Burbage was a leading member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the company to which Shakespeare belonged. They had been forced to leave the Curtain Theatre in Shoreditch after a dispute with their landlord, and Burbage’s intention was that his new Blackfriars playhouse would be the company’s new home. 

But they were thwarted by a lobby to end all lobbies – a very powerful group of Puritanical Blackfriars residents led by the formidable Lady Elizabeth Russell, a confidante of Queen Elizabeth, whose single-mindedness makes Mrs Thatcher look like a girl guide. She not only harnessed her gold-plated address book – which listed her brother-in-law the all-powerful Lord Burghley as well as Elizabeth herself – to her campaign, but also managed to persuade other locals to join in. These included Shakespeare’s childhood friend Richard Field and Lord Hunsdon who as patron of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men would have benefitted financially from a Blackfriars venue. But not in her backyard.

Lady Russell’s petition to the Queen succeeded, so instead of moving to Blackfriars after their eviction from Shoreditch, Shakespeare’s troupe had to revert to Plan B and move across the Thames to build the Globe Theatre, a replica of which – built by an American! – is the best known symbol of Shakespearean drama in the world. The new Blackfriars did not go unused, however. It too put on shows by boy actors, which were thought generally harmless. But times changed, Lady Russell met her demise, and from 1609 or 1610 “Shakespeare’s company”, now known as the King’s Men following the crowning of King James in 1603, at last began performing there. They continued to until 1642.

Unlike the Globe, the Blackfriars was an expensive, candle-lit, all-weather indoor venue seating 700 people, who paid five times as much to get in as at the original of now more famous theatre reconstructed across the river, and proved highly profitable for Shakespeare as actor and part owner. It is a sobering fact – recounted in detail by Chris Laoutaris in his fascinating book Shakespeare and the Countess – that if the troupe had not been driven out of Blackfriars there would have been no Globe. Amazing thought. London is often accused of hiding its history but seldom has anything been as deeply buried as memories of the Blackfriars Theatre. 

Read every previous instalment of Vic Keegan’s fabulous Lost London series here.

Categories: Culture, Lost London

Croydon: Comfortable hold for Labour in Norbury & Pollards Hill by-election

Labour successfully defended a seat in the Norbury & Pollards Hill ward of the borough of Croydon in a by-election yesterday (14 March 2019). The Norbury area is a good example of the long-term swing towards Labour in the band of territory that is in neither Inner London nor the wealthy suburban fringe of Outer London – “middle London” if you will. It provided a reasonably safe Conservative ward before the early 1990s, but Labour gained it in the 1994 borough elections on the way to taking overall control of Croydon Council for the first time.

Norbury remained marginal until 2006 when Labour took a decisive lead there, despite the Conservatives regaining control of the council that year and doing well in the elections across London. Labour’s margin in this ward widened steadily in successive borough elections, and by 2014 it was a safe seat for the party. Over the same period, Croydon North has become a Labour stronghold at parliamentary level despite the party not having won a seat in the area before 1992.

Croydon was one of four boroughs that had ward boundary changes in advance of the 2018 elections. The part of the old Norbury that is north and east of the main railway line was moved into a new ward called Norbury Park. The remainder, renamed Norbury & Pollard’s Hill, is a well-defined geographical area enclosed by the borough boundary, the railway line, and a line along Strathyre Avenue. It is in the north west corner of Croydon, by the tripoint where it meets Merton and Lambeth.

Norbury bears a fair resemblance to the parts of Streatham just across the boundary. The ward is a mostly inter-war suburban district, with residential areas either side of the older buildings along London Road that form the heart of the Norbury neighbourhood. It is a predominantly middle-class area – majority (54 per cent) owner-occupied and with only 11 per cent of households renting from the council. It is comfortable, with low crime and low deprivation, and an attractive area for middle- class black and Asian Londoners. In the 2011 census Norbury was a “majority-minority” ward with 43 per cent White British, 19 per cent black and 23 per cent Asian residents. In 2019, on new boundaries, it is likely to be significantly more diverse than that.

