London set for more Mayoral Development Corporations?

To mark the second anniversary of the Localism Act, Future of London has been looking at how the reforms contained in the legislation have affected planning, regeneration and development in the Capital.

Last week we examined how neighbourhood planning has fared since being introduced in 2011. This week, we look at the impact of Mayoral Development Corporations, another reform contained in the Localism Act.

Unlike the wide applicability of many of the new powers contained in the Localism Act, the introduction of Mayoral Development Corporations only applies in London. The Act outlines the potential powers that may be devolved to an MDC but allows the Mayor of London flexibility in the amount of authority assigned to any specific body.

Thus far, the powers have only been used once, to set up the London Legacy Development Corporation – the MDC which assumed the powers of the Olympic Park Legacy Company in April 2012. The LLDC took over the assets and objectives of the OPLC, as well as taking over planning powers from the Thames Gateway Development Corporation and Olympic Delivery Authority.

The establishment of MDCs is now being considered for other areas in London which require large-scale co-ordination of investment and planning. The Localism Act did not limit the use of MDCs to the Olympics, and the Mayor has the power to pursue this route for other projects if it is deemed necessary.

Since 2012, Mayoral Development Corporations have been proposed for two other areas in London: for the development of Old Oak Common/Park Royal, and for the regeneration of Tottenham.

Of the two, Old Oak Common perhaps has more in common with the Olympic project. The proposed Crossrail and HS2 interchange has the potential to drive development in the area but faces many of the same issues encountered in delivering the Olympics.

The Park Royal Opportunity Area [PDF] covers an area larger than that of the Olympic Park, and requires co-ordinated planning across four boroughs: Kensington and Chelsea, Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Brent. It is not yet clear whether the MDC would cover the whole Opportunity Area or only the core area around the rail interchange.

Comparison of Old Oak Common with Docklands and Olympic Park sites, from the GLA’s consultation document
Comparison of Old Oak Common with Docklands and Olympic Park sites, from the GLA’s consultation document

Land ownership on the proposed site is fragmented, posing a challenge for developers – one that could be solved through Compulsory Purchase Orders should an MDC be established. It has been proposed that if established, an MDC for Old Oak Common would have the power to collect business rates to fund infrastructure investment, as well as planning powers assumed from the four local authorities.

Calls for the establishment of an MDC in Tottenham come from a frustration at the lack of progress after significant investment in regeneration in the area, highlighted by the 2011 riots. An independent panel led by Sir Stuart Lipton was set up in the wake of the riots and released a report [PDF] whose number one recommendation was that an independent organisation be established to co-ordinate agencies working in the area and attract investment.

Recommendation from Sir Stuart Lipton’s post-riot report on regeneration in Tottenham

A spokesman for LB Haringey made a request to the Mayor to set up an MDC in the borough in 2011, and the option is being considered. Haringey is looking to make more use of business rates to deliver improvements to the area – something an MDC could potentially offer. Haringey had previously been unsuccessful in its bid to establish an Enterprise Zone in Tottenham.

An MDC in Tottenham would operate within a single borough, and so be less complex than the LLDC. As with the Old Oak Common proposal, it is unclear which of the available powers might be devolved to a Tottenham MDC.

As yet it is not certain that an MDC will be granted for either project. Perhaps the future role of MDCs in the Capital will partly rest on the success of the first. Tasked with the long-term planning, development, management and maintenance of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and its facilities after the London 2012 Games, it is early days to evaluate the impact of the LLDC – although the scope of change has already been substantial.  Should more MDCs be established, it would mark a major development in Mayoral powers and set a precedent for future developments of less exceptional nature than the Olympics to be managed in this way.