PROFILE: The chair of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation is spearheading one of the UK’s largest regeneration projects, writes Ella Braidwood
Liz Peace is 20 minutes late. She apologises. But she is keen to get cracking.
Peace is a busy woman. In April, she took over as chair of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC), tasked with spearheading one of the UK’s largest regeneration projects.
Over the next 20 to 30 years this gigantic 650ha brownfield site in west London will be completely transformed into a new community, creating 25,500 homes and 65,000 jobs, and served by both Crossrail and HS2, making it the only place where the two lines will connect.
It is a complex site, with plots owned by the public sector including Network Rail, the Department for Transport, and HS2, as well as private companies such as used-car dealer Cargiant, which owns a major 19ha plot known as Old Oak Park running through the land.
But the ambitions for Old Oak Common are high. In May, an all-star team led by AECOM with Asif Khan, BIG, Maccreanor Lavington and WilkinsonEyre won the OPDC contest to masterplan the area, which Peace describes as an ‘industrial wasteland’.
So, who is Peace? How does she intend to drive this major project forward and what opportunities will there be for architects?
Peace, 64, was brought up in Birmingham and went on to study history at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she immersed herself in the Tudors and Stuarts.
I really want the masterplanners to start from where we are and not go right back to the beginning
She then got a job at the Ministry of Defence, and stayed for 27 years, reaching the role of associate director before moving on to become chief executive of the British Property Federation – a post she held for 13 years. During this time she also had a stint as a CABE commissioner. She is no stranger then to property and development.
After retiring in 2014, she was tempted back into the world of development earlier this year when she saw the OPCD job advertised. It was an opportunity, she admits, she couldn’t ‘pass up’.
Peace is a self-confessed workaholic – ‘retirement hasn’t quite worked out as I thought it was going to,’ she confesses.
As chair, she oversees a nine-strong board responsible for governing the OPDC, which includes representatives from Network Rail and Imperial College London, as well as the London Boroughs of Ealing, Brent and Hammersmith & Fulham.
Following a central government commitment in autumn 2015, the public sector interest in the ‘core development area’ – 97ha out of the entire 134ha site – is set to be transferred to the single ownership of the OPDC.
In a similar way to the London Legacy Development Corporation on the other side of the capital, the OPDC will act as the local planning authority for the site.
There is no doubt that Peace’s appointment has marked a significant step forward for the development, which has been marred by slow progress and a contentious transition between London mayors.
The seeds for the current development direction were planted back in 2011 when Terry Farrell was hired by Hammersmith & Fulham Council to develop a vision for the site’s regeneration.
In 2016, Terry Farrell branded the regeneration scheme as the ‘biggest cock-up’ he had seen
Two years later, in June 2013, then-London mayor Boris Johnson set out his 30-year vision to transform the wider Old Oak Common area into a new district, creating more than 24,000 homes and 55,000 jobs.
In April 2015 the OPDC, a Mayoral Development Corporation, was set up to co-ordinate the planning and delivery of Johnson’s vision.
The OPDC’s general programme has been continued under current mayor Sadiq Khan. But progress has been, to put it lightly, far from plain sailing.
After becoming mayor, Khan was scathing of Johnson’s handling of the project. Following a November review into the OPDC, he said the plans to regenerate Old Oak had been left in a ‘mess’ by his predecessor.
In particular, he criticised Johnson for ‘rushing headlong’ into a land deal with the government, which he described as ‘not in the city’s best interests’.
In 2016, Farrell himself branded the regeneration scheme as the ‘biggest cock-up’ he had seen during his 50 years working in London.
Given this Peace has a lot to sort out. She is already doing much more than the one and a quarter days a week set out in her job description.
Liz peace and map anthony coleman
Source: Anthony Coleman
Now the masterplanning team has been appointed – a move Peace says was ‘done and pretty much dusted’ by the time she joined – she is keen to build upon the groundwork that has already been laid for the site.
