Responses to OPDC Modified Local Plan

The public consultation on the the OPDC Post Submission Modified Draft Local Plan (PSMDLP) ended on July 5th 2021.   Our Forum submitted a response in two parts.  OONF and StQW reps on PSMDLP Part 1 June 6th 2021 raised a series of legal and other questions for the Inspector on the scale and extent of the ‘modifications’ proposed by the OPDC.

The second part PSMDLP Part 2 FINAL covered detailed comments and queries on individual modifications.

We have since asked OPDC to publish all responses in the ‘Examination Library’ (available from its own website).   OPDC officers say that they are collating and reviewing all representations made, and will prepare responses to these, before forwarding the full set to Planning Inspector Paul Clark.  It seems that only then will this material become public.

The OPDC web page on the Local Plan consultation says We have also updated the Examination Library with the most up to date documents.   But none of the consultation responses are published.

We argue that there a live planning issues in the OPDC area (particularly in North Acton and Scrubs Lane) on which the public have a right to know what is being said about the draft Local Plan – by developers, businesses, community groups and individual residents.  Hence the need for us to understand this up to date context.

The Examination of the Draft Plan has been onging since September 2018.  This is far longer than usual.  OPDC and LB Ealing have not stopped deciding individual applications, and there are more in the pipeline.

We have been able to obtain copies of some of the representations submitted to OPDC by the Borough Councils affected:

Hammersmith & Fulham’s response

The comments from Hammersmith & Fulham Council OPDC MM LBHF RESPONSE.docx say as follows:

These (previous) representations also raised issue with the deliverability of the Plan through the proposed phasing of infrastructure and the inability to generate sufficient funds from CIL/S106 contributions. The deletion of the strategically important allocation of Old Oak North, and OPDC’s consequential attempt at a much-revised spatial strategy in response, have unfortunately not overcome these objections, rather they have only sought to make them more obvious and their unacceptability more apparent.

Further, new issues of concern have arisen that necessitate new objections from LBHF. These are primarily associated with ensuring the Plan is capable of delivering a coherent new neighbourhood for Old Oak North and Scrubs Lane that successfully integrates and respects the surrounding context, achieves a high quality sense of ‘place’ for new and existing residents and businesses, and circumvents predicted issues that are likely to arise.

This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the 20 months that OPDC spent in preparing its modified Local Plan.  We agree with Hammersmith & Fulham Council that OPDC’s latest attempts to portray Scrubs Lane as a ‘place in it own right‘ which is ‘well-connected‘ within the local area are very unconvincing.

Kensington and Chelsea’s reponse

The submission from RB Kensington & Chelsea RBKC response to OPDC modifications is less critical.  This is partly because this council is dealing with major development proposals for the Kensal Canalside area, to the east of Scrubs Lane.

RBKC is one of a number of councils subject to the the MHCLG ’tilted balance’.  This ’tilt’ towards the ambitions of developers applies to those planning authorities which have failed over several year to meet their housing targets, as set in the London Plan.

Hence the RBKC planners are having to consider housing densities and building heights at Kensal Canalside which are well above those that this Council would have accepted in the past.  Hitherto, RBKC have been a council which has resolutely refused to take part in London’s second phase of tall buildings (the first having been in the 1950s/1960s).

A change of approach to Kensal Canalside means that there will be planning battles in North Kensington similar to those experienced to date on applications consented by OPDC and LB Ealing at North Acton.

Ealing Council’s reponse

Our earlier post http://oldoakneighbourhoodforum.org/?p=623 speculated on how Ealing Council would respond to OPDC’s proposed modificataions. Disappointingly this submission  OPDC LP 2021 – LBE response final focuses mainly ‘strategic issues of industrial land supply‘ and whether OPDC are doing enough to achieve a ‘plan-led’ approach to waste disposal sites.

There is little or nothing in the Ealing reponse that reflects the very public commitments of Ealing’s Leader Cllr Peter Mason on a rethink of the Council’s approach to tall buildings and to respond to widespread resident opposition to past decisions of Ealing’s Planning Committee.   This may be a result of Ealing’s response to OPDC having been prepared without much input from the Leader and his new Cabinet colleagues.

We have also seen representations made by the Friends of Wormwood Scrubs and by the Hammersmith Society.  Both of these raise majot concerns about the direction of travel pursued by OPDC.

