Ambitious plans for 25,000 new homes and 65,000 jobs in the Old Oak Common and Park Royal “opportunity area” in west London remain on track, the leaders of the mayoral development corporation overseeing the project have assured the London Assembly.
But corporation chief executive David Lunts admitted that the “clock is ticking” on the ambitious programme. “If we don’t secure a deal on land and infrastructure early in the next year or so I think serious questions have to be asked about whether the real potential of the project can be delivered,” he told members at today’s Assembly plenary session.
Centred around the new HS2 station now under construction, billed as the “best connected” rail station in the UK with links to central London and Heathrow via Crossrail as well as Wales and the south-west, the scheme faltered at the end of 2019 when initial plans were thrown out by a planning inspector and negotiations collapsed with major landowner Cargiant.
The corporation, originally set up by Boris Johnson in 2015 to piggy-back on the station development, was forced back to the drawing board, returning £250 million in Housing Infrastructure Fund grants from Whitehall and refocusing its plans on the western section of the 650 hectare site.
The original plans, including buying out Cargiant, which claims to be the largest used car dealership in the world, and relocating the company from its 54 acre site, had been “over-ambitious,” said Lunts, a housing and regeneration veteran who moved from City Hall to take over as corporation chief executive at the beginning of last year.
“We had what we thought was a viable plan, but circumstances changed,” said corporation chair Liz Peace (pictured). Landowners had not backed the proposals, she conceded, and “we didn’t liaise with Cargiant in the way we should have done, so we retreated and replanned”. To say that Sadiq Khan was a “bit cross” when she reported back to City Hall was “probably an understatement,” she added.
“There was an option after the inspector’s ruling to say we couldn’t do it,” said Lunts. “But it is too good an opportunity to throw up if there’s another way to deliver it. If you look at regeneration schemes, it is often the case that things have to change because circumstances change. There’s no shame in having to reconsider. I’ve got the confidence that this time round we will prevail.”
Development is now planned for closer to the new HS2 station, where large sites are mainly publicly owned, by Network Rail, the Department for Transport and HS2 itself. Planning inspector Paul Clark is now considering the corporation’s new strategic plan, with his verdict expected in the New Year. Peace is optimistic that it will be given the green light.
“We now have a viable and feasible new plan that will get regeneration going. We are standing by the original objective,” she said, answering concerns from Tory AM Neil Garratt that ambitions when the corporation was launched had “fizzled out”.
Almost 5,000 new homes have already been completed on the site, with planning permission secured for a further 1,300 and another 6,400 in the pipeline, Lunts told the meeting.
But it was not possible to give firm dates on future progress, and further hurdles remain even if the planning inspector is satisfied. “A lot of the big decisions are not within our control, because we don’t have the land assets or the capital budgets,” he said. “We are constrained until we get closer to a deal with government on land and funding.”
A critical bid to Whitehall, for transfer of land and initial capital funding, would be submitted shortly, the meeting heard, with meetings between Mayor Khan and ministers being scheduled.
“We hope to be able to say more early next year, “ said Lunts, adding that the scheme could be a “bridge-building project, with London government and central government coming together, with a shared aim and shared assets”.
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