Take a walk around the Royal Docks in east London and you’ll find long, waterside stretches where you will see more planes taking off and landing at London City airport, and more seagulls, than people. In a city desperate for new homes it begs the question why development took so long to arrive beneath these big skies on these open, remote, abandoned acres of watery landscape.
The Royal Docks, often referred to simply as The Royals, formed the world’s largest enclosed dock. Built between 1880 and 1921, the three separate docks that comprise the whole are the Royal Victoria, Royal Albert, and the King George V, and they cover 250 acres in total.
The pioneering residents who moved into the first new homes in The Royals, including at Wimpey’s Britannia Village — redeveloped as an “urban villlage” in 1994 — Barratt’s Barrier Point built in 1999 and Fairview’s Gallions Point built in 2003, have waited a long time to see the dots joined up and the promise of The Royals finally realised.
Today, their time has come. The diggers and cranes are moving in and almost all of The Royals’ derelict land, in London’s only Enterprise Zone, is being planned out with major business, mixed-use and landscaped housing developments, including at Royal Wharf, Royal Albert Wharf, Millennium Mills and the Asian Business Port.
The first residents are already moving into Royal Wharf, between North Woolwich Road and the Thames next to Barrier Point. On one of London’s largest single building sites, Ballymore and its Singaporean partner, Oxley, are building 3,385 new homes.
This 40-acre site runs along a third of a mile of the Thames.
There will be 1,500 new homes at Royal Albert Wharf next to Gallions Reach Docklands Light Railway station at the far eastern end of The Royals, including affordable properties from Notting Hill Housing association.
In a major ground-cleansing programme some 500 tons of asbestos has been removed from Millennium Mills, the derelict former Spillers flour mill opposite the ExCeL exhibition centre and next to Britannia Village.
The old mill, one of the district’s most historic buildings, is at the centre of regeneration by the Silvertown Partnership, a joint venture between developers Chelsfield, First Base and Macquarie Capital, who describe their vision as “the next Shoreditch”.
The old mill building will revive the concept of the atelier in The Royals, with up to 150 pioneering businesses able to showcase what they do. The £3.5 billion scheme will also include 3,000 new homes.
Ground has also been broken at the Asian Business Port at Royal Albert Dock, the £6 billion Chinese-financed new business district being built to rival Canary Wharf and the City on 35 acres opposite London City airport, between Newham council offices and the University of East London campus.
The signing of the building agreement was witnessed by then-prime minister David Cameron and Chinese President Xi Jinping amid much fanfare at Mansion House during the Chinese leader’s state visit in October 2015.
There are also exciting, innovative architectural plans for a floating village of homes, shops, a café, a restaurant and possibly even a floating ice rink, beside the Emirates Air Line cable car terminal at Royal Victoria Dock.
The property scene
Amid the flurry of new flats in The Royals it is easy to forget the long-standing local communities found between Albert Road and Hartmann Road where there is a mix of low-rise housing, tower blocks and small enclaves of Victorian terrace houses.
Royal Wharf is the big Ballymore and Oxley development in North Woolwich Road. Some 700 units will be finished this year including three- and four-storey townhouses, with the three-bedroom townhouses starting at £1.08 million.
One-bedroom flats in phase two, which will be ready to move into next year, are priced from £425,000 and two-bedroom flats from £550,000.
The development is set to finish by 2021 at the latest. Call Knight Frank on 020 7118 0700.
Royal Albert Wharf next to Gallions Reach DLR station has two-bedroom flats from £490,000 and three-bedroom flats from £602,000. Call Notting Hill Housing (020 3627 4988).
Royal Docks West in Western Gateway overlooking Royal Victoria Dock is a Mount Anvil scheme of 105 homes, including 29 affordable.
There are studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom flats, priced from £465,000 for a one-bedroom flat, for completion during autumn or winter next year.
Visit royaldockswest.com or call 020 3883 7238.
Hoola is a HUB development of 360 one- to three-bedroom flats in two tower blocks with glass balconies in Siemens Brothers Way near Royal Victoria Dock.
One-bedroom flats start at £440,000 and two-bedroom flats at £584,000. Visit hoola-london.co.uk or call 020 7474 1121.
Notting Hill Housing has shared-ownership flats at Royal Albert Wharf (as before) starting at £107,500 for 25 per cent of a two-bedroom flat with a market value of £430,000, and at Traders’ Quarter, part of the Royal Wharf scheme, where prices start at £115,000 for a 30 per cent share of a one-bedroom flat valued at £385,000.
The Royals is an area where modern flats predominate, and there are 10 times more flats than there are houses available to rent.
The most expensive flats are those with views over Royal Victoria Dock and rentals drop in the more remote developments at the eastern end of The Royals. Prices ranges from £997 a month for a one-bedroom flat in Gallions Point to nearly £3,878 a week for a four-bedroom, three-bathroom warehouse conversion in Western Gateway close to Royal Victoria Dock.
