Imperial’s new partner – and source of funds?

As forecast in the post below, Imperial College has now confirmed its intention to purchase from Helical Bar the large site immediately to the south of the Imperial West development.

The combined site is now 22.75 acres.  It is not yet clear what sort of uses and buildings Imperial will choose to place on their newly acquired land.  But it is likely to be very different to the current Helical Bar/Aviva scheme, granted planning permission earlier in 2013, for the ‘Brickfields Urban Community’.

This was to have been a mixed use development of 1,150 housing units with some retail and offices.  Imperial are likely to go for further academic buildings, high tech business space, and perhaps more student housing.   They say they are ‘actively attracting academic and business partners to work alongside our world-class experts at the new campus. In this new ecosystem for education, research, translation and commercialisation, thousands of experts will fuse science and innovation to tackle global challenges’.

The Financial Times reports that the first if these partners will be the Chinese telecoms company Huawei, and that the joint venture will involve academics and business experts working together to develop ‘big data’ technology.

Huawei have been in the news recently, following the Edward Snowden revelations on the use of big data in the US for spying purposes.  Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee has highlighted the central role of Huawei in Britain’s telecommunications infrastructure since it struck a big supply deal with BT in 2004.  

The committee’s report can be found here.  It criticises the fact that at the time of the BT deal, the security implications for the UK’s ‘Critical National Infrastructure’ were not flagged up.  The report recommends that current arrangements for reviewing cyber security at Huawei installations within the BT network are given a closer look.

So an interesting choice of partner for Imperial College?  We do not know the extent to which Huawei are involved in financing the acquisition of the Helical Bar site (for a reputed £100m).  It is not clear from what source Imperial are raising these funds.

The main hope for local residents is that this new opportunity to build on a site double the size of its original Woodlands acquisition will prompt the College to come up with a revised masterplan for the overall 22.75 acres.  It looks as though the original Buildings C and D of the current scheme will proceed later this year (as Imperial are required to spend their £35m grant from HEFCE within a tight timescale).

But for the remainder of the site, due to be occupied by the proposed hotel, 35 storey tower, and further offices for Imperial, why should there not be rethink?   The hotel could perhaps be sited closer to Westfield 2 and Shepherds Bush Green, closer to public transport links.   The 35 storey residential tower could be relocated south of Westway, where it would do less damage to views of the western skyline (since the redevelopment of the BBC TV Centre also involves a tall building).

The St Helens Residents Association and the new St Quintin and Woodlands Neighbourhood Forum (see at will be urging members of the College Council to take one step back and consider the potential of a 22 acre campus development that is really well designed, shows more respect for its neighbours, and is a lasting credit to a world-class university.

Current plans for an incoherent set of buildings at Imperial West, designed by different architects, fall a long way short of such a vision (whatever the College may like to argue on its website and in its promotional material).

Please lend support in our efforts to encourage the Imperial College Council to think again. You can email us at or leave a comment below.