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 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.
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 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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Planning Inspector Paul Clark published on September 16th an ‘interim report’ on his Examination of the OPDC Draft Local Plan. This followed the public session of the Examination on July 18th, at which Cargiant and OPDC argued their differing views on the viability and realism of major housing development on Cargiant’s landholdings at Old Oak North. The Inspector’s report can be found here id-33_interim_findings_on_viability_of_cargiant_site_allocation
The Inspector has generally sided with Cargiant’s documentation and arguments on the complex land valuation issues involved and has concluded that compulsory purchase of OPDC land and/or ‘extinguishment’ of the Cargiant business is not the right way forward. He has therefore removed much of the Cargiant land from the Draft Local Plan, and directed that the housing and employment targets in the OPDC Local Plan be reduced accordingly.
Cargiant’s view of events can be found at the link below. They have repeated their earlier view that OPDC is wasting large sums of public money on an ill-conceived set of plans for Old Oak and that “It is now time to stop throwing good money after bad.” PressStatement.EiP.19.09.17.ISSUED.jp
This set of decisions by the Inspector will require further major revisions to the Draft Local Plan, on top of other ‘major modifications’ that have emerged during the Examination. Another round of public consultation on the Plan will be needed (the fourth). OPDC still hope to see the Local Plan adopted in the early part of 2020 but this is looking increasingly unlikely.
During the London Assembly sessions at which OPDC Chair Liz Peace and Interim Chief Executive David Lunts answered questions, it emerged that the £250m of Housing Infrastructure Funding awarded by Government to the OPDC last March remains subject to several ‘challenging’ conditions being met before the grant is paid. Not least of these conditions is that the OPDC Draft Local Plan is supported by Planning Inspector Paul Clark.
The content of the OPDC’s HIF bid, and the conditions attached, have not been published and remain confidential. The Old Oak Neighbourhood Forum has been pursuing since March a FoI/EIR request with OPDC and GLA. This request has so far been refused twice. We have sent a further letter refining what documentation we most wish to see OONF to OPDC on EIR. July 2019 final and hope that the key HIF document is made available before we have to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner.
London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon has also asked the Mayor of London why this funding application cannot be made public. See here.
Meanwhile the Mayor has approved a further £10m budget from GLA resources (see MD2493) for OPDC to continue to carry out work on its plans for Old Oak North. This adds to the £29m spent to date by OPDC since 2015.
On July 4th 2019, the regular ‘Plenary’ session of the London Assembly focused on the work of the OPDC. These sessions are an opportunity for Assembly members to ask questions about the various bodies responsible to Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London.
A webcast of the session can be viewed on the London Assembly website. The lead questioners at the session were Assembly Members Navin Shah (Labour), Sian Berry (Green Party) and Tony Devenish (Conservative). Other Assembly Members asked supplementary questions.
Liz Peace (OPDC Board Chair) and David Lunts (OPDC Interim Chief Executive) answered the questions.
The main points that emerged from the session were:
confirmation of what was said about the proposed new Overground stations at Hythe Road and old Oak Common Lane, at the June 11th session of the Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee. Both these stations, which feature as part of the Transport strategy in the OPDC Draft Local Plan, are not funded within TfL programmes.
Liz Peace said that TfL Transport staff had told her some time ago that there was no adequate business case for the Hythe Road station. That proposed for Old Oak Common Lane has slightly more prospect of ever being built, given its potential role in West London Orbital plans.
David Lunts claimed that even without these stations the future Old Oak would remain ‘an incredibly well connected place‘ where no one will need to walk more than 10 minutes to a station.
Liz Peace said that following a meeting with the Mayor, Sadiq Kahne would be making a Mayoral decision to release further funds to OPDC to allow it to progress its delivery plans for Old Oak North ‘Phase 1A (the proposed northern link road from the Oaklands site to Scrubs Lane, and associated housing plots).
David Lunts will increase the time spent on his OPDC role from 2 days to 4 days, while remaining GLA Executive Director for Housing and Land.
When asked what OPDC had achieved to date, David Lunts cited the £250m HIF funding agreed by Government, and planning permissions granted for 3,500 new homes. The fact that none of the permissions granted for developments along Scrubs Lane have started on site was not mentioned.
