A developer has revealed plans to create “affordable offices” at a new Docklands project, designed to stop small, growing companies from being forced out of the capital.
The Republic at East India is designed to create an urban campus to support a community of new creative and tech businesses. And the repurposing of the 1990s office development comes after a failed attempt to convert it to rental homes.
Developer Trilogy, backed by investor LaSalle Asset Management, aims to create space for start-ups and young creative companies being priced out of the area around Silicon Roundabout and Shoreditch, where commercial property rents are rising. Early lettings at the project will be priced at around £35 per sq ft, it is envisaged.
“There’s a war for talent in London, and we want to make sure it’s ‘priced in’ rather than priced out,” said Trilogy’s Robert Wolstenholme. “As growing businesses move out of Shoreditch in droves, Republic will not only be affordable for this talented, next-gen workforce, it will be an environment which encourages a sense of innovation and community in a part of London fast becoming a new cultural and digital hub.”
Trilogy bought the East India Dock office complex at the end of 2015, paying £170 million for the 600,000 sq ft development complete with a variety of office tenants, many of them coming to the end of leases. The seller, Criterion Capital, had bought the development in 2006 and more recently had applied to redevelop the buildings into apartments for its growing private rented portfolio.
While it did win approval to convert three of the buildings into residential under permitted development rights, creating 431 units, Criterion also pushed for a more comprehensive redevelopment. Tower Hamlets, however, refused permission redevelop the blocks to provide 1,389 flats, a project that included a 38 storey tower. And, with several other private rented projects on the go, Criterion opted not to spend the time and effort appealing the decision.
The development was originally built in 1993 in a post modern style, and contains four office blocks rising up to nine storeys, on an island site. The blocks vary in size from 64,000 sq ft to 218,000 sq ft with floorplates ranging between 13,000 sq ft and 28,000 sq ft. Trilogy has hired architects Studio RHE and creative agency Hingston Studio to develop the style and branding of the refurbishment.
LaSalle Investment Management is backing the project, and director Andrew Meyrick explained the rationale: “Republic at East India is strategically located in the fastest growing borough in the UK, which is already benefitting from changing demographics and the impact of tech on demand for contemporary workspace. Republic will quickly meet this growing demand by providing competitively priced space that will appeal to innovators and creatives looking for a stimulating work and lifestyle environment in London.”
Wolstenholme has noted the eastward migration of the creative and digital sectors, with English National Ballet moving to London City Island, and the Here East project taking shape in the Olympic Park. He added: “We’re talking to some top creative, cultural and tech occupiers, who would be catalysts for the emergence of a new hub for next-generation talent at East India Dock.”
The sterile, urban environment of the 1990s design is set to be replaced with extensive landscaping, creating a series of external spaces. A retail offer will include independent shops and food offerings. A first phase will see two of the four blocks, Anchorage House and Capstan House, refurbished initially, providing 425,000 sq ft of space. While the site is surrounded by roads and rail lines, it has the benefit of close proximity to East India DLR station, and to Cycle Superhighway 3 – with the promise of improved connectivity west, when Crossrail starts operations.
LPA Perspective: Criterion Capital’s plans to redevelop the tired East India Dock offices fell foul of Tower Hamlets planners, who were keen to retain the site’s employment use. They have got what they wanted, and perhaps more, with Trilogy’s new plans.
And with the tired office blocks’ 25 year leases coming to an end, Trilogy is taking on a big challenge – re-engineering them without spending too much money, while creating a trendy space from blocks originally built as straight spec offices. Increasing refurbishment was something former City planner Peter Rees predicted, and this is one of the most daring makeovers we have seen to date.
Should Trilogy succeed in creating a new, trendy destination for the tech sector, then it will not only have a massive success on its hands, it will also add to the pull of the capital eastwards. And Tower Hamlets will be vindicated in its strategy of seeking to resist the march of the residential towers in its borough.