Old Oak Common Strategic Visioning Group

Wednesday 25 September 2013

The Old Oak Common area of west London needs inspired leadership, Government support, money and a clear-sighted plan of action over land ownership issues if it is to avoid becoming a disappointing patchwork of disparate development projects.

Those were some of the key thoughts to emerge from a think tank session at the NLA this morning, which brought together architects, planners, developers and other built environment professionals to discuss the opportunities and threats facing the area.

GLA strategic planning manager Colin Wilson kicked off with a presentation on the planning framework document for Old Oak Common, saying that it was important to be flexible and work around land ownerships rather than go down the CPO route. But this may prove a key obstacle, with some 3-4,000 leasehold interests in the area, including large landowners such as Car Giant who might prove difficult to rehome. The housing capacity for the area is estimated at between 16-20,000 homes, potentially attracted by Crossrail, while the GLA has been pressing HS2 to consider making its station there as a ‘destination in itself’, and with access to the nearby Wormwood Scrubs. ‘We don’t want it to be the middle of nowhere’ said Wilson, ‘but a place that is part of a London growing from nine million to 10 million people.

The LSE’s Tony Travers suggested that one of the reasons why the area had not hitherto been developed successfully might be its location on the edge of a number of boroughs, thereby not being central to any authority’s thoughts. Having a plan which works over 20-30 years is very important, he added, or it risks ‘becoming a patchwork of ad hoc development which will be less than the sum of its parts.’

Collaboration and close working will also be essential, from local authorities through to central government, and perhaps with the formation of a development corporation to ease the project’s passage. ‘The biggest challenge is how you get everybody pulling in the same direction’, said John McNulty, HS2 Stations Development and Regeneration, HS2. But Ealing’s Pat Hayes said an extra layer of Government might not help. ‘What you need is a single owner of the site’. The site as it is today is dominated by extant railway infrastructure, said Travers - ‘Whatever happens next, it will have to fight this infrastructure.’

Other discussion points included the need to draw on and improve nearby areas like Harlesden, the desire for interim uses, Old Oak possibly being a good location for an exhibition space and the ‘crucial’ but costly requirement of moving depots on the site. There was also debate over Enterprise Zones, the benefits of changing planning designation of industrial areas like Park Royal, and how spoil from tunnelling could best be used, perhaps in landscaping Wormwood Scrubs, Old Oak Common’s ‘Olympic Park’.

David Taylor, New London Quarterly

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