Saturday, 5 July 2014

The West London Corridor - Full Marks, Potentially a Very Powerful Destination Brand for the UK and Europe

I was very pleased to be invited to attend the recent Place West London conference on 25 June which was focussed on the regeneration of west London. Place West London is a partnership of local authorities, major operators, landowners and developers along the west London corridor, plus the West London Chamber, Brunel University and Heathrow Airport, - an area roughly from Hammersmith town centre out to Heathrow, taking in parts of Brent, Ealing, Hammersith and Fulham, Harrow, Hillingdon and Hounslow. 

The agenda for the day was focussed on progress with a good number of major development projects which illustrate the progress being made. The event was energetically chaired by Richard Barnes, Chairman of the West London Advisory Board, a former leader of the London Borough of Hillingdon Council.

Below I summarise the things that struck me as important during the conference from speakers contributions. If the conference were a school report I would mark west London at 8 out of 10 for progress and conclude that it was doing very well but still had potential to do better.

I was very impressed by the progress that has and continues to be made on the development and improvement of the corridor - a place which now has even greater potential than I recognised during the period 1979 to 1987 when I was Economic Development Officer and then Assistant Director of Development for the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. 

At the end of the day I concluded that the time is now ripe for the stakeholders in Place West London to give serious consideration to work even more closely together to develop a destination development brand strategy for the corridor to capture and promote the great offer that is being created there.

Old Oak Common

The conference opened with a session on realising the vision for the development of the area of north Hammersmith known as Old Oak common.

                           Artists impression of development potential at Old oak Common
                                                          Image courtesy of

This is a major site of former and unused railway sidings and some still operational facilities, centred on the planned new Crossrail Station which is likely to also connect with the proposed High Speed 2 line north out of Euston, creating a major transport interchange which will act as a hub and driver for growth and new development in this currently quite deprived area of west London. Malcolm Scholar of the Greater London Authority told delegates that the site is now being designated as a New Opportunity Area in the Greater London Plan. It will accommodate an estimated 24,000 new residential units, 55,000 jobs, space for commercial, education, retail and open space and leisure uses; in other words the creation of a new town at the confluence of Hammersmith, Brent and north Kensington with a modern major rail interchange at its heart, directly linking the area to the Western Corridor down to Bath and Bristol, to Birmingham, to south and south east London and to east London and Essex. 

This is a rail equivalent of a major international hub airport; creating a new "Capital" for west London for which an indicative masterplan is currently being prepared to guide the development of the area which will have the benefit of a Mayoral Development Corporation to determine major planning applications in the designated area.

A couple of weeks ago I took part in a workshop organised by John Worthington of the Independent Transport Commission during which it became very apparent that this development has the potential to be a real driver for innovation in urban development and design and modern rail interchange. Business as usual, or more pertinently, design as usual will not fully realise the vision for this new centre in west London. Ambition informed by urban innovation and the highest standards of design, layout, facilities and services, will need to be the order of the day. If this can be achieved then Old Oak Common, or whatever new name it might be given, has the potential to be as important to London and the south East as the development of Canary Wharf in London's Docklands in the 1980's.

Earls Court

The next development to be reported on was the Earl's Court development of CAPCO (Capital and Counties), who are in partnership with Transport for London (TfL), creating a major mixed use development of 77 acres on the site of the former Earl's Court exhibition halls (appropriately famed in popular memory for the Ideal Home Show) and TfL's adjacent London Underground land holdings. This is probably the largest mixed-use development currently underway at the eastern end of the west London corridor and one that will significantly change the character, identity and reputation of the Earl's Court area.


                               Artists impression of proposed development at Earls Court
                                                       Image courtesy of Construction Enquirer

A key design feature of the development will be the creation of four "villages" and a high street, which together, form the overall organising principle for the development's masterplan, delivering 10.7 million sq. ft.of development comprising 8,000 residential units, 1 million sq. ft. of offices and 0.9 million sq. ft of retail, leisure, cultural and community uses and an hotel. Work is underway on the first of the villages - the Earls Court Village, a development that will significantly enhance the offer of the area and make it a destination offering facilities to the population of the wider west London corridor. The development has nor been with out controversy however, a major issue of contention to a number of local residents being the sale of public housing owned by Hammersmith and Fulham Council to the developers who have publicly stated that they will rehouse the displaced tenants in social housing.

