Ambitious targets for 25,000 homes and “tens of thousands” of jobs around the new HS2 station at Old Oak Common remain achievable despite delays to the rail project announced last week, the chair of the mayoral development corporation overseeing the west London project assured the London Assembly today.
It was a timely appearance by Liz Peace (pictured), who has chaired the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) since 2017 following the completion of a review of its progress ordered by Sadiq Khan the previous year. The body was established in 2015 by Boris Johnson, who initially chaired it, to piggy-back on what was billed as the “best connected” rail station in the UK, with links to central London and Heathrow via Crossrail as well as Wales and the south-west.
The latest “rephasing” of the new railway could mean the Euston HS2 station, already under construction alongside the existing mainline station, will not open until the Manchester leg of the project is complete – possibly as late as 2041 – leaving Old Oak Common as the southern terminus of the line.
Work to construct the Old Oak Common station itself remains on schedule, Peace told Assembly members, leaving intact plans for a first tranche of some 13,700 new homes on former rail lands over the coming decade. “We are very hopeful that we can keep broadly to our timetable,” she said.
Larger scale commercial development could nevertheless be affected by delays to the final leg of the scheme to Euston, Peace conceded, with HS2 passengers forced to change to the Elizabeth Line to get into central London, joining passengers heading in from Heathrow.
“More congestion could put off big commercial players,” she said, citing the experience of Canary Wharf, where significant commitment to the development came only when certainty that new transport links would be in place was provided.
Following final agreement last year on overall plans for the area, the bulk of the land earmarked for development is already in the public ownership of primarily the Department for Transport and Network Rail. But with the OPDC itself owning none of the land directly, agreement with government on taking the sites forward was critical, OPDC chief executive David Lunts added.
“The project will make money. I’m confident of that,” he said. “But it needs a lot of up-front investment. That cash flow challenge needs to be addressed.” Approval of the corporation’s business case, now under discussion with Whitehall, was the “key thing”, Peace added. “People want to hear we have a plan, coordinated with the other landowners, and can show what land will be available.”
Agreement with government was anticipated by late spring or early summer, Lunts said, while £50 million of City Hall funding already in place could see land purchase, infrastructure and other “enabling” works completed to deliver some 1,100 new homes by early 2029.
City Hall proposals for “investment zones” both at Old Oak Common and around Euston and King’s Cross stations, originally submitted as part of Liz Truss’s short-lived initiative last year, were nevertheless knocked back this week, with confirmation in Wednesday’s Budget that London would be excluded from the programme.
Meanwhile contractors working on the HS2 terminus at Euston were beginning the process of “mothballing” the site, with some warning of “inevitable” redundancies among the 1,200-plus staff working on the scheme.
This article was updated on 21 March 2023. It originally incorrectly said Liz Peace has chaired the OPDC since its creation in 2015. Watch the OPDC London Assembly session in full here.
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