Watch this space: London's Royal Docks will be a thriving waterside city in less than 20 years

Thousands of new homes, parks, schools, marinas and shops galore - they're all part of the grand plan for 1,000-acre Royal Docks.

When anyone tells you London has run out of land for housing, tell them about the Royal Docks, known as The Royals — Albert, Victoria and George. It is a land mass equivalent in size to the area from Hyde Park to Tower Bridge, with more waterfront than Venice.

It was a global destination 100 years ago, the world’s busiest port and largest enclosed dock complex. The remnants of grain stores and mills are silhouetted against the sky to this day.


Bird's-eye view: ExCel Marina and The Royals from Emirates Air Line, the cable car that crosses the Thames from Greenwich to Royal Docks.

Brink of a new age 
Richard Blakeway, London deputy mayor, takes the new cable car that climbs high above the Thames. This empty urban landscape sprawls out as  far as the eye can see. The cable car swings on to the dockside and Blakeway points out the sites of innovative schemes now on the drawing board.

“That’s where the floating village will be,” he says, indicating huge Royal Victoria Dock where a Paris Plage-type temporary beach has been created alongside, with kids making sandcastles while parents sunbathe.

“And that is Millennium Mills,” he adds, gesturing towards a derelict Art Deco structure, similar in scale to Battersea Power Station. This building is set to form the centrepiece of a new 62-acre neighbourhood called The Silvertown, with up to 3,000 homes, a central piazza the size of Covent  Garden, and “brand” pavilions for the world’s leading companies to showcase their wares. The project will cost £3.5 billion.

After several false dawns, a fresh Greater London Authority masterplan seeks to consolidate Royal Docks as a thriving new town for young Londoners. The GLA, owner of 170 hectares of land here, plus 96 hectares of water and dockside, aims to pull together building blocks already in place, to include a new university, community schools, Britain’s largest exhibition centre and London’s innermost airport.


There will be tens of thousands of new homes, along with harbours, Thames-side parks and a new business district focusing on green technology and trade. This commercial zone will be as important to London’s economy as are Canary Wharf and the City.

Plans unveiled by ABP, a Chinese investment company, for a £1 billion “business port” will transform Royal Albert Dock into a 21st-century trading centre to attract worldwide business. More than 60 enterprises have already signed up, and 20,000 jobs are likely to be created. At Royal Albert Basin, 819 private and affordable homes overlooking a marina are being built by Notting Hill Housing trust.



Royal Wharf, formerly a lubricants plant owned by Shell, is also up and running. This new district will eventually have 3,385 homes and though the architecture is modern, the concept is based on old-fashioned design principles — a Fitzrovia-style “village” on the river, according to architects Glenn Howells. 

The design is “inspired by the success of London’s coveted classic streetscapes — Grosvenor, owner of Belgravia and Mayfair, Cadogan, owner of Chelsea, Howard de Walden, owners of Marylebone. Their uncomplicated  pattern of streets and squares works.” Royal Wharf will have a school and its own Docklands Light Railway station. The scheme had been on the drawing board for many years, long before the 2008 credit crunch dashed developer Ballymore’s hopes. Collaboration with developer Oxley Holdings of Singapore has made it a reality. The second phase of homes is launching this autumn. Call 0808 118 1987.

Growing connectivity
In 2018, Crossrail will stitch The Royals firmly into London’s transport network with a 14-minute train journey from Custom House to the West End. Poor connectivity was one reason why an earlier wave of Docklands regeneration failed. Today’s policymakers have high hopes that Crossrail will be a game-changer. 

Emirates Air Line, the cable car link across the Thames, is part of the transport jigsaw, and back on the agenda is a road tunnel between Silvertown and Greenwich Peninsula, where another 10,000 homes are earmarked, plus a new bridge between Beckton and Thamesmead, south of the river. 

Far from being an environmental negative, London City Airport is seen as a plus for the area. It serves more than 40 UK and European destinations, along with New York. Canary Wharf business travellers love it. Last year it served 3.3 million passengers, a record for the airport. The use of smaller aircraft and a ban on night flights keep noise to a minimum. 