The Hammersmith Flyunder

The next presentation to fire my imagination came from Patricia Bench, the Chief Executive of the Hammersmith Town Centre BID (Business Improvement Area) who spoke eloquently and with sincere passion about the proposal for a "Flyunder" for Hammersmith Town centre - a tunnel to replace the current flyover which effectively dismembers the town centre and cuts it in two.

                                                              Hammersmith Flyover 
                                                                 Image courtesy of TfL

                                  Artists impression of proposed Hammersmith Tunnel 
                                                         Image courtesy of

If this imaginative project can be realised, and there is now a significant level of serious interest in it from London's Mayor, the local authority and land owners, it will significantly reduce air pollution, seriously rejuvenate the economy of the immediate area and re-establish Hammersmith as a major centre in west London and reconnect it to the Thames riverside - currently a largely hidden asset. Thirty years ago when I was working on proposals for the Hammersmith Island site we would have been laughed out of court if we had suggested this as a proposal; how times change and thank goodness that they do.

Going Further West - The Berkshire Corridor

Also of great interest to me and importance to the west London corridor as it extends west into Berkshire and towards and beyond Slough, were the presentations by Tim Smith, Business Director of the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership, and Ruth Bagley, Chief Executive of Slough Borough Council. 

What Tim shared with the delegates was the significant degree to which Berkshire contributes value added to the corridor and to the UK as a whole, the scale of innovative and leading edge businesses that have been attracted to the area, in part due to Heathrow being in the corridor (and see my June post on the consequences for the corridor of Heathrow being closed), and its being able to draw on a reservoir of very talented people and institutions like Brunel University, Reading University and Royal Holloway college. Elsewhere in Europe what US consultants McKinsey has described as "The War for Talent" is becoming central to brand-led destination and investment strategies as cities and development corridors recognise that this is the new battleground for city region development. This is a battle that the Berkshire corridor is well placed to fight.

                     Architect's impression of new offices proposed for Slough Town centre
                                                              Image courtesy of architects 3D Reid

Ruth focussed on the extent to which Slough was working in innovative partnerships with private developers to secure an improvement in, and an increase of, high quality development in its town centre and areas adjacent to it, creating space for the expansion of existing businesses and the location of inward investing ones, as well as new housing, leisure and entertainment facilities, all of which will be made easier to achieve by the designation of the area as a "Simplified Planning Zone", the creation of a Local Asset Backed (development) Vehicle (LABV) and a Slough Regeneration Partnership.

Having heard these presentations I am persuaded that any destination brand strategy for the London "part" of the west London corridor could realistically be extended westwards to Slough if not to Reading, and should be given serious consideration.

Persistent Challenges

During the concluding "Question Time" style Q&A I was struck by a question put to the panel by Ian Macdonald of  Strategic Planning Associates who asked the panel to consider why, despite all of the surrounding development taking place, the White City Estate in Shepherds Bush was still a very deprived place. A representative of Westfield Shoppingtowns Limited shared a number of the initiatives the developer was taking to assist residents of the estate but I felt that these, good as they are, do not constitute a comprehensive approach to the still evident problems of the estate, whose resolution requires a more imaginative and effective approach if such areas are to benefit from the clear benefits that the scale of development is creating.

                                                   White City Estate Shepherds Bush
                                                           Image courtesy of Rightmove UK

In Conclusion

In conclusion, as I mentioned above, I believe this corridor is now developing a major offer of facilities and services for both local people and businesses and potential investors and developers, of a scale and significance to make it one of the most attractive locations for investment and development in the greater London area. And when you consider that it currently benefits from the international destination brand reputation of Heathrow, now is surely the time to capitalise on the success of development to date and that in the pipeline, by creating a powerful destination brand strategy for the corridor.