The redevelopment of Old Oak Common, a huge area of industrial land in west London, is one of England's biggest regeneration schemes. But last week, a planning inspector appeared to deal the project a major blow. Inspector Paul Clark recommended that the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC), the body set up to drive the site's redevelopment, remove a large chunk of land from its local plan for the area.
In his interim report following the plan's examination, Clark said the cost to the OPDC of relocating the Cargiant business, whose land is earmarked for a quarter of the homes and employment space in the plan, would be between £480 million and £630 million. This meant development of the land was not viable, he concluded, as it would not allow the provision of infrastructure or affordable housing on the land. As a result, he said two allocated Cargiant-owned sites in the plan should be deleted, which would result in the loss of 5,900 homes and 51,600 square metres of employment floorspace.
The plan proposes the delivery of 20,100 dwellings and 40,400 jobs over the 20-year plan period - but these overall targets would have to be "revised downwards" by the OPDC, the inspector said. He went on to say that "should circumstances change to the extent that Cargiant ceased to be a flourishing business", then the viability of developing the two sites "would be transformed". He also backed the plan's proposal to deallocate the land for industrial use.
Geoff Warren, the owner of Cargiant, called the inspector’s letter a "complete and absolute disaster for the OPDC". He called on the ODPC to withdraw its bid for £250 million of government money through the Housing Infrastructure Fund, which was provisionally secured in March, because he said the bid was dependent on having an adopted local plan in respect of the Cargiant site. Warren also urged the ODPC to withdraw its intention to use a compulsory purchase order to buy his business’s land.
In a statement, David Lunts, OPDC chief executive, said because of the firm's "recent" decision not to relocate and redevelop its site, the "inspector’s findings not to allocate the remainder of Cargiant’s land for housing at this stage is not entirely unexpected". "Despite this, the inspector has paved the way for future development by de-designating the entire site from strategic industrial land," he said. Lunts added that the Cargiant site makes up just three per cent of the OPDC’s 650-hectare area "so there is capacity for development in other areas including Willesden Junction, Acton and Park Royal within OPDC’s boundary".
Lunts also said the inspector's report allowed the OPDC to proceed with the first phase of its development plans, encompassing 3,000 homes outside the two sites in question. He said: "We’re confident we can make the changes requested by the inspector to the local plan to ensure we realise the full benefits of this strategically-important regeneration." He said the OPDC was "reviewing" the inspector's comments and would work with Cargiant and other landowners to reach a solution and to "see our local plan through to adoption". He also said the OPDC was "meeting the conditions in the HIF bid" and "working closely with Homes England and MHCLG to ensure we are able to draw the funds".
However, Roger Hepher, director at planning consultancy HGH who has advised some of the parties at Old Oak Common, said: "OPDC clearly now need to do some rethinking about their planning strategy, and to move swiftly if any development is going to be delivered in the short or medium term."