Progress, if that is the right word, in the main section of the huge Earls Court redevelopment project can be summarised as an empty space where the Earls Court exhibition centre buildings once stood.
It is ten years since the scheme came into public view, back when Hammersmith & Fulham Council was run by the Conservative administration of Stephen Greenhalgh, and seven years since planning consents began being granted with the enthusiastic approval of Boris Johnson.
Since then, both the London property market and the political landscape have changed. A fall off in the “prime” central market has slowed essential “off-plan” sales and both the council and City Hall have switched to Labour.
Neither the borough administration of Stephen Cowan nor Sadiq Khan have ever been happy with the project, and both have been seeking changes, including the return to council control of two housing estates on the western side of the development area whose future is presently subject to a conditional land sale agreement entailing their transfer to principal developer Capco for demolition.
Khan has a particular interest in the exhibition centre part of the site, as it is supposed to be being developed by a joint venture company set up by Capco and Transport for London, from which the latter hopes to derive much-needed income.
But, as tumbleweed drifts across the flattened plot, Capco has been busily trying to sell its interest in the scheme, estates and all. Last autumn it began talks with Hong Kong-based CK Asset Holdings, and correspondence seen by On London suggests negotiations are continuing.
It was against that backdrop that Mayor Khan signalled in November that any fresh plans for the area, whoever drew them up, would have to include the return of the two estates to H&F and an increase in the affordable percentage of any new homes built on the rest of the site. His more recent declaration that his “patience is wearing thin” if anything understates the strength of feeling on this matter felt by some in GLA circles.
Meanwhile, as the Evening Standard reported earlier this week, H&F is “considering” using its compulsory purchase powers to take ownership of the exhibition centre land and the TfL-owned Lillie Bridge London Underground depot next door, which forms another part of the project area.
What does “considering” actually mean? On London has gleaned that in the immediate future it means detailed documentation about how the council will proceed is being being prepared for a cabinet meeting next month. Cowan’s administration, like Khan’s, is not best pleased by Capco’s attitude to the situation when there’s a housing crisis on and has now apparently reached a settled conclusion that a CPO is the route they will pursue to move this story into a new chapter.