Council choses partner for Ilford Western Gateway

Redbridge Council has chosen a “preferred” private developer for a joint venture to build hundreds of new homes and regenerate the Ilford gyratory system.

The developer, whose identity has not yet been revealed, would enter a 50:50 partnership with the council to build 860 flats and 4,600sqm of commercial space.

A masterplan for the scheme, named Ilford Western Gateway, pictures a “world class liveable and sustainable neighbourhood” around a new square and “community campus” on the gyratory island.

If approved, at least eight residential buildings up to sixteen stories tall would be built in  three phases, starting with land at the corner of Ilford Hill and Cranbrook Road, followed by Ilford Chambers on Chapel Road and finishing with the gyratory island.

Yesterday, Redbridge’s cabinet agreed leader Jas Athwal and corporate director of regeneration and culture Mark Baigent will negotiate the finer details of the joint venture partnership before final approval at a future meeting.

Cllr Athwal said the regeneration plan has been “a long time coming” but will probably be delivered “long term for the future”.

He added: “I have some reservations but, when seeking a partner, I think the council has aspirations of controlling and delivering what is good for this particular area.

“This is the largest project the council will do and the most ambitious and will deliver a very long-term legacy of social, economic and legacy benefits.

“This is going to act as a catalyst for investment, not just locally but for the wider area. The plan is to create this unique place where people live, work and socialise.”

After the council’s joint venture strategy was first approved in January 2021, 31 developers attended a launch and completed a questionnaire that tested their suitability for a partnership.

But according to the council’s report, only one “preferred bidder” was invited to submit a final tender after two of the three shortlisted firms dropped out earlier this year.

Once a contract is agreed with the developer, a limited company will be formed that is managed by an evenly-split board of six members from the council and developer.

While some of the land is council-owned, properties such as the Ilford Conservative Club will have to be bought, potentially using compulsory purchase powers.

Probing the joint venture set up at the council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Monday (September 5), Conservative leader Paul Canal asked how councillors would oversee the partnership.

He said: “I think there’s a desire to better understand the governance, reporting and accountability structures.”

Corporate director of regeneration and culture Mark Baigent said one option would be the council’s Shareholder Reference Group (SRG), set up in April 2021 to oversee the council’s business ventures.

According to the council’s website, the SRG has only met once since it was formed and its listed members include former chief executive Lesley Seary, who left earlier this year.

Although not part of the joint venture, the council sees scrapping the one-way gyratory system as “crucial” to improving the area and “increasing developable land”.

Concept plans approved in 2019 would make the gyratory two-way, with only buses and cyclists allowed to use the section of Ilford Hill outside the station.

Several new pedestrian routes across Ilford Hill and Chapel Road would open up the island and Ilford Hospital Chapel, which are currently only accessible by three crossings.

To help fund the town centre improvements Redbridge recently announced a £20million bid for the second round of the government’s £4billion Levelling Up Fund.

This includes increased lighting, “pedestrian comfort levels”, segregated cycle lanes and “substantial greening” in the area between Ilford station, the gyratory and the junction under the A406 flyover.

Announcing the bid, Cllr Athwal said: “Making our town centre walkable and inviting will boost our local economy and improve Ilford for visitors, workers and all our neighbours who live here.

“This project will tackle congested roads, make space for walking and cycling and open up links to our newly refurbished Elizabeth Line station.

“Our town centre is growing and we want to make sure that growth works for everyone – with new public space, trees and the protection and enhancement of our historical treasures, like the oldest building in Ilford, the Ilford Hospital Chapel.”

A spokesperson for the council declined to share a full copy of the Levelling Up bid.

Redbridge Council has also refused to confirm the contents of its previous Levelling Up bid, which was rejected by the government, citing “commercial confidentiality”.

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter