The White City area, subject of a Greater London Authority Opportunity Area Planning Framework, is an opportunity that can be realised quickly.
The area was discussed at an “On Location” event organised by New London Architecture, where a range of speakers talked about the area as a whole, and several of the major schemes within it.
Cllr Stephen Grrenhalgh, who steps down as leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council in June, opened the event saying the visions could be realised “very quickly”. Colin Wilson, of the GLA, certainly hoped it could be realised more quickly than the site’s previous “Olympic Legacy” from 1908, from when the White City Stadium was host to the fourth modern games, which is still a “work in progress”.
John Anderson of Imperial College, who are building a new campus just north of the Westway, hoped it could be on as short a timescale as five years. Certainly their site shows most progress of those discussed, with the 600 units of postgrad accomodation in the late stages of construction, due for completion in September.
There are a series of reasons why White City can be realised quickly – it’s connectivity is excellent with tube, overground and bus networks already converging on Shepherds Bush; and the land ownership is relatively concentrated with the BBC, Marks & Spencer, Helical Bar, Aviva, Westfield and the Council owning almost everything. Add to this that most of those landowners are long term stakeholders in the W12 area and it’s easy to see the will that can be harnessed to deliver rapid regeneration.
The BBC took the opportunity to commit themselves to White City. Although they have pursued a policy of moving staff and production outside London – with Glasgow, Salford and Cardiff showing how someone like the BBC can be a significant catalyst for regeneration – there is still a significant presencee in W12, and, said Chris Kane, there would be for an indefinite period.
While they had deliberately moved from having 80% of BBC content produced in London to a situation where now only around 50% is, they had also moved to having 44% of it produced by independent production companies. These are precisely the sort of entities that the BBC sees occupying the space it will leave vacant as more staff are moved to the regions, or elsewhere in London.
They are down to the last two in the process to decide who will redevelop the iconic BBC TV Centre, and will finalise that decision in the next month to six weeks. This will enable a future for White City where the BBC is “less a dominant player, and more a participant and contributor to the area”, said Kane.
The theme of developing a commercial property market driven by creative companies was continued by John Anderson, who talked about the important incubator space that will be included in their redevelopment of the former BBC Woodlands site.
This type of space is already a success just down Wood Lane in the Ugli Building – a former BBC asset now refurbished as flexible commercial space, and increasingly occupied by creative, fast growing companies like DNA Electronics. The need to give space to creatives that is both affordable and fit for purpose can be satisfied in White City, said Anderson.
One area of difficulty in realising the GLA OAPF is the site owned by Marks & Spencer. This is presently a 150,000 sq ft warehouse used as a shop layout testing location by the retailer. In the OAPF around a third of the site is set aside for a new linear public park. The details of how this site will be brought forward, and how M&S will continue to deliver what Stuart Robinson of CBRE, speaking on their behalf, described as “an important commercial facility, conveniently positioned for their Paddington head office”, are clearly yet to be established.
Robinson made clear that M&S were part of the discussion though, and that since they had employed Sir Terry Farrell to create some ideas as to how the obvious difficulties could be resolved they were clearly ready to be part of the collaboration that works to realise the vision in the OAPF.
This one fly in the oitment aside, it was clear that the concept of a mixed use community founded on a creative heart and soul has more chance of succeeding in White City than in many other locations playing the creative card. There is, after all, something there already to build on.