UCL Department of Geography



Old Oak and Park Royal

London is portrayed as facing an unprecedented housing crisis and rapid growth - major new developments are planned in “Opportunity Areas” created by the Mayor of London to accommodate this growth across the city. One of these is the site for the Old Oak Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC), designated planning authority on 1 April 2015 for 650 ha of land in West London, straddling the boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham, Ealing and Brent. The arrival of HS2 and Crossrail in the heart of this site will make a ‘transport super-hub’ at Old Oak Common; the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the OPDC, both working on behalf of the Mayor, see this as an unprecedented opportunity to spur regeneration in the area and deliver around 25000 new homes and space for 65000 jobs, one of the largest UK regeneration projects of the coming decades. It is also the site of one of the largest remaining industrial areas in London, Park Royal.

Drawing a line around an area, and calling it an Opportunity Area, changing the land use from industrial to residential or commercial, along with the expected vast improvements in accessibility, drastically alters the profitability surface for developers. Within 20 months of establishing the Development Corporation, and many years before transport accessibility improves, proposals for about 11,000 units have already come into the planning system.

Our research project investigates how this ambitious urban development project can illuminate challenges and innovations in urban governance – how is the future city being governed?

Here are three of the issues which have come up so far in our work:

  • Financing/Land Value Capture: Compared to other London projects, including the development of the Olympic Park, limited central government financial support is envisaged for Old Oak, which sharpens discussions about how to fairly capture/ share uplifts in land value resulting from the granting of planning permission. It seems about £2.5 billion might be needed to bring the site into development! Developers, planners and residents have an interest in how the financial flows are allocated between profit, transport infrastructure, and community needs. However, over 70% of the site is publicly owned land (currently in transport-related uses): a tussle within the government over who controls the land and how to allocate the benefits of the development is underway.
  • Community Participation: The prospect of a new high-density mixed-use district being developed on brownfield land close to low-density residential suburban neighbourhoods has generated a number of bottom-up initiatives to shape development, including the setting up of a network of community and residents groups to share information and enhance their understanding of the planning process, as well as support each other to input collectively or individually into various government and developer consultations (called, the Grand Union Alliance). Our project has been closely involved in working with and supporting this network. Other initiatives include the formation of two neighbourhood forums with the ultimate goal of producing neighbourhood plans that reflect their vision for the area while adhering to policy guidelines set at a higher level. Neighbourhood Plans will be used to determine planning applications on some issues in the area they cover, but the Neighbourhood Forums also provide an important context for residents and community-based organisations to formulate shared ideas and generate responses to planned developments. Residents have engaged strongly in consultations over the Opportunity Area Planning Framework and the Draft OPDC Local Plan, and have successfully influenced the OPDC’s Statement of Community Involvement. Less successful have been efforts to influence the determination of specific planning applications – our project is now exploring the difference between these two settings for participation and thinking critically about how this can inform analyses of the landscape of London politics, such as the idea that it is “post-political”.
  • Ideas from Elsewhere: We were initially very impressed with how the visions for the future of Old Oak seemed so ambitious, to propose a piece of the city which would reinforce ideas about London’s global reach and enable it to position itself more effectively in relation to its “global city” competitors, now increasingly seen as in Asia. We are exploring the extent to which ideas from elsewhere circulate through the extensive network of experts involved in shaping the project, as well as for residents. Some places seem to be at the top of people’s imaginations – but often these are also quite local, like Kings Cross or Canary Wharf, or closer to home, in Europe. And for many experts, too, the local context of London is a very important sphere of operation. We are puzzling over how to understand this very local format of a highly globalized urban process.


Grand Union Alliance meeting to discuss the Regulation 18 Draft Local Plan, March 2016 (Source: GUA website)


Existing Land Uses in Old Oak Park Royal are largely industrial, business, transport and some residential (Source: OPDC, Regulation 18 Draft Local Plan, p. 50)
Community and Practitioner Engagement

As part of our ESRC-funded research project, ‘Governing the Future City: A comparative analysis of governance innovations in large scale urban developments in Shanghai, London, Johannesburg’, we held two public panels in April 2017 to discuss how "urban qualities" might be produced within the institutional and financial envelopes of contemporary urban development.

The first video is a recording of the presentation and discussion of the recently published book "Urbane Qualitäten"; based on collaborative research in Zurich, it identifies a selection of urban qualities in contemporary urban regions: centrality, diversity, interaction, accessibility, adaptability and adaptation.

MediaCentral Widget Placeholderhttps://mediacentral.ucl.ac.uk/player/6683

The second video shows Lee Polisano of PLP Architecture, lead on the master planning for London and Regional/Car Giant in the Old Oak area, giving a talk on “Pioneering Urbanity in an Expanding Capital”.

MediaCentral Widget Placeholderhttps://mediacentral.ucl.ac.uk/player/6684