Conference wowed in Slough

by Noella Pio Kivlehan Fri 23 November 2018, 10:01 am

Representatives from 12 councils came together with leading investors, developers and regional stakeholders to highlight and discuss opportunities in west and west of west London and the Thames Valley yesterday (22 November).

Basingstoke and Dean, Buckinghamshire, Brent, Ealing, Hounslow, Kingston, Reading, Runnymede, Slough, South Bucks & Chiltern, Wokingham, and Wycombe councils were in attendance for the first ever WOW conference at The Future Works, Slough, a development by U+I and AshbyCapital.

Around 200 delegates, made-up of representatives of Heathrow airport, government ministers, major homebuilders, and smaller, independent companies and NHS trusts, raised questions from the floor and shared ideas about what would make the area more prosperous. 

Chaired by Brendan Walsh, of Brendan Walsh Associates – and Hounslow Council’s executive director of regeneration until last year – the day included keynote speeches from Caroline Low, director of Heathrow expansion, Department for Transport; Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP and co-chair of the Western Rail Link to Heathrow Steering Group.

Panellists included Michael Mulhern, interim CEO, Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation; Councillor Tony Page, deputy leader, Reading Council; Tom Venner, director of commercial development, HS2; Lucy Owen, interim executive director of development, enterprise and environment, Greater London Authority – and Michael O'Callaghan, director, Keir.

Heathrow airport was a major topic, with speaker Phil Wilbraham, the expansion programme director, giving his views about how expansion to the airport would benefit the surrounding boroughs economically, with 5,000 additional airport apprenticeships, bringing the total to 10,000 by 2030.

Wilbraham said a third runway would "unlock more air traffic movement, letting the airport add up to 40 more long haul destinations. "And that is where the trading will come from,” he added.

He told the conference it was crucial Heathrow remained a key European and international hub after Brexit, believing a huge number of jobs will be created by building a third runway. Building Olympic-style accommodation to house the thousands set to be employed on the runway construction project was not ruled out. Wilbraham said: "There is scope to do something like that."

In a poll conducted for the conference: 77% of delegates said the third runway would have a positive impact on business.

Meanwhile, the importance of the Elizabeth line, opening next year, was also highlighted. Over 90% said this would be positive for business, with 100% believing its impact on the region would be positive.

Ealing's council leader, Julian Bell, said the local authority realised that Heathrow’s expansion would lead to "huge benefits for our residents in terms of jobs”.

Adding to infrastructure, Caroline Low, director of Heathrow expansion at the Department of Transport, said growth in sustainable travel in the Western Corridor will only come from better rail links.

This will be delivered by the opening of the Elizabeth line, improvements to the Piccadilly line, and could also include any longer-term prospects for a southern rail link around to Waterloo.

Low said the three key areas of importance to local authorities in the Western Corridor when it came to infrastructure were: transport to Heathrow Airport, providing local housing and noise levels.

She added that she will "keep on pushing Heathrow to get innovative" with its transport links and that maximising the benefits of Heathrow's expansion should also be balanced with the need to ensure economic benefits are realised throughout the wider sub-region.

"[There is] huge scope to improve local buses and shared transport," she said. Low also made the call to local authorities to let the Department of Transport know what they want to get out of any expansions, and how the department can work with them.

Elaine Rossall, JLL's head of UK offices research, told delegates the construction of the Elizabeth line is a catalyst for more offices to be built in town centres in the Western Corridor (west and west of London).

She said that while traditionally offices are located outside the likes of Slough and Reading, better transport was bringing them back into urban centres.

Rossall also said there is a downturn with current office construction sites, which will create a "supple gap" from 2020 to 2021. As a result, developers are more likely to turn to refurbishment, she added. She concluded that office rents in the Western Corridor are at the highest they have ever been.

The conference was also told the skyline of Slough could change with more tall buildings on the horizon.

Paul Stimpson, planning policy manager with Slough Council said: "Clearly there is a role for well-designed tall buildings [in Slough].

Early next year, the council is set to produce a new development strategy for central Slough that will deal with tall buildings in more detail given land is now such a premium and they will become a more familiar feature.

Summing up the conference, Walsh said: "It was refreshing to see such optimism for a conference at a difficult time for the country. It felt as though west London and the Thames Valley offers such great opportunity. As long as people keep their nerve and work positively together then this part of the country will succeed regardless of what is thrown at it.”


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