Canary Wharf is London’s shiny Docklands business district, just a few miles east of the City. Today it stands tall, with a skyline of impressive architecture, an edifice of commerce, home to the world’s largest banks.
It had its start-up pains, and when the 1990s recession hit, half the office space remained empty and the Canadian developers, Olympia and York, led by the Reichmann brothers, went spectacularly bust with reputed debts of $20 billion.
One Canada Square, the Reichmanns’ first skyscraper at Canary Wharf, with its landmark blinking light, remains the UK’s tallest completed building, a record it has held for 20 years and which it will only lose on the completion of The Shard at London Bridge.
Canary Wharf sits at the entrance to the Isle of Dogs - known locally as The Island - and as everyone who has ever watched the credits roll on the BBC TV soap EastEnders knows, it sits in the largest meander of the River Thames. This was the heart of London’s docklands with a strong and noble history of working-class industry and militancy. But after the docks finally closed in the 1980s, high levels of unemployment and feelings of abandonment led, in 1993, to a controversial council by-election victory of National Front candidate Derek Beackon.
Though Beackon was kicked out the following year, it shed a light on a beleaguered community, but as it has so often done in the past, this part of London reinvented itself. Today it serves a sophisticated and suited tribe of wealth-creating professionals, who have moved into the area and now have shopping malls to suit their tastes.
The Isle of Dogs remains diverse, with the white working class community now sharing the island with Bangladeshi families and young single professionals. Thousands of new homes have been built, with still more in the pipeline, changing much of this traditional East End neighbourhood beyond recognition.
That old spirit lives on though; when local teenager, Tom Spiteri was killed on his motorbike in November last year, more than 1,000 people attended his funeral and floral tributes still lie in Westferry Road.
Property in Canary Wharf
Property consists mainly of apartments with some spectacular penthouses. Renovated warehouses have become a benchmark of open-plan designer and loft living at West India Quay and Burrells Wharf, mixing with modern townhouses, some Victorian terrace houses, later cottage estate-type houses and former council flats.
Lauren Ireland, of the Canary Wharf branch of estate agents Savills, says house prices have still not recovered from the over-supply that hit the market close to its peak. “House prices in Canary Wharf and on the Isle of Dogs are still some five per cent below the peak reached in the autumn of 2007,” she says.
Who buys here?
According to Ireland, the market for flats priced between £400,000 and £650,000 is particularly strong with the demand coming mainly from overseas investors. There is a strong rental market with many young professionals preferring to rent. Areas with a high proportion of rental homes tend to feel more transient than those where people buy.
Postcode: Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs is in E14, the Poplar postcode which also includes Limehouse.
Best roads: Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs are not judged by their roads but by their developments, and the best and most desirable are Pan Peninsula, Canary Riverside, West India Quay (the tower block rather than the warehouses) and Discovery Dock.
What’s new and up and coming?
Baltimore Wharf (020 7517 8800) is a new and impressive Ballymore development overlooking Millwall Dock close to Crossharbour DLR station. The Baltimore Club in the development has a bar, cinema, 25-metre pool and spa. Prices start at £375,000 for a two-bedroom flat.
Streamlight (Hamptons: 020 7758 8488) is a development of 66 one-, two- and three-bedroom flats from Swan New Homes in Province Square off Preston’s Road. Prices in the 24-storey block start at £295,000.
Wood Wharf is the last remaining large site. With more than 20 acres east of Canary Wharf up for development, a master plan was proposed and agreed by joint partners British Waterways, Canary Wharf and housebuilders Ballymore in 2008, but the development is now on hold until the commercial property market picks up. The developers are proposing to use some of the land as an outside events venue during the Olympics.
Lauren Ireland tips Canary Riverside. “This is the only development actually on Canary Wharf; it is now 13 years old. It lacks the facilities of the newer developments but the flats are very spacious with two-bedroom flats larger than most new three-bedroom flats.”
Schools: Primary schools around Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs struggle to get good results at the end of Key Stage 2 (age 11), but the following schools are judged to be “outstanding” by Ofsted: Seven Mills in Malabar Street; St Luke’s CofE in Saunders Ness Road and the very popular Cubitt Town in Manchester Road. The best-performing state comprehensive school is the nearby Sir John Cass Foundation and Redcoat (co-educational ages 11 to 18). The two City of London schools in the City are the nearest private schools.
Shopping and eating
Lots of high-street stores and chain restaurants feature at the Canary Wharf shopping centre and around the canal and riverside pubs and restaurants. The dockside in front of the old warehouses at West India Quay is a particularly pretty place to sit out on a sunny afternoon. There is a small shopping centre at South Quay. The best local gastro pubs are The Gun, an 18th century dockers’ pub, and Gordon Ramsay’s The Narrow in nearby Limehouse.
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The Thames Path winds its way round the Isle of Dogs, though, sadly, some new developments force walkers inland. There are spectacular views over to Greenwich from Island Gardens.
However, the real surprise is Mudchute country park, at the island’s southern tip. It hosts a farm and riding school and the sight of sheep gently grazing against the backdrop of the towers of Canary Wharf is arresting.
Arts and leisure: The nearest council-owned swimming pool is at the Tiller Leisure Centre and there are also pools at the Virgin Active and Canary Wharf health clubs.
The Museum of London has its Docklands outpost in West India Quay, where there is also a Cineworld. The Space, on Westferry Road, is an acclaimed arts centre in a converted chapel.
Thanks to Canary Wharf, the once isolated Isle of Dogs is now one of the best-connected places in London. A ride on the trains of the Docklands Light Railway on the elevated sections over the canals and through the towering buildings of Canary Wharf and then down the Isle of Dogs and under the Thames to Royal Greenwich is one of the most thrilling journeys on London’s vast public transport network. The DLR offers quick connections to the City.
The Jubilee line at Canary Wharf connects to London Bridge, Waterloo and the West End. All stations are in Zone 2 and an annual travelcard to Zone 1 costs £1,288.
Council: Tower Hamlets (Labour controlled); Band D Council tax for 2010/2011 is £1,195.34
Buying in Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs (Average prices)
One-bedroom flat: £241,000
Two-bedroom flat: £336,000
Two-bedroom house: £306,000
Three-bedroom house: £376,000
Four-bedroom house: £490,000
Renting in Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs (Average rates)
One-bedroom flat: £300 to £550 a week
Two-bedroom flat: £375 to £1,200 a week
Two-bedroom house: £450 to £650 a week
Three-bedroom house: £550 to £1,200 a week
Five-bedroom house: £600 to £1,400 a week
Photographs by Graham Hussey