The redevelopment of Earls Court has so far been one of London’s biggest regeneration failures of the past ten or more years. But now, at long last, there are signs that a scheme of merit might rise from the wreckage of what has gone before. At the end of last year, a new developer, Delancey, took over from Capital and Counties (Capco) on behalf of Dutch pension manager APG and has now appointed two firms of architects to jointly produce a fresh masterplan for the area.
Their task may be the more challenging – and perhaps simulating – for being undertaken amid the uncertainties about London’s future of the post-Covid-19 era and the implications for what sorts of buildings, places and spaces are constructed. The architects, Hawkins\Brown and Studio Egret West, have plenty of experience, including of working together. But the context for the project is quite new. How that context evolves is, from the outside at least, hard to predict with confidence.
The new Earls Court project will cover a smaller geographical area than the failed one backed by the then Conservative-run Hammersmith & Fulham Council (H&F) and the then London Mayor Boris Johnson. Residences have been built on the separate section of the original full development area, lying south of Lillie Road on the former Earls Court exhibition centre car park in a place called Lillie Square. And the adjoining council-owned housing estates, West Kensington and Gibbs Green, have, after a huge struggle against the Capco-led plans, been fully-retuned to the ownership of the now Labour-run H&F.
That leaves the gaping space where the new-demolished exhibition centre buildings used to stand and the Lillie Bridge London Underground depot next door. All of the land is owned by Transport for London (TfL), which formed a joint venture company with Capco to develop the exhibition centre site. Delancey’s investors have now replaced Capco as TfL’s partners in that company, and a different one, the Earls Court Development Company, will be in charge of delivering what is being justifiably termed the only major Zone 1 development area left in town.
The new Earls Court scheme will have to meet Sadiq Khan’s “genuinely affordable” housing requirements if it wants to enjoy his support and also conform to the policies of his new London Plan (still not actually published following communities secretary Robert Jenrick’s attention-seeking interventions). Those designing it will surely be mindful, too, that residents of the new development and existing ones alike might be more reluctant to travel to work, shop and play than Londoners have been in the past.
The development company says its brief for architects “called for a significantly more mixed-use environment than previous plans, so that more commercial space is simultaneously delivered alongside a revised housing plan, and a design and spatial approach based on collaboration and consultation with key stakeholders and the local community”.
The appointment of Hawkins\Brown and Studio Egret West has been welcomed by TfL, whose director of commercial development Graeme Craig says they have “a unique opportunity”, and by H&F leader Stephen Cowan, who has spoken of the development’s potential to make the borough “a global hotspot in the new world economy of STEM industries and digital media.”. Cowan also describes Delancey’s approach as having been “right at every turn”.
The mood around this development area appears utterly changed. On London will continue to follow the story as it unfolds.
Image from Earls Court Development Company.
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