Engagement with Londoners

Plenary on 2017-03-08
Session date: 
March 8, 2017
Question By: 
Sian Berry
City Hall Greens
Asked Of: 
Victoria Hills (Director, proposed Old Oak and Park Royal Redevelopment Corporation)


How will you ensure that the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) engages with diverse groups of Londoners? 


Answer for Engagement with Londoners

Answer for Engagement with Londoners

Answered By: 
Victoria Hills (Director, proposed Old Oak and Park Royal Redevelopment Corporation)

Victoria Hills (Chief Executive Officer, Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation):  This question is in relation to engagement with Londoners and taking the local community with us on this journey.  It is not just for us to talk with them.  It is for HS2 and everybody who is doing something at Old Oak and Park Royal.  It is very much at the heart of everything we do.  We have sought to be an exemplar right from the get-go and our engagement team indeed is based in Coworks out at North Acton.  It is there on the ground, day in, day out.  We have our model there.  There is an open-door policy.  Anyone from the public can walk in, have a look and ask them anything they want.  We do have an extensive engagement programme.  It is multifaceted and, if I may, I just want to start with the local plan engagement and then there are other aspects to it.


Throughout the planning process, we are committed to engaging with local communities, business and residents on this significant regeneration opportunity.  We have been proactive but, of course, we listen to local communities as well.  You will know that there are recommendations in the review relating to that.  In listening to it, we have just taken through the board last week a revised community statement, a Statement of Community Involvement (SCI).  We are upping the game now in terms of what developers are going to be required to do or not do.  It is fair to say, on our first strategic scheme, we entrusted a developer to run an engagement process and it was not up to scratch or what we would want.  Going forward now, we are taking a much more proactive role in ensuring that that they carry out two stages of consultation and, of course, it is meaningful and an authentic engagement.  Any applications that we were involved in determining going forward, we will take that.


Just on the local plan, over the course of not even two years - we are not two years old yet - but we have had 15 public engagement events and we have had nearly 3,000 responses to our first stage local plan on the station - and so there is lots of interest - raising some 7,000 issues which a team have been chewing through over the last year with a view to getting it out to a second‑stage consultation.  We are very open to ideas.  As the local planning authority, not even two years in existence, we would be the first to say we do not have decades of experience that local planning authorities do have but we are working hand-in-hand with the borough planning officers.


Wider than just the local plan, of course, we have an engagement team that meets regularly with the boroughs, Hammersmith and Fulham, Ealing and Brent.


Sian Berry AM:  Sorry, I do not have a great deal of time.  Can you focus on the community engagement rather than the boroughs, if that is OK?


Victoria Hills (Chief Executive Officer, Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation):  Sorry.  I was just coming on to say that there are regular meetings with Hammersmith Society, the Grand Union Alliance - an umbrella organisation for all of these organisations - the prison, a Wells House group, a residents group.


There is an important point there.  I took a decision, as Chief Executive, that I wanted to put a resident on the board.  No other development corporation has ever done that before.  Some thought it was a good idea and some did not, but that resident and local business rep on the board played a very active role in engaging with the communities and representing their views in our public board meetings.


Further, on 31 January [2017], I hosted a public forum in the evening.  We had over 60 local residents and many new faces coming.  In the same day, that afternoon, we invited in all of the community voluntary sector groups (CVSs) from Ealing, Hammersmith and Brent to come in to talk with us and to start the conversation because, of course, they already know what the local community needs.  We do not want to reinvent or duplicate all of their very clear strategies, actions and priorities.  We are in the process of pulling together a MoU so that we can work with those CVSs going forward. 


We work with a diverse set of organisations like, in Brent, the Firm Foundation, a youth organisation.  Youth engagement is very important with us.  We are not doing it in a vacuum.  We are doing it with this building.  There is rich experience from the GLA’s social inclusion team, from Rents for London, from the volunteering Team London and from the education team’s culture to look at how we can tap into their engagements.  There are existing ways of doing it.  There is a lot of work going on and it is very early days.


Sian Berry AM:  Thank you very much for that. That does cover a couple of my other questions on things like having a resident on the board.  That is an interesting thing you are doing there.  I have also been looking at the work of the Grand Union Alliance and, again, it is doing a great job.  It seems to have influenced the SCI quite a lot in terms of getting the ground rules put in and things like that.


Can I ask, though?  My question is about what influence or what changes have been made to the plans as a result of the community engagement.  You have talked about the process, but in what ways have you changed things as a result?


Victoria Hills (Chief Executive Officer, Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation):  The 7,000 issues that I have mentioned that have been raised, predominately from the local community, we are taking on board.  It is across the local plan policy area.


Particularly, we have been challenged on the issue of delivering more family housing.  That is a point that we take very seriously in looking at how we can achieve more family homes and by that I mean three-plus units, which a lot of regen projects have struggled to deliver.  That is absolutely influencing, and also on provision of health and education.  For sure, the local community has had an influence on policy development, but it is often the case that the views that they bring are absolutely in alignment with the Mayor’s priorities in any event.  We have direct influence on that.


We have had direct influence on, as I cited earlier, a big area of change, which is that we have revised our SCI, which is a statutory document.  That took on board the fact that they did not think engagement was proactive enough.  We have changed it to ensure it is much more extensive going forward with the onus being on the developers to deliver that for us.


Sian Berry AM:  The Grand Union Alliance is currently funded by the University College London (UCL) Governing the Future City grant programme but this runs out at the end of 2017.  Is there anything either the OPDC or the GLA can do to help ensure it continues to get independent funding to carry on its work?


Victoria Hills (Chief Executive Officer, Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation):  That is certainly something we will take away and have a look at.  I was unaware that the funding ran out at the end of this year.  Coming into this role and setting up the corporation, it was a delight to find that not only was there a plethora of groups but that they were organised under this umbrella organisation.  That is a real dream scenario for engagement because the community is already organised and ready to go.  Absolutely, if it is not going to be funded, we will explore what options are available with the GLA for support.  That could draw upon a whole variety of funding sources that I am not going to claim to be an expert on.  Yes, that is something we will have a look at.


Sian Berry AM:  Great.  Finally, things like having a SCI and doing this level of engagement, because you are producing a local plan, is a statutory requirement for you but it seems like there has been quite a lot of benefits to the development from what you are doing.  Would you recommend this to other large development sites and how much of what you do is costly?  How much would you say is possible to do on a much smaller site, say at the level of an estate or something like that?


Victoria Hills (Chief Executive Officer, Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation):  Our site point is always to try to get the developer to fund as much authentic engagement as we can and to keep down the cost to the London taxpayer.  Clearly, we have officer resource and we are a resourced planning team and it does take a lot of time working alongside, but that is rightly so.


It does not have to be costly and digital provides an amazing platform opportunity to do more engagement.  We certainly utilise Facebook and LinkedIn.  We utilise Twitter and, whatever your views on that, we get a lot of traction with it and it helps us to engage youth, who use it as well.  We have our own vlog channel on YouTube.  Please do look at it.  Yesterday’s vlog with the Chief Planner at the DCLG went live last night.  Genuinely, these are local residents who want to see that there is this interest and the conversations of people we take around the site.


Sian Berry AM:  You recommend that most developers of reasonably sized sites could manage that level of engagement?


Victoria Hills (Chief Executive Officer, Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation):  We are doing it on a pretty low budget.  In terms of the planning engagement, we are not spending anywhere near the sort of sum Battersea is spending, for example, on its scheme.  You do not need to spend millions on it.  You just need to do it right.


Sian Berry AM:  Thank you very much.