London Assembly seeks key financial documents from Mayor’s Old Oak regeneration body

London Assembly seeks key financial documents from Mayor’s Old Oak regeneration body

A London Assembly committee is making use of its legal powers to obtain key documents relating to the finances of the troubled Old Oak and Park Royal regeneration project from the mayoral body formed to deliver it.

Meeting yesterday, the Assembly’s budget and performance committee resolved to summons the documents, which include a recently successful bid for £250 million of government money, from the Mayor’s Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) under provisions of the Greater London Authority Act (1999).

The move follows the release of interim findings by a government-appointed planning inspector that an important part of the OPDC’s plan for the regeneration area, which would see the removal of the Cargiant motor vehicle refurbishment plant and dealership from its land to make way for a new urban neighbourhood, was financially unviable and should be deleted.

Cargiant has been publicly challenging the OPDC’s proposals and  complained that the corporation, which was set up in 2015 by Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he was London Mayor and has continued under his successor Sadiq Khan, has persistently failed to share details of financial calculations underpinning its justification for wanting Cargiant’s land.

The regeneration area as a whole comprises 1,600 acres of primarily industrial land – three times as much as the Olympic Park – in Brent, Ealing and Hammersmith & Fulham and has been described by City Hall as “the UK’s largest regeneration project”. The former Mayor Johnson set it up in order to capitalise on the development potential created by the plan to build the southern terminal of the High Speed 2 rail service in the area.

The Assembly committee is to give notice to OPDC chair Liz Peace and chief executive David Lunts that it requires the release of:

  • The OPDC’s recently-accepted bid to be given £250 million from the government’s housing infrastructure fund (HIF) towards the cost of transport provision that would lead to the building of homes in the area north of the Grand Union Canal where Cargiant’s plant is, known as Old Oak North.
  • The conditions placed by the government on the actual release of the HIF money.
  • The OPDC’s business plan for Old Oak North.
  • The OPDC’s assessment of an alternative route for a proposed road through Cargiant land that it says would have a less detrimental effect on its business.

Four members of the committee, its chairman Gareth Bacon (Conservative), Siân Berry (Green), Florence Eshalomi (Labour) and Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrat) visited the Cargiant plant last week and met its owner Geoff Warren and other senior figures from the company.

Mayor Khan ordered a review of the OPDC project after becoming Mayor in May 2016 and was critical of progress under his predecessor. Earlier this year, he described Cargiant’s criticisms of the project as “not worth the paper they are written on” and Lunts has insisted that good progress is still being made, but the planning inspector’s findings strongly validate the company’s case.

Cargiant’s displeasure over the OPDC’s choosing not to make its HIF bid available to others is shared by Henry Peterson, adviser to the local Old Oak Neighbourhood Forum which submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request for the bid document in March.

In a letter to Bacon, composed after he attended a meeting of the OPDC board also held yesterday, Peterson says the initial FoI request was refused by the OPDC and a follow up request also refused “after an internal review by the GLA officer”.

Peterson adds that another local body, of which he is chair, made a separate FoI application for “sight of the conditions attached to the HIF award” in July, which should have received a response from the OPDC by 29 August, but has not.

An article in the influential Architects’ Journal by its editorial director Paul Finch responding to the planning inspector’s interim findings describes the Old Oak regeneration as “a train crash” for which City Hall is to blame and calls the development corporation’s Local Plan for the area  “foolhardy and ill-judged”. Finch chaired a design panel for a plan previously drawn up by Cargiant, in partnership with London & Regional Properties, for redeveloping its land itself which the OPDC rejected.

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