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All change for Canada Water: epic 15-year project to turn overshadowed Zone 2 area into London’s newest town centre

·3-min read
Ahead of the curve: a promenade will go over the central quay (Handout)
Ahead of the curve: a promenade will go over the central quay (Handout)

Walking around the shops, restaurants and swanky offices (including the new Google HQ) in King’s Cross today, you’d have little inkling that 20 years ago the area was predominantly industrial and railway backlands with a reputation for drug dealing and sex work. Now, the man who oversaw that transformation has set his sights further east, on the former docklands of Canada Water.

Roger Madelin is leading listed property developer British Land’s project to turn the quiet, residential area in the shadow of Canary Wharf — currently dominated by old industrial docks, post-war housing, a shopping centre and a car park — into London’s newest town centre.

Work has started on the 15-year masterplan for a 53-acre urban hub, built in the nook of the river. British Land will deliver 3,000 new homes on the site. A 35-storey tower of 186 apartments will be built first, overlooking the central quay called Canada Water Dock (canadawater.co.uk/homes). These will be launched in the autumn with prices expected to start almost 20 per cent below the £791,141 average for a new build in Zone 2.

The red-brick maisonette blocks and Sixties council housing will remain untouched but Surrey Quays shopping centre and Tesco will be demolished to make way for offices, covering 2.5 million sq ft and providing jobs for 20,000 people. A new high street of restaurants and cafes will be carved out of the old car park and a leisure centre built for Southwark residents.

The Paper Garden, where local children attend educational workshops to learn about ecology, run by the charity Global Generation (Handout)
The Paper Garden, where local children attend educational workshops to learn about ecology, run by the charity Global Generation (Handout)

A curving red promenade is being built to skim the top of the water of the central quay. Canada Water has some unique assets, not to be meddled with. There’s a theatre and library, designed by Piers Gough and CZWG Architects. The old Daily Mail and General Trust Group print works — where the Evening Standard used to run off the press machines — is now a vast concrete shell covering 107,000 sq ft and home to Printworks nightclub.

Madelin is considering how to create a separate section for water sports for residents only, without a wave of swimmers descending from all over. This has been one of many dilemmas. Another was what to do with the Printworks. It’s a huge building and costly to run. The events programme must appeal to locals and not disturb them, Madelin tells Homes & Property.

“My wife told me I must keep the Printworks, but the issue was making sure it is financially viable,” he says. After much deliberation and planning, British Land confirmed this week that there is now a plan in place to retrofit the structure and provide a mix of workspaces and cultural venues.

Madelin is making ambitious claims about the sustainability credentials of the scheme, promising Canada Water will be the biggest net zero neighbourhood in the UK by 2030. A spokeswoman for the company says: “The project is the first in the UK to use cement-free concrete in construction of permanent buildings which cuts embodied carbon by 45 per cent.”

Rather than using a district-wide heating network where energy inevitably leaks, each of the 40 buildings will have its own system powered by air and water source heat pumps and excess energy will be recycled from the offices into the homes. Meanwhile, 1,000 electric charging points will be installed, 1,200 trees planted, 10,000 bike spaces added and cycle paths created.

Next to Printworks is the new Paper Garden, where local children attend educational workshops to learn about ecology, run by the charity Global Generation. This also a test bed for sustainable materials, with attempts to make walls out of ends of discarded railway sleepers, rather than brick.

At King’s Cross, when working for competitor Argent, Madelin created a regeneration scheme widely deemed a rare planning success. But the cost of some of the residential projects has been scrutinised, with a three-bedroom penthouse on sale for £7,500,000. This doesn’t seem to be the destiny of Canada Water, as 35 per cent of new homes will be “affordable” and 70 per cent of those will be social housing.

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