Mayor Boris Johnson and planners in Newham have put their latest proposals for the Royal Docks out to public consultation.
The new planning framework covers Royal Docks and Beckton Riverside, firming up previously outlined aspirations, and setting a more positive tone on necessary infrastructure improvements. The hope is that further sites will be opened up for development under the framework, with the potential to deliver 24,000 more homes and workspace for up to 60,000 jobs.
“This part of London was once a global standard-bearer for trade and industry and we are already bringing about a new era of prosperity with exciting schemes transforming Royal Albert Dock and Silvertown Quays,” said Johnson. “Now we want to take that success to a new level and transform further parts of the Royal Docks, capitalising on the potential of Crossrail and other transport infrastructure improvements to deliver more of the homes and jobs London so urgently needs.”
The consultation was announced at the MIPIM international property conference, where deputy mayor for planning Sir Edward Lister, and deputy mayor for housing, land and property Richard Blakeway were hopeful of lobbying investors and developers interested in taking projects in the capital forward. Said Lister: “With careful planning, the potential exists to build on the work we have already done at Royal Docks and deliver tens of thousands more homes and jobs. I hope this consultation brings forward exciting ideas about how we can further regenerate this historic part of the capital.”
The intention is that the new sites will gain momentum from recent development activity starting nearby. The Silvertown Partnership is starting work as Silvertown Quays, beginning with the restoration of the substantial Millennium Mills building as part of a mixed use business and residential development. On the north side of Royal Albert Dock, Chinese investor ABP has planning permission for a major financial and business district, which should start construction before long.
The Royal Docks and Beckton Riverside Opportunity Area covers a large swathe of the docklands, largely bounded by the river to the south and A13 to the north, with a finger heading north from Canning Town to West Ham at its western end. To the east, it is bounded by the Beckton sewage works and the river Roding.
Along the river, wharves are to be relocated and consolidated, freeing up further development sites to the immediate west of Royal Wharf, which is currently under construction. This will create what has been branded the Thameside West site, pencilled in for a mixed use scheme. Thameside East, another currently industrial district to the immediate south of the airport terminal, also has redevelopment potential.
Further east, Albert Island to the east of the City airport runway has been earmarked for employment use, while Beckton Riverside is a major town centre and mixed use opportunity.
The consultation comes as Transport for London start the ball rolling on the development of a new crossing, the Silvertown Tunnel, which will improve the cross river connection of the Blackwall Tunnel. A new, twin bore tunnel is proposed that would leave North Greenwich close to the existing Blackwall approach, and head east under the river, emerging near the western end of the Royal Victoria Dock.
Potential bidders are being canvassed, as TfL goes through the necessary legal steps to let the contract to design, build, finance and maintain the tunnel, which will collect tolls from users to fund the project. Construction start is pencilled in for 2018/19, with a completion in 2022/23.
Further east, a proposed Gallions Reach crossing that would link Beckton with Thamesmead received overwhelming support from a recent TfL public consultation. This, and an alternative link that would join Rainham and Belvedere, won the support of 77% of respondents. While the space for the Gallions Reach crossing has been safeguarded in the Royals plans, it is early days. No decision has been taken yet on whether a tunnel or bridge would be deployed, with nothing likely to be operational before 2025, even at the most optimistic estimate.
LPA Perspective: Finally, it feels as though the Royals are waking up. With some development activity taking place already, these new sites look as though they stand a chance of being developed in this decade, having sat fallow or in decline for the previous two.
Thankfully, the planners are steering the expectations of these sites away from the luxury moniker that has attached to far too much riverside development in recent years. Land values have not been bid up to such ridiculous levels as seen elsewhere, with the result that homes offered for sale in projects such as Royal Wharf are, relatively speaking, affordable for working Londoners.
Transport infrastructure remains a key issue for the Royals, with the river a key barrier preventing easy links to the south. The arrival of Crossrail with a station at Custom House will help improve the connectivity of the Royals substantially, and its attractiveness as a residential location for those working not just in the City, but further west. The City airport is conducting its own planning battle, hoping to win approval for further growth of its activities, something that will only improve the commercial attractiveness of the area.
Looking further ahead, the Silvertown Tunnel is now being talked about in positive tones, suggesting some relief on traffic, just as the development of North Greenwich comes along. But what is really needed is progress on the Gallions Reach crossing, a proposal that has changed names many times, but has never progressed beyond lines on many plans. It is desperately needed – and sooner rather than later.