Development hotspots – Stratford, Canning Town and the Royal Docks

Wednesday 14 November 2012

The momentum for London’s eastward shift shows no sign of abating, with the post-Olympic landscape aided by infrastructural improvements and major investment.

So said Clive Dutton, executive director for regeneration and inward investment at LB Newham, at a special NLA conference yesterday, organised to discuss development hotspots at Stratford, Canning Town and the Royal Docks.

Dutton said that people could rest assured that regeneration in these areas was not a ‘one-trick pony’ around the Olympics, but was part of a strategy whose ‘golden threads’ were about improving the quality of life for people in the area. Drawing on the stable political backdrop and ‘pro-development’ ethos of the borough, change was taking place on an unprecedented scale, he said, with the eastward move of London’s centre of gravity clearly shown in the changing tube map, quickly acquiring new stations to the east. Furthermore, as set out in Boris Johnson’s London Plan ‘refresh’, this eastward regeneration for Newham is London’s priority for the next 20 years, with jobs underpinning that push from the local authority’s stated perspective. ‘We’re creating a new city in a capital city’, said Dutton.

But it is also the pace of developmental change which has been evident, with the cable car and the conference venue itself – the Siemens Crystal – having sprung up from first concept through to completion inside 24 months.

What comes next, said Paul Brickell, executive director of regeneration and community partnerships at London Legacy Development Corporation, is work to ready the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the area – the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. ‘Our job is to use it to attract business investment’, he said. ‘It needs to be full of people and life’. The LLDC got the keys to the park two weeks ago and work has already begun to dismantle the temporary wings on the Zaha Hadid-designed.  Aquatics Centre. But there is work to be done in terms of allowing people better access to the waterways, before phased openings, first of the Greenway inside a few weeks, and in 2013 the opening of the north park. Brickell drew parallels with Bloomsbury 180 years ago, which was then a growth area of London blessed with the opening of Regent’s Park, then Heals and others on Tottenham Court Road, along with Birkbeck University and UCL. ‘Our task is to take the park and see it in its proper context, as a real lever for change.’

Adam Harman, project director for UCL Stratford at Drivers Jonas Deloitte took up this theme, outlining the way that UCL – now 4th in the world rankings of universities ahead of places like Oxford and Yale – is seeking new capacity, but again in an ‘edge of central London location’. In truth it is a site of similar size to UCL’s current home less than 6 miles away and 7 minutes on the Javelin from St Pancras to Stratford International, but the new project will mean around 1.5-3 million square foot of space including 480,000 sq ft of non-UCL residential. ‘With a fair wind and no legal challenge we will get a spade in the ground in 2016 and occupation in 2019’, said Harman.

iCity, too, is intending to bring in educational facilities alongside commerce, said its business development director Richard Gibbs. The preferred bidder for the former Media and Broadcasting Centre is partnering Loughborough University, which wants to set up a post-grad campus there. Lend Lease project director for the international quarter Matt Beasley, meanwhile, said the scale of his firm’s development – some 4m sq ft was an important, but it was also crucial to avoid producing ‘faceless commercial buildings’. Stratford is also home to Manhattan Loft Corporation CEO Harry Handelsman’s latest idea, the Manhattan Loft Gardens. Handelsman said the scheme – a mix of hotels and apartments – will ‘redefine’ high rise living, with its three sky gardens inspired by London’s garden squares.

The conference also heard from speakers including Masume Hidayatullah, senior manager at Bouygues Development, who ran the audience through her company’s plans for a mixed use development in Canning Town, including 1100 new homes, a hotel, retail and medical centre. ‘It’s very much about modern city living’ she said. London City Airport chief executive Declan Collier showed plans to expand the airport and reach further afield, thanks to a new generation of cleaner, quieter aircraft with greater range, as well as plans for two new hotels and ‘Chateau London City’ created through a new on site vineyard. And finally, RoDMA managing director Mike Luddy – whose great uncle looked after West India Dock ‘chasing people off the water’ said that the area could also receive a considerable boost through regeneration of the Royal Docks. After 82 masterplans for this area, it was time to achieve something which stops people from simply turning back after they arrive from Greenwich via the cable car. Ideas for the area include a floating village with cultural performances, with activity on the waterfront loosely modelled on places such as Hamburg’s HafenCity, as well as a proposal for a new maritime centre. ‘We need to start to create a sense of excitement’, said Luddy. ‘We’re seeking to create a unique place here.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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