BORIS Johnson has given the green light for the major redevelopment of Earls Court, as the company behind the scheme vowed to complete the project within a decade.
The decision, made on Wednesday, paves the way for developer CapCo to knock down 800 homes on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, as well as the two exhibition centres. Four new 'urban villages' of 8,000 homes, offices and amenities are to be built in what Hammersmith and Fulham Council describes as the biggest regeneration project in Europe.
Hammersmith's Labour MP Andy Slaughter, who joined a last-ditch plea to the mayor by City Hall politicians to defer the project on economic grounds, called the scheme the 'Tories' biggest social engineering project'.
Opponents argued the loss of the exhibition centres, which are visited by over a million people every year, could cost the area £1.25 billion in lost revenue.
But this was rejected by CapCo, which said the centres are 'no longer financially viable', while Mr Johnson said the project would create scores of new jobs and boost the economy.
He said: "I’m in no doubt that the development proposed for Earls Court and West Kensington will provide a massive boost not just to this part of the capital, but to London’s wider economy as well. It is a landmark project that will deliver much needed jobs, new homes and improved infrastructure and will make this strategically important part of the capital an even better to place to live, work and visit."
Capco has promised residents on the estates new homes within the regeneration area and this week said it expects to have completed the project within a decade, having originally set out a 20-year timeline for the scheme.
Setting out its tenant 'decanting' programme, it said residents would be moved in batches with the first group of 151 homes given new properties in Farm Lane as early as next year. Further groups will get flats in Seagrave Road and Mund Street and later in Lillie Road, with the final residents leaving the estates in 2024.
Gary Yardley, a CapCo director, said the firm had revised the completion date because of tenants' concerns and promised life on the estates would not be adversely effect by demolition work, insisting residents' needs were at the hear of the project.
Announcing a £500m contribution to the area to improve transport links and amenities and a programme to get tenants into work, education and training, CapCo said the scheme would 'improve residents' lives'.
He said: "This remarkable project will bring major investment, jobs and high-quality homes to West London. With Hammersmith and Fulham Council we have agreed a generous package of community benefits that will support a vibrant, thriving, strong community creating a great place to live, work and visit. We are very pleased that the Mayor has put his seal of approval on this."
He said the new villages would be 'vibrant, mixed communities', and that a new high street, to be built from west-to-east, would feature independent businesses, shops and restaurants. More than one million square metres of office space is to be built.
Mr Yardley insisted the area's infrastructure could cope with an influx of at least 20,000 extra people, and said platform lengthening at West Brompton Overground station, an additional entrance to Earls Court Tube station and upgrades to the District and Piccadilly lines would ease the burden.
CapCo insisted the exhibition centres are 'empty for 80 per cent of the year' and are no longer a viable business model. It said the Olympia centres, which it also owns, would take over the existing events programme.
Council leader Nick Botterill said tenants would be getting 'the best deal any estate regeneration in London has ever offered - by far', adding: "We have said all along that we will only agree to the estates being included in the redevelopment of Earls Court if it benefitted people living on the estates."
But Mr Slaughter was scathing of the project and said he would be asking the Government to 'call in' the scheme. "Earls Court/West Ken is the Tories’ biggest social engineering project, uprooting thousands of low income Londoners and replacing them with ten times the number of high –rise luxury flats for overseas and City investors.
"As planning authorities, the Tory mayor and councils have torn up the rule book to help their developer friends, and as landowners they have sweetened the deal with hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money. This is ideology and gerrymandering corrupting local government as never before.
"We will be demanding the Secretary of State calls this application in for Public Inquiry in view of its size, controversy and the conflicts of interest of local politicians. Failing that residents will resort to judicial review of the flawed planning decisions."
Responding to residents' concerns, Mr Johnson said: "I am acutely aware of the concerns that some residents affected by the project have but I’m reassured by the measures being taken by both councils and the developer to make sure the needs of local people are properly addressed. Having weighed up all of the considerations I’m of the firm view that this is a project that will deliver huge benefits to the area and beyond for years to come."
Both Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea Councils granted outline planning consent for the scheme last year, selling their land to CapCo. The application will now be referred back to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government for him to consider whether or not call in the planning application.
Transport for London has yet to agree a deal to sell land to the firm on which it owns the Lillie Bridge Tube maintenance depot amid rumours Chelsea Football Club are looking to move to the site, but this option was categorically ruled out by both the company and HF Council this week.
* An exhibition is being held for residents on the estates at Earls Court next week.