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London regeneration: Old Oak Common, a scheme in trouble?

In the fourth part of this series, Property Investor Today explores the regeneration works at Old Oak Common – a key part of the HS2 project and the beating heart of London’s co-living moment.

Old Oak Common has long been talked about as one of London’s key regeneration hotspots, but its future success now seems clouded in doubt.

Its future is directly tied to HS2 – the nationwide, large-scale transport infrastructure scheme which is now in danger of being reduced or scrapped entirely. That’s because Old Oak Common is supposed to be the only stopping off point between London Euston and Birmingham on the first stretch of the line, originally set to be completed by 2026.

There’s been speculation that the government review into HS2’s future will suggest Old Oak Common, rather than Euston, as HS2’s hub in the capital, which means the area would still benefit significantly. Equally, however, there have been calls for only the northern section of the line to be built, and a pretty strong case for the scheme to be halted entirely, two scenarios which would be a major hit to the area’s long-term ambitions.

The home of co-living

Other than its key role in HS2, Old Oak Common has become most famous in recent years for being home to The Collective, London’s first co-living development when it opened its doors in 2016 (a second building has since opened in Canary Wharf with a further one planned in New York).

Perched beside the Grand Union Canal, the modernist structure is a co-living and co-working building offering gym facilities, 24/7 concierge, shared spaces, a cultural events programme and a restaurant and bar.

London regeneration: Old Oak Common, a scheme in trouble?

Rents in the 550-bed, 11-storey property start at £250 per week and – in a similar way to the growing Build to Rent movement - cover utility bills, council tax and WiFi, as well as cleaning, linen charges and security services.

The Collective Old Oak says occupancy rates typically stand at 98.6% with an average stay of 13 months. “It’s made up of a huge diversity of people from different walks of life, income brackets, ages and nationalities. What unites them is an open mindset,” they said.

The co-living moment has barely taken off in the UK, and some have criticised The Collective for charging too much for rooms that are typically only 10sqm, but at present it’s the one part of the area that’s actually showing signs of life.

Little sign of life

Other than The Collective and the canal, there isn’t much to draw people to this corner of North West London or to suggest that it’s one of the capital’s most exciting regeneration projects. The area is thoroughly industrial – not helped by the mammoth HS2 construction sites swallowing up much of the surrounding land – while the one pub in the vicinity appears to be out of business.

The café opposite The Collective can best be described as old-fashioned and functional, and aside from that there’s a builders merchant, an off-licence and rows of shabby housing. At present, this is somewhere to pass through, not to spend any time.

London regeneration: Old Oak Common, a scheme in trouble?

There is one development being constructed close to the canal – halfway built – and a number of schemes in nearby North Acton, but little to suggest a dramatic transformation.

Transport links are already fairly strong, with North Acton (Central Line) to the south and Willesden Junction (Overground & Bakerloo) to the north, and will be greater still if the HS2/Crossrail super-hub ever comes to fruition. But London’s buzziest new neighbourhood? Not on this evidence.

A project years in the making

The Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) was originally conceived under former mayor Boris Johnson in April 2015 to develop a new ‘housing and community centre’ in West London on the back of the HS2 project and the Elizabeth Line – both of which have been delayed and dogged by controversy.

In October 2018, current London mayor Sadiq Khan slashed 2,250 homes from the OPCD's housing project while it waited for approval for more government funding.

Originally, more than 25,000 homes were earmarked to be built, providing over 65,000 jobs, but in the Mayor’s revised plans the numbers were changed to 20,100 homes and 40,400 jobs over the next 20 years, with the total lifespan of the project set at 30-40 years.

London regeneration: Old Oak Common, a scheme in trouble?

Designed as the only place where HS2 will meet Crossrail, the area was identified as London’s biggest regeneration project – an area with huge potential to be converted into the capital’s latest thriving location.

The ambitions were clear: transforming one of London’s most inaccessible areas into a well-connected, world-class transport interchange, and providing a new housing and commercial development, ‘surrounded by sustainable and thriving neighbourhoods and valued amenity space’.

