"Two businesses have unveiled rival plans to build thousands of homes on the last big undeveloped site in London – even though neither has ever built a single house.
"Cargiant, the car dealership, and Premier League football club Queens Park Rangers may not be builders but they have lined up teams of planners, architects and property developers as they try to cash in on the capital's housing market.
"The prize is a semi-industrial site of more than 100 acres called Old Oak Common, in west London. At first glance, it does not look a promising site for real estate, flanked by the unremarkable districts of Acton and Harlesden, with Wormwood Scrubs prison to the south and the Grand Union Canal running through the middle.
"Yet this is London’s biggest regeneration opportunity since the Olympics. A Crossrail and HS2 superstation the size of Waterloo will help create what Boris Johnson, mayor of London, called 'an entirely new city quarter for London'. Sir Edward Lister, deputy mayor, has hailed it as 'one of the largest and most exciting schemes of its kind in London for decades' and 'a once-in-a-lifetime pportunity to transform a vast area, the size of a small London borough'.
"Whoever wins will hope to emulate developers that are building big housing projects on land that was long derelict, such as King’s Cross, Battersea Power Station, Earls Court and Royal Docks. As Cargiant is already the biggest landowner and the major employer on Old Oak Common, it would appear to have the upper hand in the contest.
"QPR and the club’s owners own not a square inch of the land but they bring clout, profile and deep pockets. AirAsia entrepreneur Tony Fernandes, QPR chairman, is part of a consortium that includes the scion of the billionaire Gnanalingam family, which is the major shareholder of Malaysian ports operator Westports Holdings.
"The QPR team believe their plan to move out of their 18,000-seat ground in Shepherd’s Bush for a new, multipurpose stadium seating 40,000 on the Old Oak Common site is in tune with the regeneration policies of the mayor and local politicians. Their scheme promises 24,000 homes and 55,000 jobs in a project they call 'New Queens Park' – what Mr Fernandes describes as 'much more than just a stadium'.
"The master plan will be produced by Farrells and Tony Spencer, the property consultant who found Arsenal the site for its Emirates stadium and helped the club to become a one-off property developer to help fund the project.
"But Cargiant’s trump card is that it is already on Old Oak Common, where it employs 700 people and sells 40,000 cars a year, and has been there for 35 years. With PLP in charge of its master plan and First Base and Lipton Rogers its developers, Cargiant’s scheme would see it relocate its dealership and build 9,500 homes.
"The Greater London Authority sees the potential of a stadium as part of any redevelopment and has talked to QPR. But it will not attempt to strong-arm Cargiant to give way. 'The mayor hopes that an agreement between all parties can be reached,' Sir Edward said.
"Property industry figures downplay QPR’s chances of snatching Cargiant’s land out from underneath them. The club has little chance of obtaining a compulsory purchase order to force Cargiant to sell, according to one experienced planning adviser who did not want to be named because of his involvement in previous plans for the site. 'If the Cargiant plan is consistent with the mayor’s vision and they are making progress, then there would be no grounds [for an order],' he said.
"Cargiant is owned by Geoffrey Michael Warren, who is not a football fan – though his company once sponsored QPR and the company’s managing director, Tony Mendes, is a season-ticket holder. 'They [QPR] don’t own a blade of grass on Old Oak Common,' said Mr Mendes, adding that a football stadium in the middle of the site would 'sterilise' the area.
"QPR has responded by saying the future of Old Oak requires all to work for the common good, not in 'unco-ordinated and piecemeal development of individual land holdings', pointing out that Arsenal did not own any of the land it eventually acquired for its north London stadium.
"However, despite property industry speculation that Mr Warren is merely trying to inflate the price Cargiant will eventually get for the land, Mr Mendes dismisses any thought of the company being bought out. There were talks at one stage but no more, he says. 'We won’t engage with them again – we are too far down the road'."
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