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London regeneration - Royal Docks: the East End’s latest hotspot?

Property Investor Today recently visited the Royal Docks to witness first-hand its dramatic facelift.

One of London’s most successful regeneration projects of recent years has been the transformation of the Royal Docks from a barren industrial wasteland into a thriving, well-connected community.

The area, an important trading post for Britain during the Empire years, fell into dramatic decline from the 1960s as London’s inner docklands slowly became redundant. Containerisation meant London's docks had to move further downstream – to places like Chatham and Tilbury - so that they could accommodate larger ships.

London regeneration - Royal Docks: the East End’s latest hotspot?

Despite this, the Royal Docks remained open to commercial traffic until 1981, much later than rival docks further upstream.

The loss of traffic and industry, however – coupled with a lack of government investment - left it in the doldrums for much of the 1980s and early 1990s.

In recent years, though, it has bounced back and reinvented itself as a residential, commercial and event hub. Here, we explore that journey.

Empty wasteland transformed

To provide a proper insight into the local area and its recent transformation, the ever-friendly team at JOHNS&CO – one of the leading sales and letting agents in the Royal Docks area – agreed to show us round. Chris Osmond, sales director at JOHNS&CO, took on the role of tour guide, a job he is more than qualified for having worked in the area since 2002 and seeing first-hand the significant changes it has undergone.

In order to get an aerial perspective of the area, we meet at the Greenwich Peninsula stop of the Emirates Air Line cable car (the most direct way of travelling from the O2 Arena to the Royal Docks, but, going by the number of empty cars, far from the most popular one), where we quickly embark and head skywards.

London regeneration - Royal Docks: the East End’s latest hotspot?

Despite the huge improvements on both sides of the river in the last few decades, the success of the cable car has been underwhelming and it’s become something of a commuter ghost-town – but the coverage it received as part of the London 2012 Olympics did help to increase awareness of the Royal Docks.

And, if nothing else, it offers some fantastic views of the London landscape and the regeneration works below.

As we descend, Osmond points out the various developments – many long since complete, others still in the works – including Capital East from Barratt Homes and Strawberry Star’s Hoola tower (both in Royal Victoria Docks). There is also Ballymore’s Goodluck Hope – a new riverside neighbourhood made up of 804 homes – and EcoWorld Ballymore’s London City Island project.

You can also see The Crystal, owned and operated by tech giant Siemens as a global hub for debate on sustainable living and development, London City Airport and ExCel London (the arrival of which in 2004 was a real game-changer for the whole area).

The regeneration of the area was first kickstarted by the Barrier Point Road development – an award-winning Art Deco-style scheme which arrived in the late 90s. Back then, though, it was very lonely.

“I can’t emphasise just how isolated it was,” Osmond says. “A lovely building, but no local amenities, nothing surrounding it, nothing to bring people there.”  

It was the ExCel – now one of the world’s largest conference and exhibition centres – which really changed everything. Suddenly people were coming to the area on the weekend, and from that restaurants, hotels, cafes, shops and pop-up food markets started to appear. The area became surprisingly family-friendly, with plenty of green space (including Thames Barrier Park and Lyle Park), places to eat and an increasing number of attractions.

This included WakeUp Docklands - offering a variety of water sports in an inner-city environment – and Good Hotel London, a former prison barge converted into a floating hotel and social enterprise project.

Like much of East London, the Royal Docks and nearby Canning Town were given a major boost by the 2012 Olympics, which made the East End fashionable again. “Near Canning Town station, there was nothing there, up until six years ago,” Osmond, a passionate and amiable host throughout, adds. “The area as a whole has seen a huge change in the last 17 years – with so many new developments in that time.”

Once we’re back on firm ground, we’re whisked to the Royal Wharf redevelopment – devised by Ballymore Oxley – which offers a range of townhouses, duplexes and apartments. We’re given a tour of one of the townhouses – which make up 84 of the development’s 3,500 units, and generally sell for around £1.1 million – with each house having outside space, a balcony and (on non-rainy days) excellent views.

London regeneration - Royal Docks: the East End’s latest hotspot?

The four-bedroom homes, arranged across four floors, are nearly 2,500 sq ft in size – which means, while the price is undeniably high, you get a lot of bang for your buck. Buyers and tenants also have access to a 24-hour concierge, gym, pool, green space, a soon to be constructed children’s play area and numerous eateries.

