Whatever next?

There are reports in the property press (see at Property Week) that Imperial College is about to conclude a deal to purchase the former Dairy Crest site in Wood Lane, from its current owners Helical Bar and Aviva.

Helical Bar obtained planning permission in March 2013 for a major mixed use development on the site, badged as the Brickfields Urban Community.  But the property company subsequently put the site on the market, with its shiny new planning permission, and is reckoned to be asking at least £100m for its sale.

The site currently has consent for 1,150 new homes, 210,000 sq ft of offices and circa 60,000 sq ft of retail, leisure and community uses.

According to Property Week ‘it is thought Imperial College has bought it in order to assemble land for its Imperial West campus expansion plans, which could ultimately cover millions of square feet of student accommodation, teaching, labs, commercial
and incubator space for the university, which is one of the world’s leading
science centre’.

Imperial College is known to have also expressed interest in the Marks and Spencer site in the White City Opportunity Area, which is wedged between the Dairy Crest site and the site for the next phase of the Westfield expansion.  A price tag of £80m is attached to this piece of land.

The logic for Imperial acquiring the Dairy Crest site, immediately to the south of its Imperial West campus, is obvious enough.  But from where can the College be finding the money for the acquisition?  Reports to the College Council suggest that the College has largely exhausted its budgets for capital acquisitions, having recently agreed to acquire further student housing in North Acton.

If Imperial are to be the new owner of the former Dairy Crest site, will the College come up with an entirely new scheme as compared with the currently approved planning permission for the Brickfields Urban Community?   If so, the long awaited revised version of the White City Opportunity Area Planning Framework (see posts below) will need to be retro-fitted all over again by the council, to accommodate a new set of aspirations.

And will Imperial stick with the idea of a 32 storey tower on the site (as currently granted planning permission).  A second version of the ‘Imperial Folly’ or ‘Poor Man’s Shard’, that matches the 35 storey tower due to be built at Imperial West, would seem an irresistible prospect to those in charge of the College Fund.

Perhaps the Property Week article will turn out to be a false rumour.  We have asked Imperial to tell us what is going on.  And we have not given up on our FoI requests for information on how the College is financing the present Imperial West development and the use being put to the £35m grant awarded by HEFCE.

In this merry-go-round of West London development, the one thing that is clear is that property companies and their advisers are making a great deal of money.  Savills act as advisers to Imperial.  Savills provided the original financial viability assessments used to demonstrate that the Imperial West development could not support any more affordable housing than the presently agreed one third of the tower block, to be made available to Imperial’s ‘key workers’.

If the Brickfields Urban Community now never happens, this will be a loss of 1,150 much needed new homes, even if only a small percentage would ever have proved to be built as affordable housing.  The residents of White City and North Kensington await the next turn of events in this developer-led world.