Mayoral development corporation chiefs defended their record at last week’s meeting of the the London Assembly planning and regeneration committee, which probed the impact of their major schemes at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford and at Old Oak Common in north west London.
The London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) was established in 2012 to develop the London 2012 site and its surrounding area after the Olympic and Paralympic Games had taken place, and the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) was set up three years later to oversee change around the Old Oak Common HS2 station “super hub”.
Big numbers are in play: 40,000 jobs, 33,000 homes by 2036 and a £1.5 billion boost to the local economy from the East Bank culture and education complex for the LLDC, and up to 25,500 new homes and 65,000 jobs for the OPDC.
But while London School of Economics professor and veteran London watcher Tony Travers highlighted particularly the success of government and LLDC investment on the Olympics site – a “better legacy effort than most” – there was criticism too of the amount of affordable homes and local job opportunities, existing businesses displaced and rising housing costs more generally.
“If the legacy is predicated on improvements for the people of east London, how does that stack up?” asked Labour Assembly member Elly Baker. There were concerns too in Old Oak, with another panel member, community representative Iasia John, expressing “worries about my son not being able to afford to live in the area he was born in.”
But regeneration could be unfairly blamed, said LLDC chief executive Lyn Garner. “It wasn’t a regeneration scheme that changed Brixton or Hackney. It was the result of changes in the market. You can’t fight the economy. But where you control a regeneration area you can put safeguards in place, policies to build affordable housing and bring in job opportunities.”
Forty per cent of the 6,000 homes which will eventually be completed on LLDC-owned land will be affordable, following a shift from the 30% target under the Boris Johnson mayoralty to Sadiq Khan’s new 50% policy, Garner said, with those homes allocated to local people.
And Londoners should not expect too much from regeneration, she added. “We’ve done reasonably well, but we have to remember that new homes built are a complete drop in the ocean when it comes to looking at the levels of overcrowding in London and the numbers of people in temporary accommodation.”
Her warning was echoed by Travers. “There is an equity issue in this and it does explain why people feel they are having things done to them. But in hoping that redevelopment of an area can change the life chances of everyone around, we have to be careful not to over-promise.”
The UK model of regeneration is “heavily reliant” on capturing uplifts in land value to spend locally, he said, citing Battersea Nine Elms, where private sector investment has paid for the extension of the Northern Line and two new Underground stations to make the scheme viable, and the OPDC plans, which Travers described as “almost entirely dependent on generating money through private development”.
Recent government spending announcements suggest that there would be even less public investment coming, he added. “So the model we are discussing, with schemes done through development corporations and boroughs or others, is going to be the one that continues on into the future.”
That meant “hard choices” and compromises to get things done, said OPDC chief executive David Lunts. “There was a time when efforts to regenerate our cities were done differently. The state would fund, sometime very generously,” he said. “Now the public sector has to work with the markets and with private investment. And if we don’t get that private investment happening we are not going to see the benefits that we can capture from that investment.”
Some groups “simply did not want to see development happening at that scale and pace we need to deliver community benefits”, but that was not the view of the majority, Lunts suggested. But Lucy Rogers from the East End Trades Guild said the argument is not settled. “We don’t agree with being painted as a group that never wants anything done,” she said. “It’s how you do it.”
The planning and regeneration meeting can be viewed in full here. Photograph: Housing at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
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