As the UK’s second High Speed line gets the Government’s go-ahead, opposition from rural constituencies has been much discussed. But could the biggest transformation actually be in Europe’s largest urban industrial estate?
HS2 is not just about speed, but also increasing intercity rail capacity and demand. If it is as popular as its promoters hope, then London’s crowded public transport system needs to find ways to distribute all those new travellers when they arrive.
Which is why the HS2 proposals are now expected to include a station at Old Oak Common in Hammersmith and Fulham. Initially derided by ministers as “Wormwood Scrubs International” and “a wet suburban station somewhere in North West London” it is now seen as an effective way to allow passengers to transfer onto Crossrail and relieve pressure at the Euston terminus. Other links are also possible at Old Oak – to mainline rail, Heathrow, the Channel Tunnel, and the Tube network.
The local council has promoted a “Park Royal City” vision by Sir Terry Farrell to make the most of this opportunity, with the new rail hub supporting a transformation as dramatic as Canary Wharf. It suggests one of London’s most deprived areas could see 115,000 new jobs, and 12,000 new homes.
Such grand visions are easier to imagine than to deliver, but Stratford City, and now the emerging Kings Cross Central show what is possible where transport connections are exceptionally good.
If the Government pushes on with planning for HS2, including Old Oak Common, one of the most interesting questions facing West London is what to do with the vast Park Royal Industrial Estate next door.
Often claimed to be Europe’s largest such estate, Park Royal covers an astonishing 750 hectares of London, with 2,000 businesses and 40,000 jobs. It has been very successful as a business location, but its physical appearance (industrial buildings and busy roads) has not kept pace with its changing economy, which increasingly also includes offices, retail, and in places residential.
A new international rail hub at Old Oak with fast connections nationally and across London could make it even more difficult for Park Royal to continue as it is. Market demand would increasingly be for higher densities and more mixed uses.
Which is where economics meets planning policy. The Mayor has designated Park Royal as a “Strategic Industrial Location” protecting it for industrial uses, with housing, shops and offices to be strongly resisted. Some development is envisaged around the edges (including Old Oak Common itself) but the thrust of planning policy is to retain the industrial character of the wider area, without major releases of employment land.
Any big change for Park Royal would be controversial, and given its size would be a decision with London-wide consequences. But if Old Oak Common international station becomes a reality, London will need to decide whether it can really make the most of that opportunity while retaining Europe’s Largest industrial estate.