While most of the townhouses are owner-occupied, many of the apartments in the development – equally well-finished and luxury – have been purchased by investors for rental.   

What does Royal Wharf offer?

Royal Wharf, arguably the flagship development of the whole Royal Docks regeneration scheme, has a number of things to recommend it, including a state-of-the-art, 25,000 sq ft clubhouse exclusively for residents, home to a 25m pool, hydro pool, sauna, steam room, gym and studio.

The development is also home to a number of shops – a nail bar, pharmacy, hair salon and a Sainsbury’s Local – as well as a Starbucks and independent cafes.

A number of new restaurants – to turn the development into more of a foodie hub than it currently is – are set to arrive soon, including Sushinoen (authentic Japanese home cooking and freshly-made sushi), L'Atelier (which offers a modern twist on classic French cuisine), Azuma (a Taiwanese restaurant), Kaboom Lounge (providing a contemporary twist on classic Mediterranean dishes) and The Windjammer, a new riverside Fuller’s pub set to open later this year.

London regeneration - Royal Docks: the East End’s latest hotspot?

One of the 40-acre development’s major selling points is transport links, flanked on either side by a DLR station (West Silvertown and Pontoon Dock). The Thames Clipper river bus service is set to stop at Royal Wharf imminently, while Crossrail will serve the area via Custom House (a 20-minute walk from Royal Wharf).

Matt Johnson, sales manager at JOHNS&CO Royal Wharf, commented:“Royal Wharf offers excellent value for money compared with Canary Wharf, whilst still offering a premium product with world-class facilities. With the development still beginning to establish itself, when all of the commercial spaces are taken up and with Crossrail and the Thames Clipper opening soon, we expect the development should outperform the wider sales market.”

Johnson adds: “There is a great opportunity for price growth as the development continues to establish itself amongst buyers and tenants and more commercial units open.”

With regards to the rental market, he says: “Royal Wharf has already increased the popularity of the area dramatically. Renting in E16 has become an attractive proposition and offers fantastic value for renters also looking for a premium product.”

Property Type

Average Sales Price 2019

Average Lettings Price 2019

Studio flat

£300-£335k

£300pw

1 bed flat

£375-£425k

£360pw

2 bed flat

£560-£650k

£450pw

3 bed flat  

£650k-£1m

£550pw


What is still to come?

As Osmond tells us, the area is still developing with significant growth to be had. “It’s only 20% done, there is still a lot to go,” he says. “Eight or nine years ago, much of this didn’t exist – there’s been a massive transformation. Come back in 10 years and it will be drastically different again.”

The first phase of ABP’s Royal Albert Dock site – a £1.7 billion mixed-used scheme with a 26-year lifespan – recently completed. The Chinese developers behind the scheme, set to be a European hub for Far Eastern investors, recently committed themselves to the business district despite Brexit uncertainty and the UK’s potentially diminished role on the global stage.

The scheme, found at 1,000 Dockside Road, is set to deliver 4.7million sq ft of development on a 35-acre site, creating a new business district with supporting residential, retail and leisure facilities across 88 new buildings and three restored historic buildings.

London regeneration - Royal Docks: the East End’s latest hotspot?

There’s also the planned redevelopment of Millennium Mills, a derelict, turn of the 20th century flour mill, on the south side of the Royal Victoria Dock. The plans, developed by Mumbai-headquartered Essel Group, would create a world-class visitor attraction, hotel and leisure complex celebrating India’s culture and history, as well as 3,500 homes.

However, the plans – part of the £3.5billion Silvertown Partnership regeneration project – are on hold at present thanks to a dispute between Essel Group chairman Subhash Chandra and the GLA, with no concrete dates on when work will begin.

How could the area be improved?

The area has many strengths – strong transport links, a lack of exclusivity, a riverside location, a family-friendly, community-led vibe – but is slightly lacking from a cultural point of view. While there are cinemas at the O2 and Canary Wharf, and artists' studios and gallery space at Trinity Buoy Wharf in nearby Poplar, the Royal Docks itself doesn’t play host to any cinemas, theatres, galleries or other cultural spaces.

Overall, though, it’s hard to argue with the success of its recent revival and it appears to have lots to be excited about for the future. 

The next part of this series will focus on Old Kent Road

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