Copies of any further responses to the OPDC consultation would be welcome, as we would like to build a fuller picture now rather than to have to wait on what could become a lengthy exercise in collation and review by OPDC officers.   We will continue to press for early publication of all representations made, in the original form as submitted.

There is no definite timtable for when OPDC will complete its collation of all responses, and send these to the Planning Inspector.  This might be by late August 2021.  The next stage of the ‘examination’ is then entirely in the hands of the Planning Inspector.

OPDC continue to assume that they will have an adopted Local Plan in place by the end of the year.  We continue to believe that the odds on this outcome being achieved are not great.

How will Ealing Council respond to OPDC’s modified Draft Local Plan?

Ealing Council is under new leadership as from May 18th 2021, with Cllr Peter Mason appointed as its Leader and a changed set of Cabinet members.  In his first week, the new Leader announced

• An immediate review of council policy on tall buildings, setting out where tall buildings are inappropriate in the borough
• Implementing town development plans, created with communities, setting out the vision and infrastructure needs of the borough’s seven towns

Our Forum strongly supports both these ambitions.   Ealing has long defined itself as ‘the Queen of the Suburbs’ and a Borough made up of its ‘seven towns’ (including Acton).   In the past five years, a cluster of major towers at North Acton has completely changed the character of the area.

The planning consents for these developments have been granted by Ealing Council under its ‘scheme of delegation’ with OPDC.  It is not the only part of the Borough which has seen changes.   Public opposition to a rash of tall buildings across Ealing has made itsef felt in recent years.

As a result of campaigns by the Ealing Civic Society, Ealing Matters, and the ‘Red Block Rebels’ the new administration at the Town Hall is aware of the growing strength of public opposition to extreme housing densities and building heights.  Local elections take place in May 2022.

The OPDC Draft Local Plan threatens further high density high-rise in East Acton, at Channel Gate and at Acton Wells (the sites on Victoria Road).   This building typology is being imposed because the Corporation has a 25,000 housing target to meet and has struggled to identify enough potential sites after the 45 acres of Cargiant land was ruled out in late 2019.  Too much is being crammed on too little land.

Our Forum has written to Councillor Peter Mason asking how his new administration will be responding to OPDC’s consultation on its ‘modifications’ to the Draft Local Plan.   This will be an early opportunity for the Council to demonstrate a real commitment to a rethink of its plans for the future of the Borough.  Our letter can be downloaded here OONF and StQW to Peter Mason June 2021 final

Under the former leadership of Cllr Julian Bell, Ealing Council seemed content to leave OPDC to its own devices in terms of plans for East Acton.  Cllr Bell viewed the delegation scheme for North Acton as ‘our opt out’ and a sufficient level of control by the Borough.  This unusual arrangement (of one planning authority deciding planning applications on behalf of another) was negotiated by Ealing with London Mayor Boris Johnson prior to the establishment of a Mayoral Development Corporation in 2015.

The results for North Acton are now there for all to see,  and visible from a wide expanse of London.  ‘One Westpoint’ at 54 storeys is nearing completion and has joined a cluster of towers of student and residential accommodation (mainly) small flats and studio apartments).  A further development at 4 Portal Way has planning consent for 55 storeys.  Further developments at 1 Portal Way, and on the site of the Castle pub, are at pre-application stage.

North Acton prior to construction of 1 Portal Way and 4 Portal Way
North Acton prior to construction of 1 Portal Way and 4 Portal Way

We think it wise of Cllr Peter Mason to commit to a review of the Borough’s strategy for tall buildings.   In an era of lockdowns and cladding scandals, public appetite for high-rise living is uncertain.  Sales off-plan to foreign investors have fallen away.   We hope that he and his Cabinet colleagues take a careful look at the details of OPDC’s Draft Local Plan.  This consultation is the last chance to do so, before the Planning Inspector brings his examination to a conclusion.

Ealing residents look to its Council, with its new leadership, to do more than wave through an OPDC Draft Local Plan that fails to reflect how local people wish to see the eastern part of the Borough develop in the future.   The Queen of the Suburbs can do better.

Designation application to extend the Old Oak neighbourhood boundary

The boundary of our neighbourhood area was set by OPDC in September 2017, at the time when the Corporation ‘refused’ our original application for a much larger neighbourhood covering the ‘Old Oak’ part of the OPDC boundary.

