From the Grand Union Canal to Chelsea Creek: London’s extensive canal network is becoming a major source of new homes

After being left derelict and unloved for decades, London’s extensive canal network is having its time in the spotlight as city planners switch their focus from riverside regeneration...

London’s extensive canal network is becoming a major source of new homes. What started in the Nineties as a trickle has turned into a flood. City planners are switching their focus from riverside regeneration to the capital’s historic inland waterways, miles of which have been derelict and unloved for decades.

By building high-quality homes and creating canalside cafés and recreational spaces, unpromising sites can be transformed into prized places to live — as at Chelsea Creek, next to Lots Road Power Station, where homes are set around a new dock and navigable canals linked to the tidal Thames. Flats have direct access to the water from private pontoons, making water sports possible, with enthusiasts already taking up kayaking.

Architect Squire & Partners drew inspiration from Amsterdam and Copenhagen. “We replaced the traditional English garden with waterways and tree-lined promenades to give the place character and charm,” says Michael Squire. Prices from £5,999,950. Call St George on 020 7610 9693.

 

Not all canal locations are so central, or so preened, as at Chelsea. But the fringe areas of the capital are being cleaned up and are more affordable for young Londoners.

Park Royal in west London is an industrial zone reinventing itself as a residential area, with two-bedroom flats costing half the price of the inner London average. Grand Union Canal passes through it, and the district is poised to benefit from a giant transport superhub at nearby Old Oak. 

For many years, Guinness had a base here and used the canal to transport barrels to Paddington for distribution to pubs. 

Drinks company Diageo now occupies a “green”, campus-style headquarters on the former brewery site, while Redrow’s Royal Waterside has 265 apartments alongside a 20-acre nature reserve with lakes, bridges and cycle paths. Prices from £355,000. Call 020 3538 5476.

 

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From £5,999,950: flats around a new dock with direct water access via private pontoons at Chelsea Creek


Forgotten waterways
The best way to discover these forgotten waterways and spot the new housing is to put on your hiking boots. It’s surprising how far you can go.

Grand Union Canal is the capital’s main inland waterway. It comes in from the west, through Brentford, reaching Maida Vale — Little Venice — before joining up with Regent’s Canal, which passes through Camden, King’s Cross and Shoreditch and runs into the Thames at Limehouse. Here the Limehouse Cut spins off in a different direction, heading north-east through Bow and Stratford to Hackney Marshes and Walthamstow.

Lee Navigation runs from Docklands to Hertford via the giant reservoirs and nature reserves of Tottenham Hale. Along the route, factories and mills are being redeveloped. Industrial eyesores remain but this is a remarkably green swathe of the capital, with parks and unexpected conservation areas.

Check out the canal basins, such as Kingsland Basin, a hidden gem in Hoxton, once dilapidated but now a congenial, car-free community of homes and workshops. Nine-acre City Road Basin, near Angel, once inaccessible, is another revitalised hub, with a cluster of fancy apartment blocks overlooking the water. There is even a proposal to open up sections of south-east London’s Grand Surrey Canal, concreted over in the Seventies.

Part of the allure for home buyers is the sense of “sanctuary” that canalside living brings, says Nick Davies of estate agent Stirling Ackroyd, which sells homes in the East End heartland.

“Though cutting through the inner city, canals are car-free, quiet places with less pollution. You feel closer to nature and get a completely different perspective of the capital.”

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From £675,000: Onyx Apartments overlooks Regent's Canal at King's Cross, 1C


New canalside homes
Architects are making the most of listed warehouses and wharves, and designing new homes and loft-style workspaces that dovetail with heritage buildings.

City Wharf, at Wenlock Basin, Shoreditch, crisply reinvents traditional warehouse design, and picks up on the area’s past as a thriving centre for timber production and transport. 

The 327-apartment scheme has communal roof terraces plus courtyard gardens on the water’s edge, and is designed with young metro types in mind, with storage for 300 bikes. Prices from £542,500, with Help to Buy available on selected homes. Call Fabrica on 020 3642 8973.

Onyx Apartments overlooks Regent’s Canal in the newly created N1C postcode at King’s Cross. This scheme of 117 flats includes glass-walled penthouses. Prices from £675,000. Call Cushman and Wakefield on 020 7355 8172.

Camden Courtyards is a former optical works where 164 new homes are being built. Clad in patterned brick and with a striking rusty Corten steel two-storey roof extension, the architecture makes reference to the site’s industrial heritage. The innovative S-shaped building allows for two internal courtyards for residents, who also have access to roof terraces. Prices from £610,000. Call Barratt on 0844 2250032.

Royal Quay at Limehouse Cut — which is London’s oldest canal and close to Canary Wharf — has 90 flats, including old sail lofts. Featuring exposed brickwork, these homes are set behind original warehouse façades with cargo doors and Crittall windows. Prices from £420,000. Call Regal Homes on 020 7328 7171.

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From £429,000: flats behind warehouse façades at Royal Quay, on Limehouse Cut near Canary Wharf


Bow revival
Bow Back Rivers, between Bow and Stratford in east London, is a four-mile network of derelict waterways largely unused since the Second World War that now forms part of the Olympic Park. The first stage of restoration is complete following a new lock and water control structure, which has returned the rivers to navigation, reviving water transport in the area for the first time in 50 years.

Bow Wharf overlooks Regent’s Canal and sits in a conservation area that includes Victoria Park and a fast-gentrifying “village” centre. Launching soon, unusually, five new houses are being built in addition to 19 apartments. Call Currell on 020 7226 6611.

The Atrium, St John’s Wood, is a new block of luxury flats with views over Regent’s Canal and Regent’s Park. Prices from £4.05 million. Call Aston Chase on 020 7724 4724.

Paddington: well priced and well connected
In its heyday, Paddington Basin, at the junction of Regent’s Canal and Grand Union Canal, was the capital’s busiest. Regeneration started about 15 years ago and it is now an established “urban quarter” of homes, shops and offices.

Some would say it lacks charm. However, this new 80-acre district is a well-priced address close to the West End and Hyde Park, and with great transport links.

The new Crossrail station is eagerly awaited as the east-west route will allow City workers to live in west London and enjoy a quick commute to Canary Wharf and Heathrow. Paddington Exchange is part of this canalside quarter and has 123 apartments in three towers. Prices from £990,000. Call Hamptons International on 020 3376 6436.

Merchant Square is another high rise, with stylish, high-spec waterfront penthouses priced from £3.4 million. Call JLL on 020 7993 7379.

According to the Canal & River Trust, successor to British Waterways, there are 2,200 miles of canal in the UK, with 2,555 listed structures, including 70 “scheduled ancient monuments”.


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