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Interview: Ian Porter, Camden Council

Fri 22nd March 2013, 10:07 am

Ian Porter, Head of Community Investment & Regeneration at Camden council answers questions about the boroughs programme to unlock surplus sites in its ownership.

What is your role at the council? Your responsibilities, duties, etc?

My role at London Borough of Camden is principally to oversee the CIP. The CIP will make a major contribution to key objectives within the Council’s strategy document, the Camden Plan, including investing in our communities to ensure sustainable neighbourhoods, harnessing the benefits of economic growth and tackling inequality. My role is very much a crosscutting one and involves working across all of the Council’s directorates.

With 100+ schemes in the programme it is critical for the Council to keep track of overall progress including from a financial and risk perspective – and also to help ensure a balanced set of outcomes across the programme including, for example, the provision of new affordable housing, nurturing employment space, etc.

But the CIP is not about me…more about the many colleagues who I work with across the Council who have direct responsibility for delivering significant regeneration schemes in Camden. Our members also play an important role in CIP.

What is Camden doing to make the borough more attractive to investors/developers?

After more than £200m of cuts from central government to schools’ capital funding and large reductions in housing investment, Camden created an alternative ‘Plan B’ (the Community Investment Programme) to self-fund works and rebuild our capital programme to support both schools and council housing.

By selling or redeveloping properties and land which is expensive to maintain, underused or difficult to access, we are able to unlock their worth and generate funding to be reinvested into improving schools, homes, services and community facilities.

For developers, this opens up potential opportunities to acquire land or work in partnership with us in this highly sought after central London borough. For contractors, it means a wealth of opportunities to get involved in helping deliver our multi-million pound developments and the opportunity to work with apprentices through our apprenticeships scheme.

The CIP has already achieved a great deal since its inception in 2010. The programme is projected to deliver 2,750 new or replacement homes by 2020/21. Construction work is now taking place on several sites including our Chester Balmore scheme in Highgate, which is scheduled to complete this summer and is set to be the largest Passivhaus residential development in the UK. Building work is also now underway at the Netley School site and is progressing well. The capital generated from the CIP will be reinvested across the Borough.

This is just the beginning and the programme is set to continue for the next 10 years. This prolonged concentration on regeneration will bring a great deal to the borough. The CIP will make a significant investment in the economic prosperity of the borough and, ultimately, is set to generate up to £1bn in local investment. In addition to the council-led regeneration projects, many of the sites we sell are also likely to be developed, thereby creating building projects and consequently creating jobs. The Chester Balmore project alone employs 75 people, with seven apprenticeships.

The council is very much ‘pro-business’ and wants Camden to remain as an attractive place for developers, investors and employers. Therefore, alongside the CIP, the Council is working hard to make the development management process, from a customer perspective, as simple as possible.

Could you give an overview/update on the Abbey area regeneration project?

This CIP project in Kilburn will see a multi-million pound transformation of the area with the creation of around 250 new homes, including a significant number of affordable housing, a hub containing a community centre and a health clinic, plus new shops and office spaces.

The council is the developer for this project, which falls into three phases over a period up to 2017/18. Phase One is scheduled to start on site at the end of the year, with completion planned for summer 2015.  This first phase will deliver new residential units, along with improvements to commercial and retail space.

Preliminary works began at Christmas, with the removal of a bridge spanning the West Coast Mainline. This took place on Boxing Day, as this is the only time of the year when the rail line is not in use. Whilst we faced a few weather risks, the removal was a success and marked the beginning of this exciting project.

As we would expect, a thorough consultation programme is in place to ensure local residents have the chance to help shape the plans and input their views throughout the project.

Camden’s cabinet approved plans on 27 February to sell or develop a number of sites in the borough as part of the CIP. Could you provide some details of sites that are planned to be disposed?

This report included a variety of disposal sites that are underused or expensive to maintain and other sites that we are looking to develop. The approved report will result in the sites unlocking vital money for re-investment in the Borough as described earlier.

In some cases, the council will work with the existing occupiers of properties identified on the list to obtain long leases to help them to secure their future.  For example work is currently underway with a Swiss Cottage community youth project, to help them find the best way to secure the building as an asset and to continue their valuable work.

(The full report can be viewed on the councils CIP website: www.camden.gov.uk/ccm/content/environment/planning-and-built-environment/two/placeshaping/twocolumn/the-community-investment-programme.en)

What is the timeframe for these disposals/redevelopments as approved on the 27th?

The projects that are so far included in CIP have varying timescales over the next 10 years. Sites for ‘red line’ disposal are likely to be progressed within the next year.

How much money are the approved disposals estimated to generate?

To date, 20 sites have been disposed of, realising a capital receipt of around £30m for the CIP. In adding the other planned disposals that have received approval on the 27th, the council aims to generate around £135m – all of which will be reinvested in the borough.

How will the disposal process work for approved disposals? Will there be an open bidding process, or will it go through OJEU?

The marketing and sales strategy for our disposals will vary for our sites – taking into account factors including size, location, timescale and complexity. Some will warrant a full tendering process, others will be progressed via sale at auction.

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