At that time the OPDC Draft Local Plan was focused on ‘Old Oak North’ and the Cargiant landholding.  This was planned to be the new ‘major town centre’ linked to to the new Old Oak Common station.

In 2019 OPDC changed direction and now sees the Channel Gate and Atlas Road sites (off Victoria Road/Old Oak Lane) as an area for concentrated development of 3,100 new homes.  This site now features in the Modified Draft Local Plan as ‘part of major town centre’.

Our Forum has doubts about the realism of these proposals.  This is a far from obvious location to attract ‘town centre’ uses and will be a 1km walk from Old Oak Common station.  We have therefore been proposing since December 2020 that OPDC should grant an extension to the Old Oak neighbourhood boundary to take in the land shown as hatched on the map below.

Areas proposed for inclusion in an extended Old Oak neighbourhood boundary June 2021
Areas proposed for inclusion in an extended Old Oak neighbourhood boundary June 2021

This extended area would allow for the preparation of a ‘contingent’ part of the Old Oak Neighbourhood Plan, to come into effect should the OPDC Draft Local Plan fail to achieve adoption after its continued ‘examination’ by Planning Inspector Paul Clark.

Another possible event is that the HS2 project is cancelled, even at this late stage, on the basis that assumptions in its business plan not longer stack up as a result of the fall in rail passenger numbers caused by the pandemic.   In either of these two eventualities, a ‘planning void’ for this part of Ealing would need to be filled.   Use of the neighbourhood planning framework could achieve this outcome faster than preparation of a further Local Plan.

Our designation application will be published by OPDC for a 6 week period of public consultation.  Currently it looks as if this will not start until mid July.   Meanwhile a copy of our application can be downloaded here OONF Designation application June 6th 2021

Hammersmith & Fulham vote against OPDC proposed ‘modifications’

At the OPDC Board on March 4th 2021, Councillor Steve Cowan explained that he would be voting against the submission of the set of proposed ‘modifications’ to the 2018 version of the OPDC Draft Local Plan.

He suggested that these proposed changes to the Plan, which have taken OPDC planning officers 16 months to prepare, should be ‘laid on the table’ until the next meeting.  This would allow more time for local residents in north Hammersmith to be persuaded of the merits of the changes.

When the modifications were discussed at the OPDC Planning Committee on February 23rd, LBHF councillors Wesley Harcourt and Natalia Perez both abstained on the recommendation to progress the modifications to the Board.

Additional very high density tall residential towers along Scrubs Lane and north of Little Wormwood Scrubs are one of the causes of concern.  The lack of any vehicle access to the new £1.3bn Old Oak Common station (under construction north of Wormwood Scrubs) is another.

The OONF newsletter for March 2021 at this link gives more details March 2021 newsletter

 

 

London Assembly’s strong criticisms of OPDC

The London Assembly is made up of of 25 Assembly Members, elected at the same time as the Mayor of London.  It is the body which ‘holds the Mayor to account’ in terms of policies, priorities and spending plans.

In the period before each Mayoral Budget, the Assembly examines the budget proposals prepared by each of the Mayoral agencies (fire, police, London Legacy Development Corporation and the OPDC) along with the budget for the core functions of the Greater London Authority.

This year (January 2021) the Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee has published a strongly critical report on the OPDC.  The key message from the committee is that Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation has spent £42.7 million, even though five years on, little has been done on the ground to bring any new jobs or homes to the area.

Our Forum shares these concerns.   For some years we have been raising with OPDC Board Chair Liz Peace, CEO David Lunts, and with Assembly Members our perceptions that the Development Corporation lacks transparency, makes too many decisions behind closed doors, and does not listen enough to the views and suggestions of local residents at Old Oak.

These problems are not new.  See our March 2020 post OPDC required to explain itself  http://oldoakneighbourhoodforum.org/?p=523 and our December 2019 post OPDC a development corporation lacking transparency at http://oldoakneighbourhoodforum.org/?p=476.

