Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, opened the event by saying the “in London, the prevailing wind is from the West”. Certainly that seemed to be true with significant regeneration opportunities in Earls Court, Hounslow Town Centre, Wembley, Park Royal and elsewhere high on the agenda. “Smaller” schemes around the sub-region, like the welcome renewal plans for the former EMI factry in Hayes – The Old Vinyl Factory – are small only in the context of the giant ones like those at Earls Court, RAF Uxbridge ad SOuthall Gasworks. These “small” projects would be the biggest game in town in a number of less fortunate UK cities.
Indeed, through the recession, West London has remained a robust and performing economy, which clearly marks it out for investment.
Employers speaking at the event consistently pointed out opportunities for economic growth, and are prepared to lead the charge for it, in the style of a LEP, but without the need for formal structure. It seems West London’s ability to act as a coherent whole, which sets it apart from other sub-regions, means public/private collaboration is alive and well. Representatives of developers and councils like Development Securities, LB Brent and LB Wandsworth repeatedly brought out examples of regeneration enabled by an unusual level of collaboration. However, the theme of congestion – a problem part caused by economic success – popped up in several sessions, with speakers keen to see investment in key infrastructure to grow.
Location has helped West London through history, as Boris Johnson pointed out, being upwind from the industry in the east helped make West London a less smelly place to live. That may not be exactly the same now, but as Sir Terry Farrell pointed out, West London is “on the side of London where the rest of the country is”. He contended forcefully and persuasively that London’s international connections are better constituted around the west of the capital than the east, saying the Thames Estuary airport concept would not be a good use of the £50m is is expected it would cost. He put forward an innovative and thought provoking solution based around improved rail connections between existing airports – “London’s existing six runways” at Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, City and Birmingham – which could be put within an hour of each other by a major hub rail interchange at Old Oak common. His masterplan vision for the site foresaw 10,000 new homes, and over 100,000 jobs in a location larger than the Royal Docks, already close to the existing economic dynamo that is Park Royal. That being between the City of London and the rest of the country makes West London a great investment location has ben known for some time, but this offers yet more evidence.
Place West London showed that the sub-region is in good health, and that its stakeholders are willing and able to engage in active collaboration to make sure it stays that way, and at least remains the third largest UK sub-regional economy.