From £405,000: a new phase of flats has been launched at Waterside Park, next to Pontoon Dock DLR


Looking to the future
Fast-forward 20 years and The Royals will be a very different place. Meanwhile, there is a lot of raw space to fill. When shipping ceased in the late Seventies, the Royal Docks remained a tough, working-class district known for boxing clubs and pearly kings and queens.

Even in the Eighties, Beckton was so bleak that director Stanley Kubrick used it to recreate scenes for his Vietnam War movie, Full Metal Jacket. There is not much charm, but you can find affordable purpose-built flats and traditional houses with gardens and room to park the car.

Housing schemes dating back to the Eighties and Nineties were half-hearted and isolated. Britannia Village, one of the earliest, along one side of Royal Victoria Dock, looks suburban by today’s architectural standards but it has settled into a proper community, with homes, courtyard gardens and a well-respected church school.

The ExCeL exhibition centre has attracted some surrounding smart apartment blocks, a cluster of hotels and the latest arrival, Sunborn, a superyacht hotel which plans to moor permanently in Royal Victoria Dock. The area is already changing as white-collar staff move in, priced out of nearby Canary Wharf, where homes are about 25 per cent more expensive. In this part of London a home is old if it’s past its tenth birthday. Popular addresses include Western Beach, Capital East, Eastern Quay, Barrier Point which boasts a riverside park, and Tradewinds. A new phase of flats has been launched at Waterside Park, next to Pontoon Dock DLR. Prices from £405,000. Call Barratt on 0844 8114334. In general, resales start at £250,000, rising to £1 million-plus for the best penthouses. 

The next apartment blocks will be far more swish. Architects intend to relate to Docklands’ mercantile past, and  fit in smaller work spaces for the new generation of young tech and finance companies, in a real live-work community.

The Royals are part of the new thinking to solve London’s housing shortage, with the environment a top priority. Developer Carillion Igloo Genesis won the competition to create Britain’s first “floating village” here, with 50 eco-friendly houses linked by pedestrian and cycle bridges to a market square, events space, restaurants and shops.  
Buyers will be involved in the design of boat homes with concrete basements and will own their property and the water below it on leases.


Rashmi Bajaj saved for eight years to get on the property ladder: "Royal Docks was within my budget and the huge potential of the area convinced me to part with my hard-earned money". Image: Daniel Lynch

Waterside living - we love it here
Bank manager Rashmi Bajaj, left, 35, saved for eight years to get on the property ladder — finally succeeding at The Royals. “I spent months looking at different areas of London,” she says. “Some places were out of reach financially, but Royal Docks was within my budget and the huge potential of the area convinced me to part with my hard-earned money.”

Using the government Help to Buy low-deposit scheme, she paid £400,000 for a new two-bedroom duplex in Silvertown. “I have a park and the river on my doorstep, and the commute to my job in the City is less than 30 minutes.”

Lauren Fitzgerald and James Miller, rented in Canary Wharf for four years before buying a one-bedroom flat at Waterside Park in the heart of Royal Docks. James, 26, works for a publishing company in Camden and Lauren works in finance in the City. The first-time buyers paid £250,000 and their plan is to stay at least five years to benefit from the expected uplift in property values. 

“We don’t mind the area being at an early stage,” says James. “It means there is more upside, and besides, there is plenty going on here already. We feel we have got a lot for our money  — a lovely modern apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows and water all around us. If we did move we would like to keep it as a buy to let.”


Alberta Matin, bought a three-bedroom townhouse at a scheme called East City Point

'There's plenty of open space and the changes are exciting'
Marketing manager Alberta Matin, 43, discovered Royal Docks while competing in a triathlon and later decided to buy a home in the area. “I love the wide-open spaces and dramatic skyline,” she says. “It’s not cramped or claustrophobic and there’s a certain beauty about the place.

“There are several jogging routes along the riverside and through the docks. And since I’ve lived here I’ve also got into paddle boarding and other outdoor activities. “It’s a great area to explore and I’m really excited about the changes happening in this part of London.” Previously she and her husband Anthony lived in a two-bedroom flat in Bow. The couple traded up to a three-bedroom townhouse at a scheme called East City Point, which has won a Royal Institute of British Architects design award.

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