Unless you happen to be looking for a second hand car, the chances are you have never been to Old Oak – one of London’s most unknown, least celebrated quarters. But that is something that Victoria Hills, the CEO of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC), is determined to change and we interviewed her on her plans.
Victoria Hills is overseeing the redevelopment of 650 hectares in this forgotten corner of west London straddling the three boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham, Brent and Ealing. She has been tasked with delivering 25,000 new homes and 65,000 jobs in what will be the biggest new development in the UK since the 2012 Olympics and probably the most ambitious project of its kind anywhere in Europe. This would be a daunting prospect for anyone, but perhaps even more so for a young woman entering the very male, notoriously macho world of property development. Yet Victoria Hills is already a veteran of the equally male-dominated world of transport policy, having served as Head of Transport at the Greater London Authority.
She is not fazed by the challenge. In fact, she believes there is some advantage of being a woman in a traditionally male world: ‘There are some who see a woman, a youngish woman, and they underestimate you’ she says. ‘Yet, when I prove myself and can get things done, it’s a different story.’ The development hinges on the creation of a rail superhub at the only point where the Elizabeth Line (formerly Crossrail) meets HS2. The meeting point will be the site of a new super-station on the scale of Waterloo, instantly promoting the area from one of the least to one of the most connected in the capital, but the Corporation’s ambitious transport planning will go far beyond the traditional modes of road and rail. Cycling and walking will be deeply integrated as equals to other transport modes, and kerbside parking will be kept to a minimum.
For someone who has wrestled with the difficulties of reshaping transport among the complexities of London’s road and rail network, the relatively blank sheet presented by Old Oak and Park Royal is the opportunity of a lifetime: ‘We’re starting from scratch. Instead of retrofitting, we can get everything right from the start. We aren’t just building houses, we are making a place, a place people will want to live in and visit and which will be rewarding in every way.’ The resulting development won’t just be a great place to live and work, she believes, but a world class example of the ‘circular economy’ where renewables, recycling and waste-reduction are built into the design, making it less wasteful, more pleasant to be in and also, crucially, a natural centre of expertise in the technologies of green urban development. This will attract investment and knowledge and it will create a virtuous circle that sustains and builds on that expertise with the jobs and economic benefits that go with it.
So if you are in the market for a second hand car in the next few years, perhaps Old Oak will not be a natural destination. But there is a good chance that it will be on your map for many other reasons. After all, if Victoria and her team fulfil their ambitions, the idea of owning a car at all may seem as quaint as a horse and cart in the ultramodern, ultra-green new town of Old Oak and Park Royal.
Find out more information about Old Oak and Park Development Corporati on by visiting www.london.gov.uk/opdc