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.