An interview with Peter Runacres, Head of Urban Futures at the Earls Court Development Company
Could you introduce the Earls Court Development Project and describe your masterplan?
The Earls Court Development Company (ECDC) is a locally based business, responsible for driving forward the transformation of the 40 acre, former Earls Court Exhibition Centre site.
Earls Court has a long history as being a global destination for entertainment, innovation and ingenuity. We have a vision to ‘bring the wonder back to Earls Court’, opening up the site, creating a place for world class ingenuity, developing a better piece of city and addressing the climate emergency.
Earls Court will re-emerge as London’s place to discover wonder - it will be an inspiring neighbourhood designed for all stages of life; a cultural ecosystem for the future of talent; a celebration of nature and its ability to connect and revive and a showcase for one of the fastest growing industries in the world - clean and climate tech.
Sustainability underpins the masterplan with a zero carbon energy network and a zero operational carbon target as the basis of the development. Key benefits include:
- 4,000 new homes (targeting 35% affordable across all tenures and Passivhaus standards).
- 2.5m sq ft of workspace available and delivering around 12,000 new jobs.
- 60% of the site will be unbuilt, and plans include a generous network of Exhibition Gardens and open spaces with a 4.5 acre garden at the heart of the site
- Three large new cultural and performance venues, providing an ecosystem for the future of creative talent.
Source: Earls Court Development Project
Could you tell us about your plans to incorporate the first large scale Zero Carbon energy sharing network in the UK, and how this enables local people to benefit from cost effective heat networks?
The incorporation of the first large-scale Zero Carbon energy sharing network in the UK involves a collaborative effort with partners to establish an on-site network that facilitates the sharing of energy resources. This network aims to provide low-cost, zero carbon heat and energy not only within the site but also extend its reach to surrounding neighbourhoods in the future.
One of the key elements of this initiative involves designing homes according to Passivhaus principles, so they will have the highest level of insulation and energy-saving technologies will be incorporated. Each building and home within the network will be connected to an energy sharing loop, ensuring access to zero-emission, low-cost energy specifically for heating purposes.
The adoption of Passivhaus principles ensures that homes are well-insulated, mitigating heat loss and preventing overheating. By prioritising insulation and reducing the risk of overheating, these buildings contribute to more sustainable energy consumption.
This initiative not only promotes environmentally friendly practices but also provides an economical means of accessing heat networks, benefiting the local community through reduced energy costs and a sustainable energy source.
Last month you announced plans to develop climate tech hub in Earls Court - What are your plans for a research and development hub? How will this enable job growth and boost the local economy?
We have an ambition to make Earls Court the home for the UK’s clean and climate technology sector. Europe’s climate tech ecosystem is currently worth more than £80bn and has doubled in value every year since 2020. The sustainability market could be worth trillions of pounds by 2030 - an industry on a scale to rival the tech sector at present – creating an unmatched economic opportunity for London and the UK as a whole.
Furthermore, the UK government targets two million skilled green jobs by 2030. However, the UK is lacking a centre for this ecosystem. As central London’s largest cleared development opportunity, based in Zone 1 with transport links to the UK’s major cities and airports, Earls Court is well positioned to become a home for it.
Alongside a new neighbourhood of zero carbon homes, culture and nature, ECDC will be building 2.5 million square feet of workspace, which will include maker spaces, lab-enabled offices and large campus opportunities. The first bespoke developments are due to be ready for occupation by 2028.
You recently awarded £180,000 to 23 local organisations as part of an annual Earls Court Community Fund. Could you tell us about this Fund?
The Earls Court Community Fund was established to support the local community in and around the Earls Court site, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. With £180,000 allocated per year, the fund provides grants to charities and community organisations, enabling them to carry out projects and sustain their long-term support for the community. In particular, the fund focuses on the three core themes: communities and people, health and wellbeing, and young people and training.
To date the Earls Court Community Fund has supported a series of local projects, including allowing London Sports Trust to continue running their summer sports programme, helping Response Community Projects to expand their volunteering activities to support the area’s most vulnerable individuals, and empowering Urbanwise to run a number of different workshops aimed at young people.
The fund has given us a unique insight into the local community, alongside an opportunity to work with some amazing groups and individuals who are providing vital support to local people. We tend to take a partnership approach, establishing longer term relationships with the groups we fund, supporting them in a range of different ways and working to understand local communities in more depth.
Source: Earls Court Development Project
How are you working with both the public and private sector to make your vision a reality?
Collaboration with the public and private sector is very important to us at ECDC, in fact as an organisation we bring together public and private partnership. The Earls Court Development Company operates on behalf of the Earls Court Partnership Limited - a joint venture between Delancey (on behalf of its client funds) and the Dutch pension fund manager, APG, and Transport for London (TfL).
As a local Earls Court-based business we work closely with our two local councils, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, as well as the Greater London Authority, all with the shared vision of delivering the homes London needs and reopening the site to the public.
We are already working closely with the private sector from our world-class design team, to energy providers helping us deliver our next generation heat work. As we look ahead to 2024, we look forward to working with potential occupiers, end users and partners, particularly in the clean and climate tech sector. We are inviting the sector to join us in Earls Court, where businesses will have the opportunity to grow - whether as a hub for your company, a space to trial your tech or the lab space you need to create the technologies of tomorrow.
You’ll be speaking in our Built Environment Forum at Innovation Zero. What insights are you hoping to share with our audiences? What are you hoping to gain from the event, who are you hoping to meet?
As a speaker at the Built Environment Forum at Innovation Zero, I aim to share insights into the transformative potential of sustainable urban development, and to showcase how the development at Earls Court is an exemplar of sustainable development.
I'll use our newly released masterplan to show how a cleared development site can be transformed into a vibrant, inclusive, and environmentally conscious community hub. The emphasis on zero-carbon energy networks, a reduction in operational carbon, and a significant portion of unbuilt green space demonstrates the commitment to sustainability in urban planning.
The event will be a great opportunity to connect with people across the built environment, climate tech and innovation sectors. In particular, with our ambition to become a hub for clean and climate tech, I look forward to connecting with organisations who are looking for opportunities grow their business, whether they need maker spaces, lab-enabled offices and large campus opportunities. We will be building 2.5 million square feet of workspace and it will be great to speak to the sector about what it is they need in order to thrive.