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'Uncertainty' surrounds Old Oak and Park Royal project, City Hall meeting hears

PUBLISHED: 18:08 11 June 2019 | UPDATED: 11:12 12 June 2019

Ariel view of Old Oak. Picture: Andrew Holt

Ariel view of Old Oak. Picture: Andrew Holt

Andrew Holt www.andrew-holt.com

The plan to build an Old Oak and Park Royal community is beset by complexities, risks and uncertainty that is putting the multi-billion pound vision into jeopardy.

Old Oak Common regeneration will take place over a 30 year period.Old Oak Common regeneration will take place over a 30 year period.

Two chiefs from the Old Oak and Park Development Corporation (OPCD) faced a grilling from City Hall's budget and performance committee on Tuesday as they were hit with a barrage of uncomfortable questions.

In March the corporation received an "in principle" £250m award from the government's Housing Infrastructure Fund to kick start one of the country's biggest projects which promises to unlock up to 25,500 new homes and 65,000 jobs over 30 years.

The cash will "unlock" Old Oak North, the first of six new neighbourhoods planned for the 650-hectare site which is close to a major transport hub where High Speed 2 meets Crossrail, creating super-fast links in and out of the area.

This money, however, is not "bankable" yet which seems to be paralysing the entire programme.

Artist sketch of the proposed development (Pic: Old Oak Park)Artist sketch of the proposed development (Pic: Old Oak Park)

Add enormous funding gaps, uncertainty regarding High Speed Rail, the Brexit debacle and a fraught relationship with car dealer Cargiant, it is no surprise the project is a "red risk", according to Lib Dem assembly member Caroline Pidgeon who referred to their report.

Chair of OPDC Liz Peace said it was a "challenging point" in their history and the HIF bid set out "challenging conditions we have to meet", including a 2023 deadline and adherence to the Mayor's London Plan.

She said: "The HIF bid doesn't mean we have got the money in the bank…until we get the money we haven't got the means to pay the things we need to do to get the HIF bid progressing."

She added there was a "likely shortfall", which was "why we've been in discussion with the GLA about underwriting it."

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She told the meeting that infrastructure costs over the lifespan of the project was "probably about £1 billion." This includes roads, bridges and underpasses across the multi-rail track site.

David Lunts stepped in as interim chief executive, after Victoria Hills stepped down in January 2018, to see through the HIF bid.

He said it was a "complex project", where circumstances had "shifted" since the bid, HS2 being one of those and Cargiant the other. He said they would have to "reassess assumptions" such as projected cashflow up until 2024.

Green Party LA member Sian Berry raised the issue of Cargiant. The company recently accused the OPDC of "wasting money" and demanded the project be halted.

She said the company "seem to be digging their heels" by challenging the compulsory purchase order process. "It's hard to see how it can be resolved as they can't move to another site now."

Both Ms Peace and Mr Lunts accepted they had no funds to buy Cargiant's land but that they were "prepared to play a waiting game," if the company was not going to bring development on the site themselves.

The committee heard the planning inspector will write a report on OPDC's development plan in July.

Committee chairman Gareth Bacon (Con) said: "You're expecting the inspector to approve the plan?"

Ms Peace replied: "We hope we will be able to convince him. There's a possibility he will take a different view." She said it "wouldn't be terminal" if he refused but it would "impose delay."

Mr Lunts said: "We're anticipating we'll have an adoptive plan in 2020."

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