Hayes – widely regarded as being overlooked with its glory days behind it – is now being sold as ‘a place of the future’, and developers and businesses are taking notice. But how can this goal be achieved? JACK GRIFFITH sought the views of leading figures in west London’s business and public sectors in the second part of our three-part series
As LONDON continues to lay claim to being one of the world’s great cities, the need for the capital to keep evolving is as important as it has ever been. With the metropolis becoming increasingly tightly packed, eagle-eyed investors are looking for development opportunities they can seize upon early, in untapped locations which have something unique to offer and tick all the boxes – accessibility, affordability, transport links, and the potential to provide the infrastructure to facilitate growth.
Hayes is emerging as one of these places, ripe for regeneration, and timing seems to be a key reason.
But does an area’s transformation come at a cost? And what groundwork needs to be laid to ensure the new creation stands the test of time, and assimilates into the existing community?
These were questions considered at the Future Towns debate on urban living, using Hayes as a pilot location, held earlier this month at The Old Vinyl Factory (TOVF), in Blyth Road, Hayes. This is the site of a visionary £250million project aiming to deliver housing, offices and leisure amenities that could change Hayes forever, for better or worse.
The discussion, organised by Brunel University and TOVF developers Cathedral Group, was led by journalist and author Will Self, who is also a professor of contemporary thought at Brunel University.
According to a recent Crossrail study, the £15billion rail project will be an economic driver at the destinations it will serve, and many of the properties near stations will see a value uplift as a direct consequence.
The line, which will allow commuters in parts of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Kent and Essex to get to central London and the city directly and quickly, is due to start running in 2018. Investors like TOVF’s Cathedral Group are already getting their ducks in a row so they can fully reap the benefits when it is ready.
Hayes is set for a full station revamp, and passengers will be able to travel to central London in under half-an-hour.
Peter Smith, director of property developer Urban City Ltd, which manages the Arcadia Centre in Ealing, described Crossrail as ‘the elephant in the room’, and was cautious of the potential for ‘clone towns’.
“The net effect of Crossrail is that it is likely to accelerate the trend of people living here but not working here, which will in turn affect the housing stock,” he said.
“People have to be strong about the kind of housing that gets built here because if it is left to the market, there will just be rows upon rows of apartments.”
Buy-to-let opportunities are also an inevitable by-product of up-and-coming London locations.
Nigel Cramb, partnership business engagement manager at Hillingdon Council, said: “Many see Crossrail as a quick win, and are not thinking about 20 years from now when people are thinking how they can buy property, and then sell it at the highest price. They are more interested in profit.”
The Old Vinyl Factory
The TOVF scheme, should it gain planning permission, could provide 4,000 jobs and around 500 homes in a part of Hayes that, in the first part of the 20th century, bustled with thousands of EMI employees who worked at the factories there.
Since being vacated in the early 1970s, the site has been allowed to sit and rot, fenced off, with its iconic art deco buildings neglected, and in an advanced state of disrepair.
Previous attempts to bring the land into use have failed, but Cathedral Group has committed more than £250million to regenerating the site.
Cathedral believes preserving and celebrating the site’s heritage is key to its long-term success, and its unique setting can act as a ‘cool’ selling point for businesses, both start-ups and major companies.
This prospective path for TOVF has led to comparisons with Hackney, east London, which has become a trendy business district with a cluster of creative firms.
Mr Smith, of Urban City Ltd, gave another example. “Look at post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans as a town and community, with its strong cultural roots, affordable housing, bohemian lifestyle and social mix,” he said. “It had to be built from scratch, and now it is a very popular place for employers, particularly with creatives.
“TOVF is exciting but you have to have a vision about the sector of the economy you are appealing to, and the types of jobs you want to create.”
Hillingdon is already well blessed with business parks, and Will Self said that, while the last thing the borough needs is another one, there were alternatives to giving Hayes a ‘hip cachet’.
“This has never been an arty quarter,” he added. “What we really need is a version of Silicon Valley. That seems to me to be the area’s birthright.
“One mile down the road are some of the most creative companies in the world. A number of them are losing their creative function to east London because they don’t want to be in Stockley Park.
“We don’t need to create Shoreditch here, but there needs to be something different.”
Frank Wingate, chief executive of West London Business, added that the benefits of TOVF outweighed the disadvantages.
“When you consider the net worth of jobs it hopes to deliver, as well as the iconic buildings here that are a core feature of the town, the broader picture shows it is an opportunity to grab with both hands.”
The local authority has been co-operating with Cathedral Group in preparing the TOVF plans, and ensuring that the best deal for Hayes and the borough is reached.
Mr Cramb said TOVF was an amazing opportunity.
“Cathedral Group has worked closely with us in trying to get the balance of residential and employment,” he added.
“If we don’t get it right, we could end up with a dormant town, and that is the challenge.”
Any community worth its salt is only the sum of its parts and, ultimately, it is the people who live and frequent an area which shapes its identity.
Arguably, Hayes has struggled to move with the times since the exodus of traditional manufacturing, and even the most loyal Hayes folk are critical of what the town has since become.
It is one of the poorest parts of Hillingdon borough, with high levels of unemployment, poverty and crime, but the promise of outside investment is cause for optimism, and will ultimately have a trickle-down effect.
Dr Ellis Friedman, joint director of public health, NHS Hillingdon and the London Borough of Hillingdon, said public health was interweaved with lifestyle choices.
“Hayes is an unhealthy place,” he added. “Lots of people smoke and drink alcohol, people don’t do enough exercise, and there is a high level of crime.
“The best protector of public health is economic prosperity.
“When it comes to people’s lifestyles, the NHS is quite unimportant. People first need to feel a sense of wellbeing in order to avoid ill-health.”
Mr Self said engaging the younger generation in the future of Hayes, and encouraging them to pick up where today’s decision makers will leave off will be all-important, adding that the town’s ethnic diversity should be celebrated and viewed as a positive aspect.
“It’s that old adage: we make the city, or the city makes us, and I think that local government and a sense of empowerment among people will be key to all of this.”
n Hidden gems of Hayes – see the final part of the series in next week’s Gazette
n To read the first part go to www.uxbridgegazette.co.uk