Earls Court: We still stand ready to buy back ‘Peoples’ Estates’, says council leader

Earls Court: We still stand ready to buy back ‘Peoples’ Estates’, says council leader

Hammersmith & Fulham leader Stephen Cowan has underlined his offer to buy back two housing estates from the major property developer that took control of them as part of a stalled major regeneration scheme.

In a letter to estate residents, Cowan wrote that his Labour administration remains “willing and able” to return to Capital and Counties (Capco) the money it has so far been paid under the terms of a conditional land sale agreement (CLSA) signed in 2013 when the council was Conservative-run.

Cowan says the transfer of the money could be done “within ten days” if Capco would agree to his offer. So far, £90 million of the total of £105 million specified in the CLSA has gone into the council’s coffers.

The West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates form a substantial part of the wider, 77 acre Earls Court redevelopment project which received a green light from City Hall under Boris Johnson before Labour won the council from the Tories in 2014. The estates were lined up for demolition under the plans. Campaigners against this have dubbed them “the Peoples’ Estates”.

Capco has been seeking a buyer for its interests in the scheme, which has seen no significant development activity since early 2015 and no new homes built, despite consent to do so being secured.

In his letter, Cowan says he believes Capco’s “refusal to take my offer” is part of “a misguided attempt” to make their interests in the project area as a whole look more attractive to potential takers.

Another large section of the project area is formed by land on which the two Earls Court exhibition centre buildings stood prior to the closure in December 2014 and subsequent demolition. The land is owned by Transport for London (TfL), which formed a joint venture company with Capco in 2014 with a view to building housing on the site. TfL’s aim was to create a new income stream as well as add to the supply of new homes.

However, Sadiq Khan, who chairs TfL’s board, recently commented that his “patience is wearing thin” with Capco, a view understood to reflect strong feelings within TfL itself. The Mayor too has called for the two estates, West Kensington and Gibbs Green, to be returned to Hammersmith & Fulham under any new or revised plans for the area. Since the election of Mayor Khan, who was critical of the scheme during his successful 2016 mayoral election campaign, Capco have suggested they would submit fresh plans, but none have yet been forthcoming.

Last month, Cowan said the council was exploring using its compulsory purchase powers to take ownership of the former exhibition centre land and the adjoining, TfL-owned Lillie Bridge London Underground depot, which forms another large section of the original development area. In his letter to estate residents Cowan explains that this would be “a complicated legal process which takes time to get right” and that the council is “taking a thorough approach” to it.

Capco has been hit by the fall in prices at the top end of London’s property market, with sales of properties on the nearby separate site south of Lillie Road, called Lillie Square, going more slowly than originally hoped. In May 2018 the company announced plans for a “potential demerger” that would split its troubled Earls Court activities from its profitable holdings in Covent Garden to form two separate companies. Last month it said it was ready for a “prompt” execution of the move as the value of its Earls Court assets were written down by £101 million to £658 million.

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