The rise of Docklands: thousands of new homes plugged into Crossrail

Thousands of homes and giant commercial districts are being planned for this 98-acre area of East London, including Canary Wharf and the Royal Docks.
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Londoners have traditionally tended to look west for fun and fashion, and it took a long time to banish the feeling that Docklands — a brave new world to the east of the city, developed only 30 years ago from the abandoned wasteland of the former port area — was not “a real” place to live. Now, having fixed Docklands on our mental map, it is time to  recalibrate once more as a second wave of regeneration sweeps through  the east.

This time, the plans and projects are bigger, bolder and more joined up, with tens of thousands more new homes and giant new commercial districts that will be plugged into Crossrail, the capital’s east-west rail link, due to arrive in 2018.

Next week the owners of Canary Wharf will unveil a “rebrand” and set out a fresh vision for the 98-acre estate, with more, even taller skyscrapers.



WATCH OUR VIDEO ON DOCKLANDS REGENERATION: Janice Morley, Homes & Property editor, discusses the regeneration plans for Docklands on London Live


Plethora of projects

The Canary Wharf area alone has 10 major projects on the go, including Wood Wharf, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the Tate Modern extension architects. This will bring 3,100 homes, 100 shops and new offices within a network of streets and squares, public spaces and waterfront boardwalks —  “the glue that holds the neighbourhood together”, says Robert Maguire, project director.

Another initiative will see Argent, the developer that has transformed blighted railway land at King’s Cross, joining forces with One Housing Group to bulldoze Sixties council estates and build up to 10,000 new homes, while in September, Chinese developer Knight Dragon will launch the first of another 10,000 new homes on 190 acres of land next to the O2 complex at Greenwich Peninsula.

Meanwhile, around the river bend from Canary Wharf lies the vast expanse of Royal Docks, an area the size of Venice, where a new mini city is finally taking shape. Docklands is the umbrella name for a vast riverside swathe, once the greatest port in the world, made up of several distinct  districts. It stretches from Tower Bridge to Beckton and to get an idea of its scale, if Docklands were overlaid on central London, it would cover the City and West End, Hyde Park, Hammersmith and Chiswick combined.

The area has evolved in a way beyond the dreams of the cautious planners who plotted its course back in the Eighties. The early growing pains from  traffic congestion and lack of amenities were the result of totally unpredicted success. But the transport infrastructure, shops and leisure facilities have steadily improved. 

The Docklands Light Railway has been virtually rebuilt to cope with a fivefold rise in passenger numbers, and the Jubilee line extension provides a direct link to the established wealthy avenues of St John’s Wood, beloved of  bankers and lawyers, while Crossrail will bring a direct 44-minute service to Heathrow airport.

As a land of opportunity for speculative developers, and being so closely linked to the finance industry, Docklands is a place with a trader mentality, where high gearing and buying off-plan are second nature. As such, Docklands has become a barometer of property boom and bust. Seismic shifts in the world of finance do not help. Even Canary Wharf went into receivership in 1992, before re-emerging under new ownership.

The last cataclysm was in 2008, during the dark days of the Lehman bank collapse, when the world seemed to stop. The property market has recovered from this low point yet remains quieter than most Docklands watchers are used to. Prices have not raced ahead as in central London and there is a perception that property is looking good value, especially given the bright new future being trumpeted.

In most areas of Docklands, homes cost less than £1,000 per square foot, sometimes much less, with waterfront apartments starting below £500,000 and even penthouses costing not much more than £1 million.

Wapping and Shad Thames
Before the money men moved from the City to Canary Wharf in the Nineties, Wapping was the number one address for Docklands living. Close to the Square Mile, nowhere else matched the charm and authenticity of its Georgian gem St Katharine Docks, and the  cobbled high street with its listed wharves and warehouses. But as time moved on, it was left behind, with little improvement to its restaurants and shops, and no showpiece housing.

Covent garden of the east end
Enter London Dock, a new 1,800 home “quarter” which will open up new pedestrian routes to the river, with a public square, cafés, restaurants and a new secondary school. Launching September. Contact St George on 020 8917 4040. In tandem with this is the long-awaited revival of neighbouring Tobacco Dock, a listed warehouse complex that has lain empty for 20 years. Kuwaiti owners plan to turn it into the “Covent Garden of the East End”, with boutiques, designer hotels and luxury housing.

There are further development plans for 800 homes on adjoining land, while Telford are launching a scheme of 26 homes (plus affordable properties) called The Junction, launching in autumn. Call 020 3620 8001.

136 Wapping Wall, a river-facing warehouse is being converted into 37 loft-style apartments, with prices from £995,000. Call Galliard on 020 7620 1500. Royal Mint Gardens, on a busy junction close to St Katharine Docks, has glass-clad apartment blocks with big terraces plus 24-hour concierge, gym, yoga room, whirlpool spa, residents’ lounge and private cinema. Prices from £638,000. Call Knight Frank on 020 7718 5202.

Wapping Project, an ailing artistic outpost housed in a redundant hydraulic power station, has been snapped up by developer Nick Capstick-Dale, who has transformed nearby magnificent Metropolitan Wharf into a Shoreditch-style creative hub. Early plans for the listed power station include a boutique hotel and destination restaurant. Across the river lies Shad Thames, arguably Docklands’ most fashionable neighbourhood. This complex of  handsome original warehouses and modern lookalikes includes Butlers Wharf, with its Conran restaurants facing on to the river.

Being at one end of the well-trodden section of the Thames Path National Trail footpath that stretches from the London Eye to Tower Bridge, this patch has almost moved out of Docklands into central London, a change cemented by the arrival of One Tower Bridge, a luxurious complex of 365 flats occupying a riverside strip between Shad Thames and City Hall. Prices start at £3.36 million, reflecting the coveted location and splendid views. Call 020 7871 0011.

A project of similar scale is rising on the Rotherhithe side of Shad Thames, where abandoned Chambers Wharf, a vast storage depot, is being transformed by Peabody and St James homes into a swish riverside estate.

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