My colleagues on the London Assembly Transport Committee this morning questioned TfL Commissioner Peter Hendy about plans to demolish the Earls Court exhibition centre and nearby West Ken and Gibbs Green estates to make way for a luxury development. TfL recently approved a joint venture with developer Capco on the controversial £8 billion scheme.
If nothing else, this morning’s session highlighted the question marks that still hang over the proposal.
The initial exchange between Hendy and Darren Johnson AM brought to the fore the secrecy with which Capco has conducted its affairs, and drawn TfL into this cloak of darkness. We still have no idea whether the split – 63 for Capco, 37 for TfL – represents the best deal TfL could have gotten for Londoners, because the details of the joint venture have remained under lock and key. The papers for the meeting in early February at which the Board agreed to enter the joint venture have a big gaping hole in the form of ‘Part 2’. This report, which presumably includes the details of any deal, was not and still has not been released to the public. Hendy agreed to release them at an undetermined point in the future, but only once redacted.
Another question mark was raised by Labour member Murad Qureshi‘s questions about Network Rail’s involvement. Land Registry records show that Network Rail owns a freehold on part of the land under the EC2 exhibition building. If the development is going to go ahead, a deal must be reached between Capco and Network Rail. But there’s no public indication that this has yet happened. So it can only mean one of two things: 1) there is a secret deal between Network Rail and Capco, in which case the public deserves to see the terms to prove that the public body received best value; or 2) an agreement not yet been reached, and if so isn’t this a huge uncertainty which calls into question the joint venture? Hendy remained unconvinced, and simply dismissed the issue as being Capco’s problem. Yet surely TfL should have explored this issue before entering into the joint venture!
We don’t know whether TfL is getting the best deal possible.
We don’t know whether landowner Network Rail has made an agreement with Capco.
What we do know is that this development will see the destruction of an iconic exhibition centre worth millions to the London economy, and of the close-knit communities on the high quality residential estates, all to make room for yet another luxury development which most Londoners could never dream of affording.
The one thing Hendy could confirm is that the blame for this development lies at the feet of Boris Johnson. Asked by Labour’s Tom Copley whether the lack of social housing, or any other social considerations, played into TfL’s approach, Hendy said no – this was a matter for the developer, the boroughs, and the Mayor.
You can watch video from the session here (just over an hour from the start).