The sale of News International’s 15-acre Wapping complex, a prized site next to historic St Katharine’s Dock and beside Tower Bridge, to Berkeley Group is part of a wider trend. Many of the printing plants built in the teeth of print-union opposition in the Eighties in east and south-east London are now being moved to cheaper locations outside the capital.
As well as the departure of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, the Daily Mail’s giant plant at Surrey Quays, Rotherhithe, and the Westferry plant, next to Canary Wharf, owned by Richard Desmond’s Express Group are earmarked for redevelopment.
These printworks were built during the early stages of post-docks transition, before the onset of fashionable riverside living, when land was cheap and earmarked for industrial use. Murdoch paid £300,000 an acre for his Wapping site, less than the cost of a one-bedroom flat in the area today.
Berkeley paid £150 million for the site, once the focus of nightly union protests, and is rebranding the address as Wapping Village (seeking to eradicate any “Fortress Wapping” connotations). It will build several hundred luxury homes plus retail and leisure amenities for residents through its St George subsidiary.
The move comes at a time when Wapping is regaining residential cachet, having been eclipsed by Canary Wharf and the South Bank in recent years. “The printworks sale is the most exciting thing to happen in Wapping for 25 years,” says James Hyman, partner at estate agent Cluttons.
“It will provide a huge regeneration boost by creating a dynamic new quarter. A decade ago, Wapping was more expensive than Shad Thames across the river but now it trails in value and is one of the most underpriced postcodes in London. We expect prices to rise by up to 30 per cent during the next two years.”
Authentic east end
Wapping starts in the shadow of Tower Bridge and runs east to Shadwell Basin where a Victorian pumping station has been turned into an art gallery and restaurant, an amazing post-industrial space and cultural venue.
For many, Wapping is Dockland’s most charming and authentic district, with historic wharves and warehouses, cobbled lanes and famous inns. One drawback has been accessibility: it is a rather cut-off district, coralled between the Thames and The Highway, a busy main road, and has no major retail centre.
Prices are highest in west Wapping, which is closest to the City. This is where Wapping Village is, next to a Waitrose on Thomas More Street and News International’s new office.
The heart of the area is the cobbled high street, lined by riverfront warehouses converted to apartments, which are priced from about £500,000. This patch is changing too, with the last of the historic wharves being redeveloped into mixed-use schemes that are bringing fresh vibrancy.
Metropolitan Wharf is a listed eight-storey former tea warehouse turned into a new commercial hub, with loft apartments and designer offices attracting fashion and media companies and other creatives.
The warehouse’s magnificent, stripped-back fabric of exposed brick, cast-iron columns (dozens and dozens of them) and pine flooring is a genuine classic, and there are plans for a destination restaurant, art galleries, organic food market and members’ club.
Spectacular lofts at the top of the building will be ready in spring 2013. They have up to 4,000sq ft of space, ceilings which reach 30ft high, rafters and a roof terrace. Some also retain original machinery such as hoists and pulley wheels. Contact Pilcher Hershman on 020 7399 8600.
Ballymore’s 21 Wapping Lane is another big new development, being built on the site of a former Group Four security depot. Prices start at £305,000 (for a studio “suite”); one-bedroom flats start at £361,000. Show apartments are open for viewing. Call 0800 096 7777.
Retail and commercial space is part of the mix, and will go some way to filling the gap left by the closure of the Tobacco Dock shopping mall in 1990. This splendid listed structure was trumpeted as the “Covent Garden of the East End”, but is now a desolate space, boarded up and on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk register. The owner, a Kuwaiti investment company, is working up fresh proposals for a hotel, shops and luxury apartments.
British Land’s acquisition of the Daily Mail’s printworks in Rotherhithe paves the way for another 1,000 homes in a 40-acre regeneration zone called Canada Quays, where a new civic square and showpiece public library has already been built.
Barratt is building 900 homes at Maple Quays, while the outdated Surrey Quays shopping mall is to be extended. In addition under-utilised land occupied by a Decathlon store is to be redeveloped by Shard of Glass developer Sellar Group.
This part of Rotherhithe is being discovered by a new generation of young professionals priced out of the booming SE1 postcode. Canada Water Tube station (Jubilee and East London lines), is a convenient halfway point between the employment centres of the West End and Canary Wharf, and also within walking distance of the Square Mile.
Ontario Point is the latest phase of the Maple Quays project, a contemporary-design scheme alongside a narrow canal, a legacy from the old docks era. Prices from £308,000. Call 020 7237 9311.
Biggest printworks in Europe
Express Group is drawing up a planning application for 3,000 homes at its Westferry plant, the largest newspaper printworks in western Europe. The dockside site backs on to the Thames and will be bulldozed to make way for an upscale residential complex.
Across the dock is Baltimore Wharf, where duplex penthouses are part of a new release of apartments. These have dramatic double-height spaces offering spectacular views of the Thames and the glittering Canary Wharf skyline. The development also has the capital’s largest gym and spa. Prices from £440,000. Call Ballymore on 020 7517 8800.