We were submitting Freedom of Information requests about the £250m award of HIF grant back in mid 2019.   The St Quintin and Woodlands Neighbourhood Forum (in North Kensington) published in August 2019 a long piece headed OPDC governance – the questions being asked  at https://stqw.org/wordpress/2019/08/08/opdc-governance-the-questions-being-asked/.   A subsequent news item the OPDC’s secrecy on explored the OPDC’s secrecy over the conditions attached by the Government to this funding award at https://stqw.org/wordpress/2019/12/11/opdc-secrecy-on-housing-infrastructure-funding/.

As the London Assembly report makes clear, it was this episode above all which has led the Budget and Performance Committee to conclude that OPDC has not been fulfilling its intended role and that Confidence in the OPDC to deliver such a high-scale project has diminished to next to zero. 

The full report from the Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee can be downloaded from this link https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/london_assembly_-_opdc_budget_report_-_january_2021.pdf

The Corporation was handed a difficult task to undertake, with no certainty of major Government funding for the infrastructure needed to unlock sites at Old Oak.  But we believe that a different approach – more realistic, more evolutionary and more open and honest with landowners, stakeholders and local people, would have achieved better results over the past 6 years.

The Assembly’s report ends with the suggestion The Mayor should give serious thought to how the OPDC is structured, how it delivers value for money, and whether it would benefit further from working more closely with the London Legacy Development Corporation or internally at the GLA. 

We think a further option is for the Mayor and Borough Leaders at Ealing, Brent, and Hammersmith & Fulham to look again at their respective roles in regeneration at Old Oak.   OPDC’s current twin roles as planning authority and delivery agency combine two sets of functions with inherent internal conflicts.

OPDC chose to delegate decisions on most of the major developments in Ealing to that council’s planning committee.  The prospects of a modified Draft OPDC Local Plan emerging in summer 2021, and which offers a coherent future vision for Old Oak, seems questionable.

Mayoral elections are due in May, postponed from 2020 and with every possibility of being postponed again.   All planning for London’s future, against a backcloth of ‘recovery’ from Covid, a very uncertain economy, and a population which may be shrinking fast, needs to be rethought.   We hope that local voices at Old Oak will be listened to more than has been the case to date.

 

HS2 and its detailed plans for Old Oak Common Station

HS2 has submitted to OPDC a series of applications under S17 and S16 of the HS2 Act, with details of its plans for ‘above ground’ works and the road layout at the planned Old Oak Common station and Crossrail interchange.  These ‘Section 17’ applications differ from normal planning applications in that the local planning authority (in the case the OPDC) can refuse them only on very narrowly defined grounds.

The Act itself, and the lengthy period between 2014 and 2017 when the public were able to make representations on the Bill, means that HS2 has ‘deemed consent’ to do pretty much what it wants to do in terms of design of Old Oak Common station and changes to the local road network.

Yet the Act passed through Parliament long before OPDC made its radical change of direction and abandoned its plans for Old Oak North and the Cargiant land.  Many of the assumptions built into the station design, and included in these latest applications still assume that there will be car and bus entry to the station from Scrubs Lane to the east as well as from Old Oak Common Lane to the west.  OPDC tell us that this ‘Eastern Public Realm’ will not now happen.   Nor will the originally proposed ‘Park Road’ be built as an east west route across Old Oak North.

The applications cover different bits of the jigsaw which will make up the totality of the plans for the station interchange, as below.

  • 19/0175/HS2OPDC – Schedule 17 for lorry routes associated with main works stage.
  • 20/0011/HS2OPDC – Schedule 17 Old Oak Common Lane realignment and replacement bridges
  • 20/0012/HS2OPDC – Schedule 17 for Old Oak Common Station. The leaflet .
  • 20/0013/HS2OPDC – Schedule 16 for layout of the on-site road network adjacent to the Station.

Making comments on separate applications, for which the documentation is often very technical, makes life hard for the general public.  The OPDC Planning Committee will also be deciding on separate applications at different meetings, so the committee members may also struggle to see the full picture.

Local organisations have been busy submitting comments on the main application that covers the works to the station.  You can download the following responses:

OONF response at OONF objection to HS2 S17 application.final

Wells House Road Residents Association response at WHRRA Response to HS2 Schedule 17 and 16 planning applications_FINAL_040520_v4

TITRA response at TITRA Response to HS2 schedule 16 17 planning applications May 4 2020

One of the points made in the OONF response is that the HS2 consultation material from 2019 (and much of the documentation) portrays the ‘Adjacent Site’ to the south of the station as a grassed open area as in the image below.