As with other similar suburban areas, there is development pressure in Norbury and schemes for densification – the replacement of low-density housing and commercial property with blocks of flats. The local blog Norbury Watch provides a roll-call of planning applications. Other issues for this area bordering two other boroughs include a feeling of being peripheral from Croydon Town Hall and the pressure that cuts are placing on public services such as the local library and park. These sorts of issue are prevalent in Middle London (as in the Thornton ward in Lambeth, where there was also a recent by election) but the way they influence party political campaigning and voting is far from clear and direct.

The by-election was caused by the death of long-serving Labour councillor Margaret Mansell. She was part of the team that achieved that electoral breakthrough back in 1994 and had previously served a term of representing West Thornton from 1986. She was a passionate supporter for the NHS, a stalwart of the Labour Party and an active local campaigner right up to the time of her death, and will be much missed by the community. 

Leila Ben-Hassel is her successor, winning a comfortable majority with 1,379 votes (64.5 per cent) compared to 324 (15.2 per cent) for her nearest competitor, Conservative Tirena Gunter. Ben-Hassel was an officer of the Croydon North constituency Labour Party without much factional allegiance to either the Progress or Momentum wings of her party. In her professional life she is a project manager working for the City of London Corporation.

There was a small net swing from Conservative to Labour (around 1.8 per cent) compared the 2018 borough elections, due to all the three parties (Labour, Conservative and Green) that contested the seat last year losing votes to the additional candidates who took part in the by-election – two Independents, a Liberal Democrat and a UKIP.  It was a stable, orderly sort of result despite the violent political storms that whipped around the Palace of Westminster this week. It is comforting, at least for this analyst, to see that at least some of the normal political rules still apply – in Norbury & Pollard’s Hill, at any rate.

Categories: Analysis

Government announces £570m for London housing infrastructure

Two of London’s largest regeneration projects have been promised more than half a billion pounds by the government to facilitate delivery of thousands of new homes.

The success of bids for schemes at Brent Cross and Old Oak Common, both of them in the outer north west of the capital, was announced by Chancellor Phil Hammond in his spring statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Barnet Council will have £320 million made available from the housing infrastructure fund (HIF) to spend on a new Thameslink Brent Cross West railway station, which is expected to lead to at least 7,500 dwellings being built in the Brent Cross Cricklewood development.

The Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC), created under Boris Johnson’s mayoralty to deliver the huge, 1,600 acre project straddling Brent, Ealing and Hammersmith & Fulham, has been awarded £250 million from the same source to facilitate housing development in the mostly industrial Old Oak Common area close to the forthcoming HS2 station.

The funding decision has been welcomed by OPDC chair Liz Peace, who said investment in infrastructure in Old Oak “sends the right message to the market” and will “unlock opportunities for public and private sector collaboration”, while Sadiq Khan said the money will usher in a “new stage” in the development of the Old Oak part of the project area. Early works will include the installation of utilities and drainage systems, and energy centre and a new street, to be delivered by 2023.

However, the provision of the HIF money has been challenged by Cargiant, the secondhand vehicle sales and refurbishment firm that currently occupies 46 acres of Old Oak land north of the Grand Union Canal.

Managing director Tony Mendes said that although both “the GLA and the OPDC have publicly stated that this money would unlock the delivery of 13,000 homes, it does nothing of the sort”. Claiming it is “widely accepted” that Old Oak land to the south of the canal cannot be developed because the Crossrail depot already there would need to be moved, Mendes said “the same is true of the cost of moving Cargiant”.

Last month, Cargiant called for a “pause” in further public investment and a “full inquiry” into the OPDC’s fitness for its task, though Liz Peace has insisted she is committed “working constructively and flexibly” with all landowners in the area and has told On London that she believes the challenges presented by the Crossrail depot can be overcome.

