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Last updated: April 14, 2012 12:11 am
London’s Royal Docks, situated to the east of Canary Wharf, were once a thriving centre of industry, accommodating ship builders, sugar refineries, gasworks and flour mills. The huge inland docks created employment opportunities and brought scores of workers to live in the area.
Today few traces remain of this industrial heritage, but there are hopes that it will once again become a hive of activity. Boosted by new residential apartments, “enterprise zone” status and regeneration projects planned to coincide with the Olympics, the Royal Docks, described by London’s mayor Boris Johnson as “the most exciting development opportunity in London”, are generating investor interest and offering residential buyers a viable alternative to Canary Wharf.
The three Royal Docks, Victoria, Albert and George, lie south of Stratford and north of the Thames. After the docks closed as commercial concerns in the 1980s, the communities in these areas suffered and much of the land stood empty. But over the past 30 years more than £500m has been invested in leisure, education and commercial infrastructure, including London City Airport, the ExCeL exhibition centre and Dockland Light Railway (DLR) transport connections.
Although there are pockets of terraced houses, the majority of property is new-build and there is a range of different developments to choose from. The oldest of these were completed in the 1990s but most of them offer lots of steel and glass, urban views over east London and the usual mod cons. While the choice of property is similar to that on offer in nearby Canary Wharf, the prices are significantly lower. “There is good value for money out there,” says Lauren Ireland of Savills. Buyers can find a decent penthouse for around £800,000, which equates to around £450 to £500 per sq ft compared to £700 per sq ft in Canary Wharf.
Ireland says that the most upmarket developments are on the north side of the Royal Docks near the ExCeL exhibition centre where the Crossrail transport link will arrive in 2017, providing a fast connection to the City and Heathrow. Savills are selling a three-bedroom penthouse with views over Victoria Dock in the Capital East development for £625,000. For something with more industrial character, £315,000 will buy a one-bedroom warehouse conversion with its own parking space in the Warehouse W development near ExCeL and Custom House DLR station (also on the market with Savills).
The Docks have the advantage of being one of the few places in London where there are still large expanses of space and water, albeit with some of it marred by cranes and the building work that is due to continue for the next few years. Although much of the residential construction had ground to a halt in recent years, new developments are once again in full swing. Ballymore recently received planning permission to build over 3,000 homes as well as shops and restaurants on Minoco Wharf, a 41-acre site. Barratt Homes are marketing a new development, Waterside Park, on the south side of the Royal Docks. It will provide 496 homes by 2014 and the first stage of the development is nearly complete. Prices for a two-bedroom apartment start at around £350,000 and three-bedroom units are on at around £520,000.
Proximity to the Olympic park has been another driving factor behind the regeneration of the area. Residents can look forward to a new cable car service – The Emirates Air Line – that will link two Olympics sites, the ExCeL centre and the O2 centre. Whether it will be the valuable transport link that Newham Council claim it will be, or simply a tourist attraction, is another question: “I think it is a bit of a folly,” says Savage, “and I certainly don’t think it is going to impact on the price of property.”
Savage believes that that the area’s designation as a business enterprise zone, and the tax breaks this brings, is likely to have a stronger impact on the Docks. Siemens is investing £30m in a research and conference centre, expected to attract 100,000 visitors a year, and it is hoped that other technology businesses will follow their lead.
Efforts are also being made to improve amenities and make the area more appealing. This summer the London Pleasure Gardens, a collaboration between groups including RIBA, Newham Council and the London Development Agency, will open in another disused part of the area, Pontoon Dock. The former brownfield site will eventually include a pop-up hotel, arts and concert venues and a sculpture trail.
While Pleasure Gardens is a “meanwhile” project (the result of a competition to find temporary use for the land before it is redeveloped in several years time), it is hoped that it will help accelerate the regeneration of the area. “The biggest problem with the Royal Docks is that nobody really wants to go there,” says Deborah Armstrong, creative director of the London Pleasure Gardens. “There are the facilities at ExCeL and hotel bars, but it is largely just houses and the tube station. When people go out, they go into town or to Canary Wharf so what we are doing is creating a heart and a hub.”
It may take some time before the Docks can offer the glamorous amenities of Canary Wharf but Savage believes it will get there: “The first thing you have got to do is build the residential units, otherwise shops and other facilities won’t move into the area. It will take a decade or so. But one thing is for sure: with all its open space, the Royal Docks is going to be a very attractive area.”
● Investment opportunities
● Good road and transport links
● Waterside living
● Lack of high-end restaurants, entertainment, arts and shops
● Many buildings lack character
● Not much to offer families
What you can buy for ...
£100,000: A mediocre one-bedroom apartment near City Airport (no waterside views)
£1,000,000: A three-bedroom penthouse with splendid views and change to spare
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