Planning inspector throws Old Oak regeneration’s future into doubt

Planning inspector throws Old Oak regeneration’s future into doubt

Cargiant, the second hand vehicle dealership based at the heart of the huge Old Oak and Royal Park regeneration zone in north-west London has seized with delight on the view of the man inspecting plans for the site that it makes no sense to force the company out of the area, as Sadiq Khan’s mayoral development corporation wishes to do.

In his interim findings on the formal Local Plan for the area submitted by the Old Oak and Royal Park Development Corporation (OPDC), Paul Clark, who was appointed by the government to conduct the examination in public (EIP) of the Plan, has basically said that the OPDC has got its sums wrong and would not, therefore, be able to deliver anything like as many new affordable homes and jobs as it has said it could. His provisional conclusion is that Cargiant should be left substantially alone and taken out of the OPDC’s current regeneration plan completely.

Cargiant has called this “devastating news for the OPDC”, and it is not hard to see why. Clark’s interim findings include the following:

“It is open to the Corporation, in pursuit of its development corporation duties, to promote development which is not in accordance with its plan. It is not for me to take a view on that. But it is clearly unsound to propose as part of the development plan a development which would not deliver the policies of the development plan itself, both in relation to infrastructure contributions and in relation to affordable housing. Yet, that is what I find would be the case”.

In other words, Clark thinks at this stage that including Cargiant in the Plan would have the opposite effect of what the Plan had planned. He adds:

“It may be argued that to have some, albeit limited, affordable housing would be better than delivering none at all, but my firm view is that the viability of this site allocation does not permit the delivery of affordable housing at all. Moreover, the delivery of affordable housing is not the sole planning matter to be taken into account. Cargiant is a highly successful and profitable business with prospects for growth. It employs about 800 people directly and a further 1,200 indirectly. Its extinction simply does not make sense in planning terms, nor does its relocation at an expense which would preclude the likelihood of paying for any contribution to necessary infrastructure or affordable housing.” [my italics throughout].

Which is another way of saying that the overall disadvantages of forcing Cargiant out would far outweigh any overall advantages of doing so – the regeneration balance sheet simply doesn’t produce a profit if Cargiant in its present form is legally terminated or dismantled and re-assembled somewhere else.

Clark’s 14-page assessment begins by observing that it might assist continuing discussions between Cargiant and the OPDC but also provide “a guide to the Corporation on modifications to the plan which should be prepared”. Back to the drawing board, it seems. Later on, the findings say that relocating Cargiant would cost about £480 million and that to “extinguish” it – put it out of business and compensate it – would cost around £630 million.

Such scenarios would leave nothing in the pot to meet the cost of the bridges, roads, rail capacity and community amenities. As for housing, even the OPDC’s most optimistic financial projections would result in only 25 per cent of the homes being affordable, falling well short of Sadiq Khan’s overall target of 50 per cent, meaning other parts of regeneration area would have to substantially exceed it. “There is no evidence before me to indicate that that would be feasible or plausible,” Clark writes. The least optimistic costings foresee no affordable homes at all.

The land Cargiant occupies is vital to the OPDC’s vision of a new residential neighbourhood being constructed to the north of the Grand Union Canal, so the interim findings can only come as a blow to the Mayor. The inspector says the number of homes envisaged in the submitted plan should be revised down from 25,500 to just 14,200. Cargiant has, for months, been loudly making the case that the OPDC’s numbers don’t add up, and now the inspector is firmly agreeing with them. In March, the OPDC was awarded a long-awaited £250 million from the government’s housing infrastructure fund, but the cash itself is only dispensed as certain conditions are met, including having a Local Plan approved.

There is also the small matter of the High Speed 2 rail service, whose projected existence, complete with a terminal at Old Oak, was the reason Boris Johnson when London Mayor set up the OPDC in the first place, hailing a forthcoming “Canary Wharf of the West”. Under Prime Minister Johnson, the future of HS2 has become uncertain. OPDC chair Liz Peace emphasised this point to BBC London News. “If there is no HS2,” she said, “The Mayor will have to think whether he needs on OPDC at all.”

Cargiant boss Geoff Warren has been pretty forthright too: “The OPDC has overseen a scandalous waste of money in pursuit of a flawed development strategy. It is now time to stop throwing good money after bad.”

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Categories: Analysis

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