Baroness Ford on her Olympic legacy

I got the chance to chat to Baroness Margaret Ford today following the announcement that she is stepping down as chair of the London Development Legacy Corporation in September. Mainly she focused on the many achievements during her busy period at the helm of the UK’s most significant regeneration project. Here is the interview:

Baroness Margaret Ford is “adamant” anchor tenants will be secured for the 2012 Olympic Stadium and press and broadcast centres before she steps down as chair of the London Development Legacy Corporation in September she vowed today in an exclusive interview with CoStar News about her time in the role.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson announced this morning that Ford – a driving force in the masterplanning and leasing of the venues and spaces at the 500-acre Olympic Park in Stratford, east London – is to step down from her role as chair of the London Development Legacy Corporation a month after the Games ends.

A spokesman for the GLA said this morning that it would begin the process of finding a replacement to take over what is one of UK property’s biggest jobs in “due course”.

Speaking exclusively to CoStar News, Ford said the announcement had been made this week because nominations were due in from the mayor on his proposed chair for his new Olympic Mayoral Development Corporation, which will subsume the work of the Olympic Park Legacy Company to become the London Development Legacy Corporation.

Ford said she had informed Johnson of her decision to move on to other work after the Games in November of last year.

She is already a chairman and director of May Gurney Integrated Services, a non-executive director at Grainger and president of the UK charity Epilepsy Action and is to take over as chair of residential care operator Barchester Healthcare next year.

She was raised to the peerage as Baroness Ford, of Cunninghame in North Ayrshire 2006.

Looking forward Ayreshire-born Ford said it was probably right that the next chair of the regeneration body was immersed in London. “When I took on the role I reported jointly to the mayor and central government. I work in London but I do not live here and I think it would be appropriate if now that the new body has moved to being more broadly London focused and owned by the mayor alone and reporting directly into the London Assembly that the next person is particularly embedded in London civic society.”

Ford said there was still much to do before she moved on, not least the ongoing process of securing anchor tenants for the 2012 Stadium and the 1m sq ft Broadcast and Media Centre, as well as a development partner for the first 800 homes to be built within the Olympic Park.

The stadium is proving the most problematic at present with the OPLC having abandoned an original agreement to sell the venue to West Ham last October amid concerns over delays caused by legal challenges from Tottenham and Leyton Orient.

The stadium will now remain in public ownership after the Games and will be rented out from 2014 to the successful bidder. Around 16 parties have bid and are being considered, although West Ham remains clear favourite.

Ford refused to be drawn on the bidding parties or indeed on which of the three parties bidding for the press and broadcast centres she favours but vowed: “I am really adamant that we will have the anchor tenants in place before I step down.”

Reflecting on her period as chair of the OPLC, a role she took on in 2009, Ford said there were four or five stand-out achievements of which she was particularly proud.

“I am most proud of the recasting of the masterplan for the Olympic park carried out by Andrew Altman and the team, taking the focus towards family housing and returning the London vernacular to the proposals.”

The original masterplan for the Olympic Park, drawn up by architects EDAW, KCAP and Allies & Morrison in 2008-2009 for the London Development Agency, envisaged between 10,000 and 12,000 homes in six village developments at the park – just one of which would provide low-rise family homes.

Ford and Andrew Altman, the 48-year-old former deputy mayor of Philadelphia who is chief executive of the OPLC, revised the plans to propose 8,000 principally family houses in lower-density neighbourhoods.

Ford added: ”I am also proud of the restructuring of the (London Development Agency-inherited) debt associated with the park and the securing of the freehold we achieved which has given us the chance to create long-term value.”

Ford is referring to a period of hard bargaining in 2010 that ensured the then new Coalition government rubberstamped a crucial £438m land deal that saw the 500-acre Olympic Park transferred debt-free to the Olympic Park Legacy Company.

“We also secured a really significant capital settlement in the Comprehensive Spending Review which ensured we were able to finish the park.”

Ford also pointed out that every venue accepting the Stadium and press and broadcast centres had been “settled with no more money required from the public purse”.

“Nobody would have thought this would have been possible at this stage and these are things that can’t be unpicked.”

Mayor Johnson this morning confirmed his formal decision to create a Mayoral Development Corporation responsible for the “regeneration legacy” from the London 2012 Games.

Johnson has begun a search for six new members of the Board CoStar News can reveal to replace Sir Bob Kerslake and Tessa Sanderson, who have moved on already, and Ranjit Singh Baxi, Nick Bitel, Aman Delvi and Elizabeth McMahon who are also stepping down.

The new body, to be called the London Legacy Development Corporation, will be directly accountable to Londoners through the Mayor and will subsume the Olympic Park Legacy Company, which was jointly controlled by City Hall and central government.

The Corporation, which opens for business on 1 April 2012, will continue the work of the Olympic Park Legacy Company, as well as taking on some extra assets and responsibilities from existing regeneration agencies in the area, such as the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation.

Significantly the Corporation will have greater powers over the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and a wider area including planning and development control.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: “We have an extraordinarily exciting period ahead. Building on the momentum already created by the Legacy Company we are on track to grasp this unique opportunity and harness the Olympic legacy of new jobs, new homes and new communities which Londoners will benefit from for years to come.

“I am grateful for Margaret’s huge contribution over the last three years planning and delivering a solid 2012 legacy and delighted she will oversee this important work until after the Games as well as setting the new Legacy Corporation on a firm footing.”

The Localism Act 2011 provides that the Mayor may designate any area of land in Greater London as a mayoral development area. Importantly a mayoral development area passes over planning powers for the included sites from the affected Boroughs to the mayor. Today’s vote centred on a development area comprising:

• The core Olympic Park, comprising land owned by Olympic Park Legacy Company and the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, including Eton Manor

• The Olympic Village and associated development sites owned by London & Continental Railways Ltd and (until recently) the Olympic Delivery Authority

• The Stratford City development site, including the Westfield Shopping Centre and Chobham Farm

• Hackney Wick and Fish Island

• Bromley-by-Bow North (with a southern boundary at the District Line)

• Pudding Mill Lane and Sugarhouse Lane

• Three Mills and Mill Meads

• Carpenters Estate

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About Paul Norman's Olympics blog

News Editor of CoStar News, a commercial property news service. Regular blogger on the London 2012 Olympics and what it means for property and the the regeneration of East London
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