There are hopes that the Royal Docks will finally see substantive development, after the last 20 years of advances in fits and starts.
According to mayor Boris Johnson’s City in the East vision, the Royals has the potential to deliver 15,000 homes and up to 40,000 jobs, predominantly out of the development of four key projects in the 1,100 ha area. These numbers have been substantially ramped up from the 2004 estimate of 6,000 homes and 12,500 jobs, contained in the London Plan at that time.
According to a London First review of Opportunity Areas in mid 2015, the Royal Docks and Beckton are an area that will require minimal support, being able to progress thanks to market operators and normal borough policies.
The westernmost of the four development areas is Thameside West, stretching upstream from the Thames Barrier on the riverside. One strategic site here is Minoco Wharf, which offers 18ha for redevelopment to create a new neighbourhood. Singaporean developer Oxley is delivering Royal Wharf alongside local partner Ballymore, a masterplanned community designed by Glenn Howells Architects with 3,385 homes housing up to 10,000 new residents. Phase one of the project is already well under way, with the first residents likely to be moving in towards the end of 2016. The intention is that the whole project will be delivered quickly, within five years.
Also now starting to take shape is Silvertown Quays. As previously reported in London Planning Analyst, this long-stalled development is now starting on site, aiming to deliver 3,000 new homes, and up to 5 million sq ft of business space, reusing the historic mill buildings on the site.
At the east end of the Royal Docks is Albert Island, a site owned by the Greater London Authority where expressions of development partner interest are being sought via agents DTZ. The intention is for the 10ha site to be redeveloped with commercial space, while also improving the connectivity of the site. Surrounded by docks, locks and the Thames, the site is also constrained by its proximity to the end of the City airport runway. It is hoped that a preferred bidder can be selected before this summer. Deputy mayor Richard Blakeway commented of the site: “The development of Albert Island with a new boatyard and marina would provide key maintenance and accommodation facilities for marine traffic, and new employment space that would help bring more skilled jobs to the area. It’s a unique opportunity for developers and follows recent significant progress to regenerate major sites in the area.”
A fourth site at Beckton Riverside has the potential to add a further 1,600 homes. Here, Newham Council is a significant landowner of sites to the north of Albert Basin. The site already has public transport, in the form of Gallions Reach DLR station. The area also has space for a possible river crossing, one of many bridges proposed in Transport for London’s recent publication outlining its hopes for better transport links across the river.
LPA Perspective: The Royals have seen some exciting developments, stretching out over many years. The City airport opened in 1987, the brainchild of a construction company chairman who believed in the concept, which has turned out to be a great success after his passing. The Excel exhibition centre, too, has become the capital’s default exhibition venue, helped by the demise of alternatives such as Earl’s Court.
But there have also been many stalled plans, and decades of development opportunity lost. Not least, there was a failure to commit to infrastructure, and there remains a sad lack of any impetus to improve river crossings. The mayor’s cable car is a modest contribution, while the embarrassing story of the East London River Crossing shows how minister after government minister has found it easier to ignore recommendations to act; while the Docklands Light Railway was, latterly, extended into the Royals.
With Silvertown Quays now under construction, and Royal Wharf proceeding at a pace, backed by Singaporean capital, there appears to be more impetus about the Royals than for a long time. And Chinese investors are poised to start work on the north side of Royal Albert Dock, which promises to deliver 4.7 million sq ft of commercial space in the Asian Business District. A first phase is promised by the end of 2017.