Infrastructure comes first in Barnet

The Capital West London Growth Summit heard how Barnet has broken with conventional wisdom by building train stations at the head of its major development projects at Brent Cross and Colindale.

Argent is pressing ahead with a new station at Brent Cross – the first part of a project which will also bring 7,000 new homes, about three million square feet of office space, public spaces and the creation of around 10,000 jobs.

And director of growth Stephen McDonald said: “We’re talking about wouldn’t it be good to build a station at Old Oak Common, we’re actually building one at Brent Cross.

“I think it is actually testament to how we should be doing development in West London.

“When I inherited Brent Cross as a project seven years ago we had a planning application that said 10,000 jobs, 8,000 homes and no mass transit solution. But if we put a little money into the piggy bank through Section 106 over the time that we built those houses we’d be able to afford at the very end of the scheme a new railway station.”

“I don’t know where that thinking came from because first of all I’m only ever going to get involved in a development as a local authority when it’s not viable so you can’t build infrastructure when you’ve got a regeneration scheme.

“We turned that equation round and put the railway station in at the beginning of the scheme and then we would be able to attract the kind of calibre of developer that we’ve got with Argent to come along and then build the homes and the facilities for the jobs and that’s what we’ve done.”

Argent is best known for its work at Kings Cross and three years ago became involved with the project at Brent Cross. Development director Anthony Peter said: :We’re just in the very early stage of starting to deliver that. It’s been quite an exciting journey to get where we are but really the action starts over the next year when we start delivering on the infrastructure.

“I agree about the importance of the new train station at Brent Cross in terms of unlocking the development opportunity there.

“There’s a second piece as well about whether you can help facilitate developments and that’s about the pace of delivery so when we look at Kings Cross in the early days.

“Look at it now and it looks like it would have always happened but the first few years were extremely challenging. We weren’t getting any receipts for any commercial development going forward so we had to develop very slowly, we were installing incrementally small piece by small piece but the game changer was Google who came along and when we got the receipt for the land for that we were able to accelerate and rapidly open up the rest of the development.”

Barnet’s biggest opportunity area is actually at Colindale where the tube station is being rebuilt in partnership with Transport for London.

“We had a real fear in Colindale, as in many parts of London, where if we just hang some boxes with balconies off a tube station it just becomes a dormitory,” said Mr McDonald.

“That’s not the kind of London and certainly not the kind of West London I want to build. We actually need to think about the social infrastructure that makes the places we’d like to live in in London the new places that we’re building.

“So we’re actually also building with TfL a new tube station at Colindale that actually is fitting for that kind of area of development.

“We’re putting our money where our mouth is – we can’t take all the credit for it. You would be surprised how expensive railway stations are; it’s £350million. Councils don’t have that kind of money but we went cap in hand to Whitehall and they have been very helpful.”

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