HS2 consultation image of Old Oak Common station and Ajacent Site
HS2 consultation image of Old Oak Common station and Adjacent Site

In reality HS2 has been marketing this site since early 2019 and seeking a development partner, on the basis that the site is suitable for office development in 8 blocks ranging from 4 to 18 storeys, as below.

HS2 Feb 2019 marketing material for the Adjacent Site
HS2 Feb 2019 marketing material for the Adjacent Site

It is small wonder that the general public are confused as to what exactly HS2 and OPDC are planning for the station and its immediate surroundings.

OONF pointed out to OPDC and to HS2 back in February 2019 that the public were being shown very different ‘visualisations’ of the station site, with the HS2 ‘consultation’ version appearing widely in the media.   But little or nothing has since been done to correct misleading impressions given.

We understand that the main S17 application on the station buildings will be decided by the OPDC Planning Committee on 19th May.  This assumes that OPDC are able by then to find a way to hold a ‘virtual’ committee meeting which the public can access online (with 5 minutes of public speaking rights for objectors and supporters) by that date.

OPDC required to explain itself

The OPDC has come under further scrutiny in recent months.  The development corporation is one of several Mayoral bodies spending public money on behalf of all Londoners.

In his 13th March response to the new London Plan, the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick has said to Sadiq Khan ‘Critical strategic sites have stalled, epitomised by your Development Corporation in Old Oak and Park Royal being forced to turn away £250 million of Government funding because of your inability to work successfully with the main landowner’.

As many people in the local area will know, the ‘main landowner’ referred to is Cargiant Ltd.  Following a breakdown of relationships between OPDC and Cargiant in 2017, the Corporation pursed a strategy of talking to other potential ‘development partners’ on the assumption that they could assemble the resources needed to ignore Cargiant’s growing reluctance to develop ‘Phase 1’ at Old Oak North.

This route to developing the area came unstuck in September 2019 when the Planning Inspector ‘examining’ the Draft OPDC Local Plan looked into the details of financial viability and concluded this approach was unviable. In December OPDC announced that it was abandoning this core element of its own master planning work, and its Draft Local Plan, and would switch its focus to the ‘Western Lands’ in the area between Wormwood Scrubs and Park Royal.

Under pressure from London Assembly members, OPDC published in January 202o the full documentation which in September 2018 it had submitted to the Government (Ministry of Housing of Local Government) as an application for £250m of Housing Infrastructure Funding.

OPDC refused during 2019 to release this material in response to FoI/EIR requests from this Forum and from our neighbours the St Quintin and Woodlands Neighbourhood Forum.  OPDC also refused the reveal the all important ‘conditions’ which MHCLG had attached to this provisional funding award. Appeals against these decisions received replies saying that such requests were ‘manifestly unreasonable’.

It is now apparent that more transparency and less secrecy by OPDC might have avoided expenditure of £6.2m of public money by OPDC on a strategy that was extremely high risk, and which could have been halted many months before December 2019.

The London Assembly Budget and Performance Committee will be asking questions to OPDC Chair Liz Peace CBE and David Lunts (acting CEO) on March 18th.  The committee agenda identifies the main point for discussion as being:

“This meeting will focus on the OPDC bid for £250 million of HIF funding. The OPDC’s HIF Bid was published on 20 January 2020. It can be found here https://www.london.gov.uk/aboutus/organisations-we-work/old-oak-and-park-royal-development-corporation-opdc/opdc-structure1/opdc-spending-money-wisely/being-transparent.

The bid details confirm that Car Giant were required for significant housing delivery. The HIF Bid for £250 million was submitted on 10 September 2018, at which stage it would have been clear to the OPDC that Car Giant would not be supporting the development. The Committee will consider if the HIF Bid might reasonably be viewed as a dishonest attempt to secure £250 million of public money”.

Along with the St Quintin and Woodlands Neighbourhood Forum, we have long argued that the governance arrangements at the OPDC are weak, in terms of openness and transparency.  See previous posts for details.  With the Mayoral and Assembly elections now deferred for a year from May 7th 2020, these questions will need to pursued further with Mayor Sadiq Khan into his fifth year of office.