The OPDC was given the full planning, development and regeneration control to drive forward the UK’s largest regeneration project since London 2012.

Old Oak cock-up?

In March 2016, urban planner Sir Terry Farrell said the Old Oak Common regeneration scheme risked being ‘London’s worst cock-up in 50 years’, arguing that poor planning meant that thousands of homes could not be built to the south of the canal.

Farrell blamed politicians for swerving key decisions and argued Boris Johnson was partly responsible for a short-sighted ‘pass the parcel’ approach. “If a tenth of the energy he put into the Boris island airport idea had gone into Old Oak Common I feel sure it would have happened without a problem,” he said at the time.

London regeneration: Old Oak Common, a scheme in trouble?

Meanwhile, in February this year, the regeneration scheme was dealt a huge blow when ambitious plans to redevelop a huge site for housing in Old Oak Common were scrapped.

The £5 billion proposal to develop the site owned by second-hand car dealer Cargiant, the single largest private landowner in the area, was axed with the firm blaming ‘a track record of appalling waste and failure’ at the OPDC. In 2015, Cargiant first revealed its plans to turn the 46-acre site into a new canalside town with 9,000 homes, known as Old Oak Park – this, however, was later slashed to 6,500.

But Tony Mendes, the managing director of Cargiant, said the company’s vision for the area was now unviable thanks to the actions of the OPCD.

In strongly-worded comments, he said Old Oak Common was fast becoming known as ‘Old Oak Cock-up’. “The area was supposed to help meet the housing crisis in London with 25,000 new homes, but it is going to fail to deliver all but a fraction of that number, at an outrageously high cost to the public purse,” Mendes said.

He urged MPs to ‘pause’ the OPCD’s bid for £250 million of government funding for infrastructure at Old Oak to aid the delivery of new homes, and also asked them to investigate the £30 million of public money already spent.

First major development on its way

At least one scheme is off the ground. Housing association Notting Hill Genesis and West London football club QPR are working together to bring forward one of the first regeneration sites at Old Oak Common, with construction works at Oaklands now underway.

The Oaklands development is a £175 million mixed-use development which will provide over 600 new homes, 40% of which will be affordable. These will be a combination of social housing, rent below market value and shared ownership. The first residents are set to start moving in by 2020.

As well as new homes, Oaklands is also set to provide 3,500 sqm of commercial and public spaces, converting a site which used to be home to a hostel but has been derelict for more than 10 years.

QPR had previously hoped to build a new 40,000-seater stadium at the Cargiant site mentioned above, but these plans were rejected. Nevertheless, the club still wants to play its part in reviving the area, which sits close by to its current White City base.

“We own other sites in Old Oak and want to bring them forward as quickly as possible to create the homes and affordable homes that London desperately needs,” QPR chairman Tony Fernandes said in October 2017, when the building works had just begun.

Will the scheme ever be a success?

It depends heavily on HS2, a project which is in severe doubt. The government-ordered Oakervee review - with known critic Lord Berkeley on board - will examine the costs and benefits of the scheme and submit its recommendations in the autumn. The government has promised a ‘go or no-go’ decision by the end of the year.

At the very least, the first phase of HS2 – linking London and Birmingham - will be delayed by up to five years, according to Transport Minister Grant Shapps. This section was supposed to open at the end of 2026, but could now be delayed until 2028 or 2031.

London regeneration: Old Oak Common, a scheme in trouble?

Construction of the scheme is still ongoing while the review takes place, but the spiralling costs – the original budget of £33 billion rose to £56 billion, and is now expected to increase to between £81 billion and £88 billion – and question marks over its benefits means its long-term future is in serious jeopardy.

In theory, Old Oak Common station could be the country’s busiest rail hub a decade from now – offering journey times of 38 minutes to Birmingham, 10 minutes to the West End and eight minutes to Heathrow Central - but in reality this seems further away than ever.

The next part of this series will focus on Elephant & Castle

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