Sadiq Khan has stepped up his pressure on property giant Capital and Counties (Capco) to return two West London housing estates to the control of their local borough, saying his “patience is wearing thin” with the lack of progress on the issue.
In a written answer to a question by London Assembly Member Tom Copley, the London Mayor also reiterated his insistence that the handing back of the adjoining West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates to Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) is a pre-condition of any new plans for the development of the wider area being acceptable to him.
The Mayor last intervened in the stalled regeneration scheme, known as the Earls Court Project, in November, when he told On London that “a positive way forward would involve new plans that exclude the estates” and that offer more housing than the existing ones, “particularly more social rented and other genuinely affordable homes”. He specified that the return of the two estates would have to take place “ahead of alternative plans being progressed and determined”.
The Earls Court scheme is one of the largest in the capital. Capco secured finalised outline planning permission for the comprehensive redevelopment of 77 acres of land, including the two estates, in 2013 and the demolition of the historic Earls Court exhibition centre has followed. However, despite detailed consent for the latter site being granted in 2014, no homes have yet been built there.
The two estates are subject to a conditional land sale agreement made in 2013 by Capco and H&F, when the council was Conservative-controlled. Labour won the borough elections the following year and the administration has been trying to negotiate getting control of the estates back.
Last May, Capco announced plans for potentially splitting the company, separating its Earls Court operation from its Covent Garden estate. It has been in discussions with City Hall and also courting potential buyers for its interests in the Earls court scheme. The de-merger has yet to occur and no buyer has yet been found. Capco’s year end financial results are due to be published on 27 February.
The Mayor has powers to block planning consents granted at borough level and even to determine them himself, so his interventions are a warning to Capco and potential buyers that he will want any new plans for the area to meet his housing policy objectives.
He has direct interest in the progress of the site because Transport for London is a major landowner there. It entered into a joint venture with Capco to develop the exhibition centre land in 2014 and also owns the adjoining Lillie Bridge London Underground depot. Khan’s written answer to Copley says that TfL has “made very clear on behalf of the GLA group that progress depends on Capco transferring the estates back to LBH&F unconditionally.” The transport body is making progress with developing other sites in its portfolio through partnerships with other developers.
Khan’s answer also states his understanding that Capco has “suggested they would make the transfer of the estates conditional on a performance agreement and receipt of an acceptable planning permission.” A performance agreement is a fixed timetable for dealing with a planning application. Khan describes this suggestion as “not acceptable”.
H&F leader Stephen Cowan told On London: “The Greater London Authority and Capco have been in talks about a new deal for a long time now. We believe Capco are still trying to sell the whole scheme, including the two estates, and we question whether this is acting in the spirit of the GLA discussions.”