 

 

The OPDC’s ‘new focus’ on the ‘Western Lands’

The OPDC Board met on January 30th, for the first time since September 2019.   The big decision to abandon proposals for the Cargiant land was taken ‘in discussion’ with the Mayor of London, with no formal meetings or reports available to the public.

The most useful paper from the January Board meeting is this one New Focus for Old Oak and Park Royal Regeneration (1).  It briefly explains why OPDC abandoned its plans for Old Oak North, attributing this to ‘rising industrial land values’ and the interim findings of Planning Inspector Paul Clark (see our December post).

Since December, we have been trying to work out where OPDC would be looking for alternative sites for major residential development.  The answer is explained in this report.  The focus of OPDC’s attention has shifted westwards from North Hammersmith to the eastern part of LB Ealing.

This area, lying between Wormwood Scrubs and Park Royal, is being badged by OPDC as ‘the Western Land’ (or now Lands).

It includes the existing residential areas of the Railway Cottages, Midland Terrace/Shaftesbury Gardens, and Wells House Road.

It also includes the whole of the 22 hectare Old Oak neighbourhood area.  This central part of the overall OPDC area is one which our Forum has long argued should be a ‘zone of transition’ suitable for mixed use development and without a hard border separating existing residential enclaves from the ‘Strategic Industrial Land’ of Park Royal.

OPDC has commissioned consultants Prior and Partners to carry out some new masterplanning work on this area.  One of their slides as presented to the OPDC Board shows the rough boundary of the Western Lands.

OPDC's new area of focus - the Western Lands
OPDC’s new area of focus – the Western Lands

The three Borough Leaders (Stephen Cowan, Julian Bell and Muhammed Butt were all present at this Board meeting (unusually).  The first two expressed disappointment that the presentation from Prior and Partners lacked detail and felt like ‘back to the beginning’ after five years of the life of the OPDC.  It is far from clear, as yet, which parts of these ‘Western Lands’ the  Development Corporation is now considering as potential housing sites.

Many of the sites that offer prospects for development are already assigned as ‘construction compounds’ for HS2 and have been acquired and cleared for this purpose.  These sites are not due to become available for housebuilding until the HS2/Crossrail interchange is completed.  The earliest completion date is now seen as 2028 rather than 2026.

We met with the OPDC planners and development managers in early February, for what was a useful discussion.  OPDC acknowledge it is very early days for what will be a major rethink of their plans.

No timetable is yet available for the next stages of the OPDC Draft Local Plan, and no date fixed for the required further six week round of public consultation.   OPDC will assemble a set of ‘modifications’ that were being prepared pre December, to meet various requirements of Planning Inspector Paul Clark. These will be combined with the more substantial changes that OPDC will be making as a result of this shift of focus from North Hammersmith to the eastern side of Ealing.

Meanwhile Ealing Council is continuing to grant planning consents on a series of major developments at North Acton.  Since 2015, planning decisions in North Acton have been ‘delegated’ by OPDC to LB Ealing.   This arrangement has now become questionable, given that North Acton forms part of the area defined as the Western Lands.

This has not stopped Ealing’s Planning Committee from recently granting approval to two developments at Portal Way, in North Acton.  The scheme for the Holiday Inn site at 4 Portal Way involves two residential towers of 45 and 55 storeys, with 702 apartments.  Approval has also been given for a further  10 storeys at the City and Docklands development at 6 Portal Way, currently under construction.  This is now also due to be 55 storeys.

Both developments have yet to be assessed by the Mayor of London at ‘Stage 2’ (as is the case for all tall buildings).  With elections looming for the Mayor and London Assembly, the developers and the council seem keen to move at speed – and are paying little or no heed to the OPDC’s rethink on its plans.

Ealing Council officers make little mention of the OPDC in their reports and recommendations on sites at North Acton. The prospects of coherent regeneration of this important part of the OPDC area was probably lost back in 2014, when Ealing Council persuaded then Mayor Boris Johnson to be allowed to continue to do its own thing at North Acton.

This campaign has brought together three existing groups of local residents in Ealing, including Ealing Matters.  London’s public are beginning to pay increased attention to a new spate of high rise buildings, many at extreme densities, which Ealing Council is allowing.  Towers of 55 storeys are entirely new to this part of the capital, and the feeling of ‘who asked us’ is growing among local people.

