For many Londoners, the Thames feels like a border between two countries — especially if you live in the east of the city.
There are 34 bridges across the river in the capital, only one of which lies east of Tower Bridge — yet there are more households east of the bridge than west of it.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s go-ahead for new river crossings in the east aims to redress the balance, while also providing a catalyst for a large-scale housebuilding programme.
A £1 billion boost to the capital’s economy
A report by the Centre for London think tank estimates that bridges and tunnels could open up land for at least 50,000 new homes, cut commuting times and bring isolated neighbourhoods in from the cold, while creating 60,000 jobs and boosting the capital’s economy by £1 billion a year.
“Bridges have a huge regenerative impact,” says London’s prolific place-maker architect Sir Terry Farrell, whose firm has unveiled its own proposals for a series of low-level bridges that would trigger development along both sides of the Thames. “London needs more housing on a bigger scale than ever before. More river crossings are one of the best ways to deliver it,” he says.
Bridges spanning the Thames have been a force for change since the Romans built a crossing between the City and Southwark more than 2,000 years ago.
Ironically, the expansion of the London docks during the UK’s industrial and maritime heyday over a century ago is the reason for the dearth of bridges in east London.
Until the closure of the docks in the Seventies, the Thames was the main transport artery for the movement of goods. Any bridge would have needed to be incredibly tall to allow large vessels upriver.
Silvertown tunnel for 2023
The newly announced Silvertown Tunnel will connect two hotspot housing areas — Greenwich Peninsula, where 15,000 homes are being built in seven new districts, and Royal Docks, a vast regeneration zone with more waterfront than Venice.
The four-lane underground highway is expected to open by 2023 and will have provision for a “bespoke cycle-bus” to carry cyclists through the tunnel.
This will ease the horrendous traffic jams that build up at nearby Blackwall Tunnel, where as early as 5am cars come to a standstill as workers make their way to Canary Wharf.
Silvertown Quays, a new 62-acre neighbourhood where 3,000 homes are planned, is set for a huge boost. The £3.5 billion development is being built around a giant, derelict Art Deco flour mill that’s similar in scale to Battersea Power Station.
This will be a whole new integrated living and working community with up to 150 design and fashion businesses showcasing their products in pavilions alongside a central piazza the size of Covent Garden.
Learning from our mistakes
Poor connectivity was one reason why an earlier wave of Royal Docks regeneration failed. Housing schemes built in the Eighties and Nineties were bereft of shops and amenities.
Britannia Village, which faces on to awesome Royal Victoria Dock, looks suburban by the architectural standards of today, but it has settled down into a proper community, with good-value low-rise homes of all sizes and tenures.
Crossrail coming to nearby Custom House is another important boon for the area.
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 established design principles, being inspired “by the success of London’s landed estates, with their uncomplicated pattern of streets and squares”.
Apartments cost from £335,000, while impressive three-bedroom houses start at £1,050,000. Call 0800 1601200.
Mayor’s approval for DLR crossing
Sadiq Khan is also pushing ahead with a new Docklands Light Railway crossing between Thamesmead and Gallions Reach, plus an Overground extension from Abbey Wood to Barking Riverside. The new DLR link will accelerate regeneration of Thamesmead. Housing charity Peabody, which owns 80 per cent of the land and is building a new town centre, has revised upwards its construction target from 8,000 to 20,000 homes.
The first phase of 1,500 homes will be at Tamesis Point, site of the DLR station. Thamesmead is roughly the same size as central London and was “created” in the Sixties on marshland that was previously used as rifle ranges by old Woolwich Arsenal. But decline quickly set in and today it is one of the few places in London where you can buy a three-bedroom house for less than £300,000.
Taking a cue from its own handsome 19th-century estates, Peabody is building clusters of brick blocks grouped around shared courtyards, creating smaller communities within the larger whole. And where there were once towers there will now be a sequence of streets and lakeside squares, one with a focal point water clock tower and an arcade of shops.
Homes will range from one-bedroom flats to four-bedroom houses and 45 per cent of the new properties will be “affordable”, either for rent or shared ownership. To register and find out more, visit www.peabody.org.uk/thamesmead or call 020 7021 4444.
Close to Gallions Reach on the opposite bank of the Thames in Beckton, Notting Hill Housing is building 1,500-home Royal Albert Wharf. Apartment blocks overlook a dock and a handsome Edwardian pump house, while a new bridge across the dock will link with shops, cafés and offices. Flats have enclosed winter gardens for year-round use and are priced from £350,000. Shared ownership is available. Call 020 8357 4579. London City Airport’s spectacular island runway in the middle of the dock somehow enhances the awesome urban setting. Certainly this is a part of the capital to live in if you like big skies, dramatic riverscapes and fast-improving transport links.
Though it still has the feel of a frontierland, you can buy into a cheaper London district with upside. The same applied to nearby Canary Wharf 20 years ago.
The Overground link from Abbey Wood to Barking, scheduled to open in 2021, is forecast to have a dramatic impact. Abbey Wood is also getting a Crossrail station in 2018, while at Barking an ambitious waterfront project with up to 11,000 homes is getting into its stride. This is the raw end of old east London, beyond Canary Wharf and Stratford, where the industrial legacy is one of derelict factories, breakers’ yards, freight depots, power stations and refineries clinging to the riverbanks. Barking Riverside covers 350 acres and in addition to all those homes, it will have several new schools, shops, GP surgeries, places of worship and community facilities. Caspian Quarter is the latest phase of homes. Prices from £234,995. Call Bellway on 01245 989989.
Barking’s centre, in Zone 4, is getting a facelift, too. Right next to the station is a new scheme called 360 Barking — a collection of towers with sky gardens and flats. Prices from £280,000. Call 020 3369 0157.