Cargiant had worked up its own plans for redeveloping its land and relocating its business operations, but the OPDC concluded in 2017 that they were not financially viable. The company is currently in discussions with the OPDC over the alignment of a proposed new road which it says would, as things stand, have a significant effect on its business. It warns that if the OPDC “intends to proceed on the basis of using CPO [compulsory purchase] powers to take operational Cargiant land, then we will, of course, be bound to challenge each step of the process”.

On London will be carrying a more detailed article about the dispute between Cargiant and the OPDC next week.

Categories: News

Brexit: How London MPs voted on the ‘no deal’ motion and amendments

The most seasoned Westminster correspondents are still staggering around in shock following last night’s events in the House of Commons, where MPs voted in favour of ruling out a “no deal” Brexit by a clear majority of 43. This followed a much tighter vote in favour of the so-called “Spelman amendment” to the “no deal” motion, which turned it into a far stronger rejection of “no deal” than the government wanted. Another amendment, the so-called “Malthouse compromise”, named after its author Kit Malthouse, the former London Assembly Member for West Central and deputy mayor for policing under Mayor Boris Johnson, was defeated. How did London’s 73 MPs vote on the two amendments and the eventually motion rejecting “no deal” under any circumstances?

Labour. As with Tuesday night’s vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, the capital’s 46 Labour MPs all did what you want have expected with one predictable exception. The 45 all voted for the Spelman amendment toughing up the main event “no deal” motion, against the Malthouse amendment and in favour of the amended “no deal” motion. The sole exception was dedicated Eurosceptic and Brexit-backer Kate Hoey (Vauxhall), who did the precise opposite.

Conservative. Again, the 21 London Tories were divided and subdivided in various ways. The predominant voting combination, chosen by 13 of the London Tory MPs, was against the Spelman amendment, in favour of the Malthouse and against the “no deal” motion. This meant backing the government in the first and third cases, but opposing it in the second and was the option of the most devoted Brexiters and some of the more flexible ones: Boris Johnson (Uxbridge & South Ruislip); Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford & Woodford Green); Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet); Andrew Rosindell (Romford); Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park); Julia Lopez (Hornchurch & Upminster); Bob Blackman (Harrow East); Greg Hands (Fulham & Chelsea); Chris Philp (Croydon South); Paul Scully (Sutton & Cheam); Sir David Evennett (Bexleyheath & Crayford); Mark Field (Cities of London & Westminster); and Bob Stewart (Beckenham).

The other eight Tories did an array of different things. Communities secretary James Brokenshire (Old Bexley & Sidcup), Matthew Offord (Hendon) and minister for London Nick Hurd (Ruislip, Northwood & Pinner) were against Spelman and the “no deal” motion but abstained on Malthouse. Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) was against Spelman and abstained on Malthouse and the “no deal” motion. Ex-minister for London Jo Johnson (Orpington) abstained on everything, as did Mike Freer (Finchley & Golders Green). On London contributor Bob Neill (Bromley & Chislehurst) voted against Spelman, Malthouse and the “no deal” motion, making him the only London Tory MP to vote the way the government wanted him to across the board. Finally, “people’s vote” advocate Justine Greening (Putney), voted for Spelman, against Malthouse and for the “no deal” motion, aligning her precisely with all the London Labour MPs except Kate Hoey. Tories division on Europe appear alive and well in the capital.

Liberal Democrats. Tom Brake (Carshalton & Walllington), Ed Davey (Kingston & Surbiton) and Vince Cable (Twickenham) all went “yes” to Spelman, “no” to Malthouse and “yes” to ruling out “no deal”. As expected, and the same as Greening and the Labour MPs bar Hoey.

Independent Group: Mike Gapes (Ilford South), Joan Ryan (Enfield North) and Chuka Umunna (Streatham) are London’s three TIG MPs. They did the same as the Lib Dems, Greening and nearly all the London Labour MPs.

Tonight, MP vote on extending Article 50. Can’t wait.

 

Categories: News