Plans to bring the derelict Millennium Mills building in London’s Royal Docks back into use have been given the go-ahead from the mayor’s office. The permission means that, after several false starts, a major slice of land in the Royal Docks will finally come back into reuse.
The approval covers a 62 acre site at Silvertown Quays, including Millennium Mills. A new tech and creative hub for the east of the city is promised, with 5 million sq ft of commercial space including purpose built product innovation centres, restaurants and galleries. The project will also deliver 3,000 homes and public spaces.
Preparatory work is already under way on the site, which has included stripping out parts of the interior of the Millennium Mills structures, and removing asbestos.
London mayor Boris Johnson said as the approval was announced: “By breathing new life into this wonderful old flour mill we can rejuvenate this area of east London and contribute some serious dough to the capital’s economy. Silvertown Quays will provide thousands of new jobs and thousands of much-needed new homes and facilities for local people as we return the area to its former glory.”
Sir Stuart Lipton, who leads The Silvertown Partnership, said: “This is an important milestone for Silvertown. The decision by the mayor ensures that this derelict and forgotten piece of east London is reinvented as a new creative hub for our capital – drawing the world’s best creative talent, most ambitious start-ups and most innovative businesses – to make, show and share. This energetic and exciting new London destination will also bring forward 3,000 new homes, thousands of jobs and long term benefits for the local and London economy.”
Progress comes after the site spent the last decade in limbo. In 2001, a redevelopment was proposed supported by public private partnership Silvertown Quays Ltd and the LDA. The promised scheme that would have seen the mill building converted to 400 flats was approved in 2007, and included a massive aquarium attraction, but never progressed due to the lack of a substantial funding partner. Talks with the Abu Dhabi government, which owns the nearby Excel exhibition centre, failed to draw in investment, and the LDA terminated the project in 2010.
In 2011, the site’s owner the London Development Agency started to look for fresh developer input, with the aim of selling the site. Mayor Johnson called for developers to come up with development proposals for the site, and shortlisted three proposals, from Berkeley Homes, a Delancey consortium, and a Chelsfield consortium drawing together Sir Stuart Lipton, First Base and Imagination Europe. The Chelsfield scheme was selected to take forward.
The current scheme was first floated in 2012 when Chelsfield Partners proposed a “brand experience” park as part of a masterplan for the site. This element was inspired by the arrival in the area of Siemens, which has built its own innovation pavilion. “What Davos is to economics, we want Silvertown to become to innovation,” said Chelsfield development partner Andrew Unterhalter.
Initial backing came from Australian investors Macquarie Capital in 2014, with the intention of bringing in further long term equity partners.
The hope is that a first phase of development will be complete in 2018, bringing an initial tranche of the site back into use.
The site was used as a flour mill until the mid 1980s, and was then sold to the London Docklands Development Corporation in the early 1990s. Millennium Mill was one of three built in the docklands, and at its peak processed 100 sacks of flour an hour. The mill was badly damaged in 1917, when a nearby munitions factory blew up, affecting an area of 17 acres around it. The mill’s grain stores and silos were badly damaged.
Millennium Mill was rebuilt in 1933 by new owner Spillers, with art deco remodelling, though the building was again damaged during bombing raids in the Second World War. Rebuilt once more, it thrived until the Royal Docks closed in the 1980s.
LPA Perspective: One of the capital’s last great industrial relics is finally seeing progress. Few will lament the move, apart perhaps from a few music video producers, who were the only users of the site for the last couple of decades.
What is extraordinary, is that the site has taken so long to get off the ground. Perhaps that is a damning inditement of public ownership that has seen almighty dithering and delays, perhaps it is a side effect of the massive scale of a site that would have been much easier to develop, had it been broken into manageable chunks.
It appears to have taken the arrival of Crossrail to finally get this development site moving, while government funding has paid to remove the asbestos from the mill building and get preparatory work going.
There are still hurdles to face. Macquarie has said it will only pump prime the project, and is on the search for other funders to buy into the scheme. It was a lack of funding that held up the previous plans for this site; let’s hope the development gains momentum – and finds a substantial backer – this time.