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London’s White City – a vision starting to take shape

It’s great when a plan works out. Last Wednesday, I participated in a London First forum entitled: “Go West and Innovate: Opportunity White City.” The purpose was to outline the progress being made on regenerating the White city area of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. It was very heartening to see the pace of change that has been enabled by a joined-up approach to place making. The BBC has a long, enduring but changing relationship with White City which dates back to the 1950’s.  In recent years, as the BBC has addressed the challenges of the digital age, the nature of its property holdings in the neighbourhood has decreased. However, the Corporation’s links with the neighbourhood will remain for the foreseeable future.  The BBC’s role is moving from major landowner to acting as a catalyst, champion and advocate of a regeneration agenda for White City.

 White City the next chapter

During yesterday’s session, the audience received updates on the major components of the new look White City.  Imperial College, London: one of the world’s best universities is now at the heart of this major regeneration project. The various speakers, enabled the participants to explore how the opportunity area is bringing together education, business, scientific research, retail, leisure and housing in innovative ways to enable transformation. For me the key highlights were:

Westfield recently obtained the green light for a Phase 2 development, where the anchor tenant will be a John Lewis department store.

Imperial College announced even more exciting plans beyond its 2009 acquisition of the former BBC Woodlands site for Imperial West.

Stanhope in partnership with the BBC confirmed that Television Centre is really only in intermission and will reopen for business in 2017.

Berkeley St James have completed the last piece of the ownership jigsaw with their purchase of the Marks & Spencer site.

Cllr Nick Botterill, the leader of the Council, recently reaffirmed its position that Hammersmith is really open for business.

The thing that separates the White City regeneration programme from other initiatives is the degree of active collaboration which exists between the landowners and public bodies.  A tangible aspect of such is the White City Forum, where local landowners and other key stakeholders meet regularly to discuss issues, share concerns and agree a common approach.

Much of today’s progress started out over five years ago when Imperial College and the BBC opened an in-depth and wide ranging discussion around the “art of the possible”. How could two of Britain’s major institutions work together to create something significant in White City? Our thinking back then was influenced by thoughts the BBC had around the concept of a polycentric city which was floated at a 2010 conference Creative London 2010. The BBC experience of place making at Media City UK in Salford provided a lot of a background in developing this proposition of fast-track regeneration.

W12 vision

So we have come a long way and by working together plans are really taking shape.  The success of  Westfield, London, White City is testament to such. Many observers remarked yesterday that the pace of regeneration has been astonishing. This is down to everyone having a common purpose and shared objectives. There is little doubt in my mind that the benefit to London and to the local community will be significant. There will be jobs, new homes and interesting places to visit such as the new-look Television Centre where one can live, work and play.  Could this be a truly 21st-century smart place in the making?

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