‘West is best’ – the Heathrow effect

Friday 2 June 2017

West London is fighting back from being in the shadow of the city’s eastern push since before the Olympics, galvanised by the expansion of Heathrow and Crossrail – two major factors in catalysing jobs and homes.

That was one of the key messages to draw from a wide-ranging discussion on ‘The Heathrow Effect’, an NLA On Location event held in the University of West London in Ealing yesterday.

Ealing leader Julian Bell said that despite government cuts to the authority’s budget down to £168million, Ealing was nevertheless proving that London was ‘open for business’ and has been able to ‘grow our way out of austerity’. The borough Bell fell in love with 30 years ago for its accessibility was only getting better through Crossrail and other initiatives, while its green, open nature was one he wanted to further with measures on cycling and electric vehicles. ‘I want Ealing to be the Copenhagen of London’, he said.

Bell’s counterpart at Hounslow, Steve Curran said that infrastructure was key, and that the expansion of Heathrow would bring jobs and prosperity. But the Green Belt was another issue to be looked at, with the authority’s second period of consultation underway and public consultation set to follow later this year. It was important that we protect Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land, he said, but there has to be a ‘realism about that’, with some sites less worthy than others.

Heathrow’s community and stakeholder engagement director Rob Gray said that a bigger and better airport will provide a ‘catalyst for growth’. ‘Heathrow expansion is a vital project built in the national interest’, he said. Heathrow is the UK’s only hub airport and building a third runway will let it increase the number of long haul destinations to which it can fly to 40, as well as doubling cargo capacity. But it will also aim to be ‘carbon neutral’, he said, and the airport is already quieter than it was in the 1970s. ‘It provides a golden opportunity to provide benefits to Ealing, Hounslow and the wider sub-region’, he said.

Segro is a provider of ‘big sheds’ to this area and many others, for clients who increasingly want to be near their markets, rather than out in the ‘shires’, said the firm’s partner Neil Impiazzi. But the UK should perhaps seek to get ‘creative’ and build more multi-storey industrial units as they do in Rome, Munich and Paris, where Amazon is doing precisely that. ‘Going up is a reality for industrial as it is for apartments and residential’, he said, adding that mixed used solutions were another area to be looked at. ‘Industrial is not a dirty word.’

The conference also heard from Will Alsop, director of aLL Design, who showed his scheme for a mixed use development on the Brentford bus station site in the ‘Golden Mile’ as part of what he branded west London’s need to ‘fight back’ against the rise of the east, especially to the young.

Maccreanor Lavington director Gerard Maccreanor agreed, saying the west today contrasted with 2006 when a drawing his practice produced for London showed growth in the east but the west perceived as being full of suburban housing, with expensive land constrained by Heathrow. Now, however, development at Old Oak Common, Wembley, Southall and Acton was changing all that, as well as his practice’s work on developing a masterplan for Brentford High Street. ‘What you see now is west London taking up around 17-25% of housing targets for the London Plan’, he said.

Berkeley West Thames’s Damian Leydon, showed how the redevelopment of Southall Waterside will bring a new London village including 3,750 homes, and Lampton 360 managing director Barbara Ricardson detailed how her arm’s length company is creating affordable housing in Hounslow and beyond.

Finally in discussion, Ealing director of regeneration and housing Pat Hayes said that Ealing’s resurgence as an office location was in part down to Crossrail’s arrival, and the authority is using its assets to catalyse intensification and development in the borough. But housing will not be solved by Green Belt release, he said, especially with so many planning consents not built out on brownfield sites and developers landbanking. But some areas of green belt are neither green nor a belt, he added, and some Metropolitan Open Land has little or no amenity value, so should be de-designated. ‘It has to be about substitution and moving things around.’

David Taylor

Editor, New London Quarterly 

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