Wood Wharf, which is due to be completed in seven years, will provide up to 3,500 new homes and 2.6 million sq ft of residential space on land that was once part of the Docklands.
Over 30 years ago, Canary Wharf was nothing but a patch of derelict land that belonged to a dying London Docklands. What was once one of the busiest and biggest locations for the cargo trade suddenly declined after the shipping industry modernised itself with the use of containers and new machinery.
There was no longer an urgent need to have as many workers and many were left without jobs. The Docklands grew quieter as the years went on and within 20 years, it closed for good in 1980. Aerial footage captured from the 1980s shows rows of abandoned warehouses against a backdrop of eerily, quiet land which depicted a failing snapshot viewed by the rest of the world of Britain’s empire.
That is until Margaret Thatcher and her government saw huge potential in the deserted land and created the London Docklands Development Corporation (LLDC) in 1981, which had the vision to turn the Docklands into a financial district that would rival the City of London. The Docklands was to become an “enterprise zone” and Canary Wharf would feature a cluster of glossy skyscrapers that “would feel like Venice and work like New York”, as one advert boasted at the time. By 1991, One Canada Square was built in the heart of Canary Wharf and held the title of being the UK’s largest skyscraper for 21 years.
Over the course of three decades, Canary Wharf transformed into a hustling and bustling financial district where a sea of bankers, swanky bars and bougie restaurants replaced the derelict land and Docklands workers that were wiped out decades before.
But the story of Canary Wharf is not over yet, as a new neighbourhood that developers say will eventually deliver a “24-hour city” is being built next door. Wood Wharf will eventually provide up to 3,500 new homes and 2.6 million sq ft of residential space, and a Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that public benefits will include two primary schools and a leisure centre.
When the LDRS visited, a Canary Wharf Group worker who was on site, said: “Before it was corporate, all of the shops were high-end but we’re diversifying now, we’re bringing in people from the local area. It’s residential now, there’s been a big push, especially over the last few years because of Covid, while the offices are amazing [Canary Wharf Group] wanted to expand the portfolio and get more residents in and make it mixed-use.”
The worker said the completed flats have proven extremely popular so far, and said: “It’s got more of a neighbourhood feel, they’ve also got New York-style loft apartments.” The development is being completed in three phases and will take up to seven more years to build, the worker added.
On the type of people flocking to the area, the worker said: “We get a lot of young professionals, students from abroad coming over and studying in London. We’ve got the Elizabeth line now, as well as the Jubilee line and the Docklands Light Railway, it’s a good place to be.”
Of the thousands of flats being built there, a Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson told the LDRS that 25pc will be affordable and will be split into 80pc affordable rent and 20pc intermediate. The very first homes are already up for sale online and range from £715,00 for a studio and £2.4million for a three-bed, although Gheorghe, who lives in Dagenham but cleans areas in Canary Wharf, warned the development would not cater for the majority of people.
Gheorghe, who did not want to give his surname, said: “This is a luxury which not everyone can afford, it’s not good at all. This is costing a fortune to maintain, millions – they’ve got state security all over the place and treat themselves like a king here. It’s very expensive, all these tall glass buildings with no character. It looks like New York.”
Meanwhile, the borough has a severe problem of overcrowded housing, mould and damp, and Tower Hamlets mayor, Lutfur Rahman, has pledged to build 1,000 social rented homes every year until 2026 as part of his manifesto.
Residents living in luxury flats in neighbouring Canary Wharf are not immune to their own housing problems, as it was reported last year some residents paying up to £4,000 per month were subjected to leaks, mould and regular power cuts.
However, London’s housing crisis hasn’t stopped people like Oliver Taylor, who decided to move from his Hertfordshire home with his partner to rent a flat in Canary Wharf for a taste of the high-flying city life. Mr Taylor said: “We moved here because it appeared very clean, just the area in general and the value for money seemed really good as well.
“The main attraction was it’s new, it feels clean and it’s safe. It’s a high-end product, it’s not cheap but it’s quite a good value for money – compared to other places in London, it’s all new and nice.” Mr Taylor added that he rarely leaves the area because everything he needs is within reach however, he doesn’t intend to buy a flat to live in the area in the long term.
“Maybe if I had more money than I could spend and I wanted to sit and hold on something, but I wouldn’t buy to live here which is another reason why we rented – we were homeowners before – just because we wanted to come see it and check it out and move,” he added.
“I don’t have kids yet but I could imagine if we had kids we’d probably move. There are kids but it’s pretty much adults here, there’s quite a few University students in this building as well but excluding students most of the people in this building are aged between 30 to 50.”
A spokesperson for Canary Wharf Group, the developer behind the London Docklands regeneration, said: “Wood Wharf is Canary Wharf’s thriving new residential neighbourhood which will provide up to 3,500 new homes, with over 3,500 residents currently living there, 2m sq ft of office space, 350,000 sq ft of retail space and over nine acres of outdoor space.
“There will also be an NHS Surgery opening this Spring, a two-form primary school and a kindergarten which has already opened.”
A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council did not comment but provided a list of the benefits the development will bring to the borough:
- 25pc affordable housing by habitable room on site
- Health facility and an Idea Store
- Two form entry primary school
- Leisure Centre – discounted costs and membership arrangements for residents who have disabilities, full-time students and senior citizens
- 25,000 square metres of publicly accessible open space.
- £5.25m secured towards running bus capacity and infrastructure
- £2.5m for remodelling Preston’s Road Roundabout,
- £1.5m towards other off-site highway improvements
- £500,000 towards pedestrian improvements.
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