Renters looking for houses head for Britannia Village or the new houses on Ballymore’s Royal Wharf development.
Britannia Village, the earliest Royal Docks development, dates back to 1994 and now has a settled feel, with a top primary school and a strong community spirit. However, it will be some years before it is known whether the newer developments will foster the same sense of belonging to an area.
The Royals are all in the E16 Victoria Docks and North Woolwich postcode.
The flats with good views over Royal Victoria Dock, and the terrace houses now being built and occupied on Royal Wharf.
Up and coming
Notting Hill Housing’s Royal Albert Wharf features well-designed blocks by Maccreanor Lavington Architects. In an attractive setting overlooking a small wharf with an Edwardian pump house as a landmark, it looks set to become a destination in its own right.
The Elizabeth line’s arrival at Custom House next year will transform Royal Docks with trains to Canary Wharf in three minutes, Liverpool Street in 10 minutes, Bond Street in 17 minutes and Heathrow in 45 minutes.
For now, 11 DLR stations have trains to the City and to Canary Wharf via the Jubilee line at Canning Town. All stations are in Zone 3.
An annual travelcard to Zone 1 is £1,520. To Zone 2, which includes Canary Wharf, it is £972.
Newham council is Labour controlled and Band D council tax for 2017/2018 is set at £1,240.54.
Shops and restaurants
Gallions Reach Shopping Park in Armada Way has branches of Tesco, Boots, Clarks, H&M, Next, River Island, TK Maxx and Topshop, and chain restaurants Nando’s and Bella Italia alongside Costa Coffee and McDonald’s.
There are cafés and restaurants around Royal Victoria Dock and the ExCeL exhibition centre including Al Masar on Western Gateway, a Lebanese restaurant, and the popular Oiler Bar on a converted barge on Dock Road close to Wakeup Docklands, the wakeboard centre at the western end of Royal Victoria Dock.
Two interesting hotels with restaurants are Good Hotel London, a floating hotel which was towed over from Holland and is currently moored in Royal Victoria Dock, and Sunborn, the floating yacht hotel next to the ExCeL centre.
Yi-Ban is a Chinese restaurant with fine views over the docks in the London Regatta Centre in Dockside Road next to the Connaught Bridge.
Everyone should enjoy a walk around The Royals before all signs of romantic dereliction are eradicated.
Walkers will discover interesting sculptures including Landed by Les Johnson, sometimes called the Dockers statue, outside ExCeL, and the contemporary bronze polo players outside Newham council’s building in Dockside Road.
Little-known local parks include Royal Victoria Gardens in Albert Road; tucked-away Lyle Park, next to the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery in Bradfield Road, and the inspired Thames Barrier Park where there is a café and a sunken garden designed to look like the waves in a dock.
A walking tour could also take in heritage buildings such as the old Great Eastern Railway terminal which became the North Woolwich Old Station Museum, now closed, in Pier Road, near the entrance to the Woolwich Ferry.
Leisure and the arts
Sadly the urban beach which became such a summer feature at the western end of Royal Victoria Dock is not making a reappearance this year.
However, there is still a lot of outdoor excitement: learn to wakeboard or paddleboard at Wakeup Docklands, also at the western end of Royal Victoria Dock; the AJ Bell London Triathlon, the world’s largest, takes place on July 22 and 23, and the following weekend the Dock2Dock five- and 10-kilometre open swimming event takes place.
The Crystal in Dock Road is an impressive exhibition dedicated to sustainability and the future of cities. It also has a café. Brick Lane Music Hall is in a converted church in North Woolwich Road.
All the schools in and around The Royals are state schools.
Primary schools St Joachim’s RC in Shipman Road and Britannia Village in Westwood Road get an “outstanding” Ofsted rating.
Primary schools with a “good” report are Drew Primary School in Wythes Road; Calverton in King George Avenue; Ellen Wilkinson in Tollgate Road; Scott Wilkie in Hoskin’s Close, and Gallions in Warwall, Beckton E6.
The secondary schools picture is patchy. The nearest “outstanding” comprehensive school is Brampton Manor Academy (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Roman Road, East Ham E6. Kingsford (co-ed, ages 11 to 16) in Kingsford Way is judged “good” but the other very local comprehensive, The Royal Docks Community School (co-ed, ages 11 to 16) in Prince Regent Lane, “requires improvement”. Oasis Academy Silvertown (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Rymill Street is a Free School which opened in September 2014. It was inspected by Ofsted for the first time recently but the report has not yet been published.
London Design and Engineering UTC (co-ed, ages 14 to 19) in University Way is a new University Technical College on the University of East London campus that opened in September last year. Newham Sixth Form in Prince Regent Lane is judged “good”.