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.