Old Oak Common – creating ‘the Canary Wharf of the West’

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Image: Farrells

The development of Old Oak Common represents a major opportunity to create the ‘Canary Wharf of the West’, with transport links such as Crossrail and HS2 at its heart.

But with a goal of around 25,000 new homes, 60,000 jobs and a newly revealed billion pound plan to deck over the area’s Crossrail depot, it must also protect its existing industry and guard against becoming just ‘a community of off-plan sales flats’.

The views came from a special pre-election update on the progress made at Old Oak Common held at NLA this morning. Sir Edward Lister, chief of staff and deputy mayor, policy and planning, said the development of the area was one of the things he was most proud of, and it was an ‘idea whose time has finally come’. If the plans in the east of the city were equivalent to fitting in a city the size of Glasgow, in west London it was the size of Cardiff, but whilst retaining the best elements of the ‘breadbasket of London’ – Park Royal. ‘We don’t want to lose a job, anywhere’, he said. All of a sudden, Lister added, the area will be home to a transport hub with a projected 270,000 people a day changing – the equivalent of numbers at Waterloo, so HS2 and Crossrail will be central to its success. To kick-start what is the biggest regeneration project in the UK, a mayoral development corporation has been created, with the initial vision from Boris Johnson ‘going into bat for this as he had to do with the Olympic Park’. ‘I’m a fan of MDCs’ said Lister. ‘They are the future.’

Lister also revealed that after extensive consultations about the Crossrail depot and visits overseas it had been decided that the construction of ‘an enormous deck’ over it should be undertaken to enable over site development.

OPDC director of planning Mick Mulhern said after the ‘huge amount of focus on the east in the last 10-15 years’ it was ‘very much shifting back’ to west London. The area has huge amounts of land ‘ripe for development’, with opportunities around what will be the largest station to be built this century where 200 trains an hour will pass through every hour, and Birmingham will be only 38 minutes away via HS2. Mulhern said the OPDC will soon commission a comprehensive masterplan team to look at the public sector land in the zone, development of which could deliver some £7billion a year for the UK economy.

A cautionary note was paid by Ealing’s Pat Hayes, however, who said his chief concern was that Old Oak Common ‘did not end up as Canary Wharf morphed with a bit of Nine Elms and Paddington’. Rather than just scale, it was important to create good links to communities in Harlesden and Willesden and avoid the problem of high land value resulting in very dense development and thence unaffordable prices.

Introduced as the ‘midwife’ to the regeneration of King’s Cross, Allies & Morrison director Peter Bishop said Old Oak had ‘fantastic potential’, with crucial moves including the reinforcement of its strong north-south axis, concentrating on streets, connecting the hinterland and perhaps building new canal basins to allow a mixture of densities and building heights around it. ‘The real challenge here is to create the scale of Canary Wharf with the inclusivity and quality of space of King’s Cross’, said Bishop. If that could be done it could set ‘completely new standards of what urbanism can do in this country’.

The event also heard from speakers including London and Regional UK development director Geoff Springer on its plans for 9m sq ft of development including offices and workshops and a museum, and HS2 non-executive director Duncan Sutherland, who said models for Old Oak’s station environs included St Pancras and Lille rather than Gare du Creusot, whose TGV-based regeneration had never really arrived. Finally, Farrells partner Neil Bennett said the key challenges for Old Oak Common included the need for an economic vision, connectivity and achieving a sense of place in an area that is the planned location of a seventh of London’s new jobs and homes.

 By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ

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