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Old Oak Common plans: OPDC hit back after Cargiant slam 'flawed plan' for regeneration

PUBLISHED: 15:09 25 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:04 25 September 2019

Cargiant's chief financial officer Mark Gibbons shows Assembly Members Gareth Bacon and Caroline Pidgeon around his firm's factory. Picture: Sam Volpe

Cargiant's chief financial officer Mark Gibbons shows Assembly Members Gareth Bacon and Caroline Pidgeon around his firm's factory. Picture: Sam Volpe

Archant

On one side, the world's biggest used car dealership. On the other, plans for the the biggest development in London since the 2012 Olympics.

The Cargiant site from the air. Picture: Cargiant/GoogleThe Cargiant site from the air. Picture: Cargiant/Google

Emboldened by a planning inspector's ruling this month that the Old Oak Park Development Corporation (OPDC) "should delete" tracts of land used by Cargiant for its used car operation south of Willesden Junction, the business has gone further and argued the OPDC's entire business plan is "seriously flawed".

But the OPDC has hit back, claiming more than 7,000 homes "have been or are soon to be delivered" and saying its plans are on track.

It added that Cargiant is still welcome to sit down and discuss a compromise that would see the first phase of redevelopment move forward.

But bosses at the mammoth used car facility used a site visit by the London Assembly's Budget and Performance Committee to double down on the inspector's findings and demand OPDC engage with them to salvage its plans.

An artist's sketch of Old Oak Park, part of the OPDC development, from 2015. Picture: Old Oak ParkAn artist's sketch of Old Oak Park, part of the OPDC development, from 2015. Picture: Old Oak Park

Attendees at the visit were subject to a detailed presentation from Cargiant's senior execs who reiterated their intention to fight any compulsory purchase order (CPO) of their land that OPDC might seek.

Those present were bemused when one director tipped three bins full of miniature cars onto a table-sized map of the Cargiant site. The pile of toys was intended to demonstrate the size of Cargiant's business and the 50,000 vehicles they sell a year.

Despite last week's interim ruling, OPDC is hoping to bring forward "phase 1a" of its plans, which would see a road and 3,100 homes built, cutting through Cargiant land.

Cargiant boss Geoff Warren said even just this element of the scheme could affect up to 42 per cent of its vehicle processing plant - he said OPDC had not been able to confirm exactly what the "worst case scenario" of this initial work would be for his company.

He said: "They're saying 'all we can do is play a waiting game and go around Cargiant', but they're not. We've repeatedly asked for the maximum land they would take in phase 1a, and they've repeatedly refused."

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Cargiant commissioned engineers Arup to come up with an alternative plan that would move the mooted road slightly further south. But OPDC rejected this.

David Lunts, its CEO, said it did "not create enough development potential and would result in the loss of affordable housing, as well good placemaking".

On September 17, planning inspector Paul Clark made an interim ruling stating Cargiant land pencilled in for redevelopment as part of the scheme, which OPDC says could - overall - provide 20,000 homes and 40,000 jobs over two decades, should be deleted from the proposed Local Plan as it was not "viable".

Mr Clark said this would mean OPDC had to revise those numbers down by almost 6,000 homes as, he said, OPDC would not be able to meet the costs of relocating or closing down Cargiant while also hitting affordable housing targets.

But in his report, Mr Clark did say: "It ought to be possible to arrive at a resolution of phase 1a which would not require the extinction of the Cargiant operation."

OPDC has obtained "in principle" £250m of money from the government's Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF), but this money is attached to a number of conditions which have not been made public. These are however known to include the Local Plan being adopted, and that it is underwritten by the GLA.

Cargiant has now called for OPDC to withdraw its HIF bid. The OPDC has rejected this out of hand.

Boss Mr Warren said: "We think there are serious problems with the HIF. They should withdraw the bid and sit down with us and work out a compromise. Our business makes sense. Common sense should prevail."

Finance director Mark Gibbons added: "We are not just any used car dealer. If you could design Cargiant in the best way possible, you would have it totally like it is today."

Mr Warren also rejected suggestions that Cargiant could be split over a number of sites. He added: "To do this volume of vehicles on one site, we are very invested in keeping the processing plant in one place. We want to wait and see what happens with the Local Plan. Provided it's adopted in its current form [with Cargiant removed], we probably won't appeal."

But the OPDC's Mr Lunts added: "We do however believe that there is room for OPDC and Cargiant to find an agreed solution on this matter particularly given that both sides recognise the importance of the road, and we would be very happy to meet with Arup and Cargiant to talk."

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