And she stresses that what she doesn’t want is the masterplanning team ‘coming along and reinventing the wheel … I really want them to start from where we are and not go right back to the beginning.’
Peace acknowledges Khan’s critical view of the way Johnson handled the project, and one of her first priorities is to implement the findings of Khan’s review into the corporation.
Part of this, she says – although she can’t provide details of exactly how - will involve looking at the existing land settlement that Johnson struck with central government, and of which Khan was so disapproving.
Peace sees the project as ‘creating a new suburb of London; a new town within London’, which should have ‘good connectivity and permeability’, and she praises the work of Terry Farrell in 2011.
She is also positive about PLP’s masterplan for the Cargiant site which fills the north eastern corner of the OPDC’s interests (‘you don’t get rubbish from them, it’s all really interesting, creative stuff’).
My objective over the next six months is to find the low-hanging fruit – the things we can actually get moving
The site is the largest privately owned landholding within the OPDC area, and since December 2014, PLP has been working with Cargiant and London & Regional Properties on its own masterplan, dubbed Old Oak Park.
The PLP proposals include 7,000 homes and aim to create 8,000 jobs.
But progress on these proposals has now stalled, with a number of transport and infrastructure matters in contention – in particular because the team wants to build an ambitious, and potentially costly, 200m-long viaduct on the northern edge of its site.
But a number of issues need to be resolved before a planning application can be submitted to the OPDC.
The Cargiant-backed Old Oak Park development team argues that constructing the viaduct and replacing part of an existing rail embankment on its site will free up more land for development.
This team says the existing embankment ‘severs the site by north and south’. The viaduct solution, with the provision for a new station, would mean 670 more homes can be built.
Old oak map
Source: Construction News
So, what does Peace think about the viaduct option?
‘From a transport perspective everybody thinks it’s a good idea,’ she says. ‘The issue is how you would do it, and how you would get it paid for.’
Peace also makes the point that Cargiant would have to relocate its business before Old Oak Park can go ahead, and would want to be compensated for the move.
‘That’s again perfectly legitimate,’ she says. Cargiant is ‘a very big successful business, they employ a lot of people. West London doesn’t want to lose that.’
As well as the Old Oak Park sticking point, Peace admits that a lot of the work relies on the development’s other stakeholders, including those represented on the OPDC board.
How will she synthesise the expectations of these different parties? Peace is frank.
‘The answer is we won’t in some cases,’ she says. ‘I’m going to be quite blunt about that – we won’t be able to please everybody all the time. But we will have a damn good try at getting as close as we can.’
Even though the masterplanning team has been announced, Peace is keen to stress that there will be ‘bags of opportunity downstream’.
However, she adds, this is more likely to be offered by the private sector.
‘On the whole, the public sector should get other people doing it [development],’ she says. ‘If we facilitate other people doing development, then they will need architects, quantity surveyors and everything else.’
In terms of architecture, Peace is placing substance over style. She is a fan of buildings with straight lines such as the Shard, and says she doesn’t like impractical ‘blobs’ of architecture – something she associates with Zaha Hadid’s style.
‘There are lots of very basic things in terms of what people want,’ she says. ‘Balancing starchitecture and extraordinary architecture with what people really want and need is really important.’
With Peace’s tenure ending in 2020, and Old Oak being a 20-to 30-year project, she cannot vouch for what it will be like when it is finally completed.
However, she hopes by 2020 to have achieved ‘something’. Her vision for the masterplan is simply a ‘place that works’ and a ‘good balanced community’, that ‘people might actually conceivably want to live and work in’.
For now, she is looking to press ahead with the ‘quick wins’ and get things moving.
‘My objective over the next six months is to find the low-hanging fruit – find the things where we can actually get something moving,’ she says.
‘It may not be the big heart of the project, it may be some peripheral things, but let’s look at seeing what we can actually unlock and what we can get moving in the next three years.’
Given Peace’s extensive property experience and her hard-working personality, there is a strong chance this will happen.