The conditions attached to the £250m HIF grant were raised. It known that the main condition is adoption of the OPDC Local Plan. Assembly Members would like to have more detail. Liz Peace and David Lunts said that it was MHCLG and Homes England that were insisting that details were commercially confidential and the relevant documents could not be released.
Meanwhile the GLA is being expected to ‘underwrite’ the entire £250m, in the event of OPDC failing to the conditions or the timescales for HIF spend.
When questioned on how much of Cargiant’s land was needed to meet OPDC’s detailed plans for Phase 1A, David Lunts gave 25% of the total as the current estimate. He said that most of the area concerned was ‘non-operational’ and not critical to Cargiant’s business.
Liz Peace gave a ‘personal view’ that in the event of HS2 being cancelled by an incoming Prime Minister, it would be hard to see a continued justification for OPDC’s role as a development corporation.
Cargiant circulated a briefing to Assembly Members prior to the Plenary session Letter.19.06.14.LondonAssembley.BPcomm (002). This sets out their view on why the firm will strongly resist efforts to acquire parts of their land via compulsory purchase.
Following the session, Cargiant issued a press statement saying that the OPDC strategy is “completely flawed” and calling for the OPDC to “pull their heads out of the sand”. See at PressStatement.19.07.04.ISSUED.jp.
The briefing note that OONF had provided to selected Assembly Members prompted some questions and comment about OPDC’s approach to community engagement and the role of the OPDC Community Review Group.
Liz Peace said that the content of the OONF note was ‘misleading’ but did not explain in what respects. These concerns of local residents and community groups are being followed up with various Assembly Members who are taking an interest. See Note for London Assembly members from OONF.June 2019 V3
The fact that new Overground stations are not realistic propositions has significant implications for housing densities and building heights at Old Oak. Public Transport Accessibility Levels (PTAL) will be lower than the map included in the current OPDC Draft Local Plan. We have asked that a revised ‘Future PTAL’ map is made available for the Planning Inspector’s final public hearing session on July 18th.
The London Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee held a session in June 11th at which OPDC Board Chair Liz Peace and Interim Chief Executive David Lunts were questioned on the work of the Corporation to date and its future plans.
The session can be viewed online at this link . Some important information emerged in the answers given to the committee.
Liz Peace explained that the proposed new Overground station at Hythe Road is ‘absolutely off the agenda’ and that the second station at Old Oak Common Lane/Victoria Road is still a possibility but with its probability ‘very slight’.
The £250m of Housing Infrastructure Funding awarded to OPDC by Government in March 2019 ‘is not in the bank’ and remains subject to many conditions. The most important of these is adoption of the OPDC Local Plan. The Inspector has yet to conclude public hearings (last one scheduled for July 18th) and adoption of the Plan is not expected before early 2020. This is three years later than was forecast in the 2015 Old Oak and Park Royal Opportunity Area Planning Framework.
OPDC has for the time being stalled its efforts to recruit a permanent new chief executive officer. David Lunts will continue in this post as a part time interim.
None of this information has been announced by OPDC in press releases or public reports to the OPDC Board. The implications of the Overground Stations not being built are significant. Local Plan maps showing levels of public transport accessibility (PTAL) across the OPDC area are no longer accurate. Proposed housing densities at Old Oak North are even more extreme and even less justifiable.
Cargiant responded to the June 11th committee session by sending a letter to Assembly members pointing out serious inaccuracies in several of the statements made by OPDC. This Cargiant letter can be downloaded here Letter.19.06.14.LondonAssembley.BPcomm (002)
The Assembly’s Plenary session on July 4th will include a further Q and A session between all Assembly members and Liz Peace and David Lunts. This session at City Hall is open to the public and starts at 10.00 am.
The Forum has put together and circulated a briefing note for Assembly Members. This gives the background to the Forum’s experiences over the past 3 years. The note focuses on OPDC’s efforts at consultation and ‘community engagement’ and why many local residents have found these to be inadequate and unsatisfactory. A copy of the note can be downloaded here Note for London Assembly members from OONF.June 2019 V3
We wait to see what further information will result from this Plenary session of the London Assembly. It is clear that there are growing questions about the way in which OPDC has approached its remit from the Mayor, and its preparation of a Draft Local Plan. The list of ‘challenges’ facing the Corporation increases by the day.