London City Island: the 10-year plan for 1,700 waterside homes in brand new Docklands neighbourhood

This new Docklands district on the edge of Canning Town will be unrecognisable in 10 years' time as the 12-acre site opposite the O2 is transformed into a glass-and-steel waterside district with Crossrail connections. And the English National Ballet is tiptoeing in.
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Edgy Canning Town in east London languished outside the market for many years. It was a rough, working-class district, ignored by house-builders and feared by courier firms.

Few would have imagined that this patch populated by boxing clubs and pearly kings and queens would one day be home to English National Ballet. Yet the world-renowned company has chosen to leave its prime Kensington venue and blaze a trail to a new home on London City Island — the latest Docklands neighbourhood.

Of course, it has become fashionable for institutions to surprise. The trend was set when the American Embassy announced it would be leaving its  palatial Grosvenor Square HQ to move next to Battersea Dogs & Cats Home on the South Bank. 


The new City Island community will be made up of 1,706 new homes, built in a loop of the River Lea as it joins the Thames, directly opposite the O2. 

The 12-acre site, once a margarine factory, was an industrial eyesore for years but it is being transformed into a glass-and-steel waterside district, with brightly coloured apartment blocks, shops, boutiques, cafés, restaurants and an arts club — all  landscaped with parks, squares and an open-air fitness pool.

English National Ballet blazes a trail east
Into this brave new world has tiptoed English National Ballet, with bespoke 88,000sq ft rehearsal studios made from glass, allowing passers-by to watch dancers and the company’s symphony orchestra. City Island’s public spaces will also be a stage for impromptu performances and a programme of street entertainment.

Dancers and musicians will fuel the creative energy in an area once considered a cultural wasteland, with only a small, long-established artists’ colony at adjacent Trinity Buoy Wharf.

Canary Wharf brought Canning Town to life, but the real game-changer was the Olympics going to Stratford, which cemented a £3.7 billion regeneration programme, spearheaded by Newham council. Now Crossrail has created another dynamic.

A striking “cat’s  cradle” iron bridge from City Island to Canning Town Tube and bus station, one of the capital’s best transport hubs, is a vital piece of new infrastructure.

Surrounded by roaring dual carriageways, it could hardly be more urban. It is very much a self-contained site, albeit an accessible one, and the buildings and landscaping aim to enhance its distinct identity.

Feel part of the art: the public will be able to watch dancers rehearsing in the glass-walled English National Ballet studios

The architecture is bold — glazed-brick buildings in red, orange, blue, black and white are a reference to the area’s maritime past, with its lighthouses, containers, cranes and painted ship hulls. There are plans for a rooftop lawned sports pitch.

The factory buildings of Manhattan, the world’s most famous island community, are another design inspiration. Apartments sit behind a grid-pattern façade, allowing for wide windows and recessed terraces to give protection from the elements.

Trees will be planted in mobile  containers resembling the tea chest cargo boxes of the East India Dock Company, strands of red will create a navigation route between buildings, public spaces and waterways, and  delis and grocery shops will exist alongside the spa, gym and social club. Apartments, built to resemble the original brick warehouses, will have open-plan interiors with engineered timber floors. 

Prices start at £300,000 for a studio, which the plans refer to as “suites”. One-bedroom flats cost from £375,000, with two-bedroom flats from £525,000. Penthouse-type four-bedroom flats start at £1.2 million. First completions are in 2017. Call 020 7118 0400.

A rounded community: London City Island will offer shops including deli/grocers, plus cafés, bars, restaurants, an open-air pool and an arts club

A fashionable frontier with Crossrail connections
Who will buy into this raw east London fringe? Local agents say it is not just for the Canary Wharf workforce. 

Buyers are likely to be attracted  by the newness, the scale of the  regeneration, the waterfront and big skies. On a practical level, plus points include the closeness of amenities and, of course, Crossrail, which will get locals to the West End. 

The prices are also appealing. In 10 years’ time, this bleak area will  be unrecognisable, yet at the  moment, properties are only £600-£800 a square foot.

The wider Canning Town masterplan includes bulldozing outdated local council homes to build up to 10,000 new mixed-tenure ones, a school, a public library, a new town centre and more community facilities.

Step out of Canning Town station and the soaring Vermilion development, of 271 homes, looms into view — most in a 21-storey tower with colourful exterior cladding that has inspired the name. It has “living” walls, which encourage natural ecology, and roofs that drain rainwater into a hi-tech watering system, feeding fountains, ponds and multi-level communal gardens built to encourage habitats  for the birds that nest around the River Lea and the Thames. Vegetable- growing enthusiasts can use 30 private allotments.

Hallsville Quarter, close to Custom House, a Crossrail station, will have 1,100 new homes, garden squares, a supermarket, restaurants, a cinema, bars and a hotel. The latest phase of 49 homes unveiled by Mountain Capital cost from £337,500. Townhouses cost from £725,000. Call 020 7861 5499.

Royal Gateway is another new  apartment scheme. Two-bedroom flats cost from £465,000. Call Galliard on 020 3740 9706.

Early residents better get used to cranes, a community of hard hats, a faint layer of dust and the rumble of rubble being removed.

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