CGI of North Acton's 'cluster' from the A40 entering London
CGI of North Acton’s future ‘cluster’ from the A40 entering London

OPDC abandons plans to use Cargiant land

In a sudden and unexpected turn of events, a press release from the OPDC On December 13th announced that the Corporation was halting its plans to assemble land at Old Oak North.

This brings to an end the legal tussle between the OPDC and Cargiant Ltd.  In early 2019 Cargiant changed its position and decided to remain on its existing 44 acre site (see previous posts).   The OPDC chose to progress its ‘masterplan’ for Old Oak North, using its powers of compulsory purchase to acquire tracts of Cargiant land.

See for more information at OPDC and Cargiant press statements Dec 2019

The OPDC Board has not met since September 26th 2019 and is not meeting again until January 30th 2020 (a four month gap).  So there has been no report or Board discussion that explains the consequences of this major change of direction by the Corporation.

Abandoning what was to have been ‘Phase 1’ of new development at Old Oak raises many questions.  What alternative sites are now being explored?   How much public money has been spent in pursuing plans for Old Oak North which attracted objections from the start, to the proposed excessive densities and building heights?

OONF and the St Quintin and Woodlands Neighbourhood Forum has sent OPDC a list of questions StQW and OONF questions on OPDC new focus.   We hope to have answers before the next OONF and GUA meeting on January 7th.

Either way, we will be ensuring that members of the London Assembly Budget and Performance Committee see a copy of our questions before they meet in early January to scrutinise the OPDC Budget submission Dec 2020

The efforts of local neighbourhood forums to gain access to information on OPDC decisions are beginning to bear fruit.  The London Assembly Budget and Performance Committee formally ‘summonsed’ certain documents from OPDC Chair Liz Peace and Interim Chief Executive David Lunts in September 2019.  Committee Chair Gareth Bacon MP AM has now written to Liz Peace, asking for this material to be published London Assembly -OPDC -Letter to Liz Peace

These are the same documents, relating to the Corporation’s 2018 bid for Housing Infrastructure Funding, that OONF and the StQW Neighbourhood Forum have been asking for as Freedom of Information requests, over the past 9 months.

These requests were refused by OPDC as being ‘manifestly unreasonable’.   We look forward to the early publication of these documents, so that we can tell the Information Commissioner to drop our complaint over the OPDC’s failure to disclose them previously.

 

OPDC – a development corporation lacking transparency

Over the past 18 months it has become increasingly hard for the public to gain an understanding of the activities and aims of the OPDC.  Meetings that are open to the public very rarely question or discuss the critical challenges facing the Corporation.  Reports from officers include little detail on these matters.  Much of the decision-making appears to take place in private and informal sessions, or via delegation to OPDC officers.

Questions over the governance of the Corporation have been pursued in depth by the St Quintin and Woodlands Neighbourhood Forum.   More information on exchanges of correspondence with OPDC Chair Liz Peace CBE and Interim Chief Exective David Lunts can be found on the StQW Forum website at www.stqw.org 

Efforts by OONF to uncover the content of the OPDC/GLA bid to Government for Housing Infrastructure Funding have so far proved unsuccessful.  OPDC refuses to release a copy of their September 2018 ‘Expression of Interest’ for this funding, under the Freedom of Information Act.   Requests for sight of the conditions attached to this £250m of Government funding, awarded on a provisional basis in March 2019, have also been turned down.

The London Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee has become so concerned about the risks that OPDC are incurring that the committee took the unusual step in September 2019 of issuing a legal summons to Liz Peace and David Lunts Agenda item 8a.  This listed a series of documents relating to the HIF bid that London Assembly Members wish to see.

The Committee has been provided with these documents, but has not met since September.  It remains unclear whether part or all of this material will finally be made public.

In the meantime OONF  and the StQW Neighbourhood Forum have referred to the Information Commissioner our concerns over the refusals by the the OPDC to release the HIF Expression of Interest and the funding conditions set by Government.

We believe that the public interest case for disclosure of these documents outweigh the grounds that OPDC and the GLA have put forward for refusing our FoI/EIR requests.  These grounds are a combination of ‘commercial sensitivity’ and the ‘manifest unreasonableness’ of our requests.

The detailed letter to the Information Commissioner, setting out the case for disclosure can be found here  StQW and OONF to ICO 30.11.19