The development of Old Oak Common with thousands of new homes has been put in jeopardy by bad planning that has meant a Crossrail depot is being constructed just where a future town centre ought to be.
And despite assertions recently that a solution had been found, critics have accused the mayor’s office of “papering over the cracks” as the government, mayor, HS2 and Network Rail stand accused of failing to communicate effectively.
At the heart of the problem is the construction of a new Crossrail depot with maintenance facilities and sidings at Old Oak Common. These are being built by the Crossrail maintenance contractor, Bombardier, with the aim of having the facilities ready for that line’s 2018 opening.
Masterplanner Sir Terry Farrell, in an interview with the London Standard, blasted those involved in planning the Old Oak Common development for a failure to look ahead. “We’ve been trying to influence and lobby for five years but everyone had just talked and talked, it’s just been pass the parcel. This is probably the biggest cock-up that I’ve seen in my career of 50 years in London.”
“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.”
With the construction of the train facilities already under way, some had said they could simply be moved in future, when the space was needed – an option that Farrell said was far too expensive. A less expensive alternative will be to create a structural deck over the top of the railway lines and sheds, enabling future development to take place, something recommended in a report consultants KPMG have produced for Transport for London.
And it is this latter option that is now being taken forward. “The OPDC board has agreed to support TfL’s plans to take forward a development deck over the Crossrail depot in the mid-2020s and believes this is the best way to ensure Crossrail opens on time while maximising the once-in-a-lifetime regeneration opportunity at Old Oak,” said Sir Edward Lister, the deputy mayor for planning.
A spokesman for the mayor’s office confirmed to Property Week: “There will be no building of a depot and then knocking it down a couple of years later,” with piling will be put in place to allow for the decking. “The depot that is being built will remain there and a deck will be built over.”
However, Steve Norris, chairman of the National Infrastructure Planning Association, said the solution was far more complex and expensive than it has been painted. With no supporting piles yet installed, he has warned that installing the piles later will require considerable disruption to the Crossrail facilities. He told Property Week: “The mayor’s office is misleading the public to try to paper over the cracks. They’re going to build the depot and stabling at public expense and then bit by bit they’re going to knock it down.”
“The assertion that this can be achieved without substantial cost and disruption is absurd. The truth is that if the mayor had acted when first warned of this problem he could have had the depot and stabling redesigned and built so that neither ever had to be touched again.”
“When I see a massive opportunity to build thousands of homes and jobs in London being missed when those are the capital’s top priority, I confess my blood boils,” he added. “That is what is happening at Old Oak Common.”
LPA Perspective: Yet again, a failure to plan ahead appears likely to end up either hobbling the full potential of the Old Oak Common development, or else hobbling it with further unnecessary expense. And once again, it appears to be bungling bureacrats – none of whom ever get sacked for incompetence – are to blame.
If only the private sector was involved. When Development Securities wanted to develop Paddington Central, but couldn’t get a clear answer out of Crossrail, they simply built a deck for their office scheme to spring from, leaving room beneath for the railway in due course. Regrettably, it sounds as though it is already too late to do the same at Old Oak Common.