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Interview | Liz Peace, Old Oak Common regenerator

Old oak hs2

Liz Peace is under no illusion about the scale of the Old Oak and Park Royal development in west London.

The quick thinking, fast talking Peace says the number one challenge is its sheer enormity.

The 650ha site stretches from the Hanger Lane gyratory in the west, Stonebridge Park station in the north and Willesden Junction in the east. It also incorporates Wormwood Scrubs park to the south east.

Lizpeacephoto

Lizpeacephoto

Peace: Don’t reinvent the wheel

In April 2015, the Old Oak & Park Royal Development Corporation, known as the OPDC, which Peace now chairs, was officially launched, giving it formal planning powers over the site. As announced in the 2016 spring Budget, it also has an MOU agreement for the ownership of 97ha of government-owned land.

Development opportunities are rife, amid plans for around 25,500 new homes. But Peace says that bringing in the investment needed for the infrastructure and redevelopment will only be achievable by breaking it down into bite-sized, manageable chunks.

What I’m working on with the team is to come up with a prioritised list of the really key projects

“We know there could be a massive infrastructure bill, but there is no point in going along to the Treasury and saying ‘we need billions’ because that just frightens everybody,” she says.

“What I’m working on with the team is to come up with a prioritised list of the really key projects that we want to get going as quickly as possible. Once we have that, we’ll have got it down to a manageable size, because we’re not going to do everything in the next few years.

Old oak common

Old Oak and Park Royal plan

“This is a 20 to 30-year project so we have to be sensible.”

Most of the current site is taken up with a vast industrial area on its western side. This will be regenerated as part of the scheme. But the major opportunities lie in the east, part of which will contain the new Old Oak Common High Speed 2 (HS2) station.

In this area, the prizes might be greater, but so are the challenges.

The Grand Union Canal runs through the middle of the site and the area is already riddled with railway lines, the number of which will only increase with HS2. This cuts off whole areas of land, creating inaccessible islands in what should be one of the most connected parts of the country.

I’d be very keen to persuade anybody who thinks they are going to make money out of this site to rein in their expectations

Building the infrastructure to connect these areas will be the second biggest challenge, Peace says.

The masterplan for the area is currently being written by Aecom. The award of this contract was delayed by the appointment of Peace. But she says this late appointment of the masterplanning team has not held development back. She says that during the period of flux, the corporation continued to develop the local plan – the basis for the future document.

Her message to Aecom was: please do not reinvent the wheel.

No new solutions

“My message to them is: ‘please don’t redo an awful lot of the work that we’ve already done’,” she says. “If they come up with some amazing design solution to some of the problems, then we’ll listen, but there have already been lots of people crawling all over the site so I think probably not.

“Now it’s a coordination job.”

The OPDC has asked to see a first cut of the plan at the back end of this year, and Peace is hopeful that this will be available for the public to view.

Despite the delay in appointing the masterplanning team, Peace says timings for the plan, together with HS2 timings for its station, will work.

“What happens in the station is fundamentally HS2’s business,” she says. “It’s got to be fit for purpose, it’s got to receive trains and passengers. But what we are interested in is making sure you don’t preclude any interesting future options for development, like over-station developments.

“I think that we have to stick to the bits which are relevant to us.”

Who pays for the air rights?

With no funding yet for the additional provision for a future oversite development, who pays for it is currently a hot topic between project promoter HS2 Ltd and OPDC, with both set to potentially gain from the move.

On the eastern half of the site, the same level of preparation has not been put into the building of the controversial Crossrail depot. The vast industrial site is nearing completion, but when designed it did not include provisions for an over-site development.

This lack of forethought appears to have been to the site’s detriment. Despite recent hopeful suggestions that a “mega deck” could be built over the area to make best use of the area, Peace says this idea is now “parked”.

“We have other fish to fry,” she says. “Whether and how you might be able to do something with the depot in a few years’ time, that’s a future debate to have.”

Among other “fish to fry” is the development on a lucrative piece of land to the north of the Crossrail depot, and the infrastructure that will link to it.

Access across the tracks

“The access [to the land north of the depot] is the key thing, and making sure we have a decent bridge across the rail tracks,” she says.

Currently, this area predominantly houses an energy from waste plant, a “post-apocalyptic” EMR scrap yard and the indomitable Car Giant business.

Although the regeneration of the area may be complex, the land ownership in this area is at least simple. Most of the land is owned by either Network Rail or Car Giant boss Geoff Warren, who Peace says is keen to move and develop the site.

Unfortunately, unlocking its potential may be more tricky. Current leases for the waste plant and EMR sites have more than 10 years to run so she admits some creative thinking is required to get development going while avoiding costly contract severance agreements. One is to use the example of a site in Holloway, north London, where flats were built directly adjacent to a waste transfer plant “entirely compatibly” as part of the Arsenal FC stadium redevelopment. After all, she says, “you always need energy”.

Community engagement

But with all of the development planned, one major area she is keen to make sure is not missed is community engagement.

Peace says although there are no large housing estates which might have had to have been moved, there is a resident community which is, understandably, concerned about the vast building site about to be created on its doorstep.

“It’s up to us to try to persuade and reassure that we will take care of them and that hopefully, at the end of the day there will be something better there,” she says.

“But you have to be careful, as better is subjective of course. What I think is better, may not be the same as someone who has lived there for 35 years thinks is better, so it is difficult.”

Overall, Peace is dedicated to squeezing as much sustainable development onto the site as possible, with the resources she has.

Her parting shot is aimed at those who expect to come out of the project with large profits.

“I would be very keen to persuade anybody who thinks they are going to make money out of this site to rein in their expectations and be putting quite a lot of that money into infrastructure,” she says.

“So they better beware, they’re not going to get away with it all.”

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