Mention London’s docklands to most people and thoughts will immediately turn to Canary Wharf, with its plethora of skyscrapers, a model for the redevelopment of similar areas across the UK.
However, not all of London’s docklands have flourished in this fashion, least of all Silvertown, one of the largest brownfield areas by the river after many years of dereliction.
In some respects it might seem unlikely that redevelopment would pass the district by. After all, it is not far from Canary Wharf, it is adjacent to London City Airport and it is served by the Docklands Light Railway, with the vicinity now being further connected by the arrival of Crossrail at Custom House. All this and London mayor Sadiq Khan has made the decision to move City Hall to the area.
However, the underlying infrastructure is greatly lacking. The iconic Millennium Mills lies derelict, economically useful only to the film and TV industry. The walls of the Royal Victoria Dock are in poor state, which has held back potential projects in the past, while means of getting around by foot or bike are limited.
For that reason, a new loan of infrastructure funding from Homes England is vital. The £233 million provided will rejuvenate Millennium Mills, fix those crumbling dock walls and provide greatly improved access, such as a cycle and footbridge across the Royal Victoria Dock to Custom House Station as well as new waterside jetties and widened canalside paths.
All this is vital to kickstart a £3.5 billion project to transform the area. The Silvertown Partnership, a joint venture involving Lendlease and Starwood Capital, will aim to build over 6,000 homes over the coming decade, as well as providing 1.8 million sq ft of new commercial and business space in a new town centre, aimed at creating thousands of jobs.
Where once there was blight, builders will soon be showing up with concrete bricks and blocks, making Silvertown a very different place.
The importance of the Homes England loan was highlighted by Mr Khan, who said: “I am delighted to see work getting underway at this landmark east London location that has vexed planners and politicians alike for the last 40 years.”
Chair of Homes England Peter Freeman was equally enthused at the prospects for Silvertown, stating: “This infrastructure funding will enable The Silvertown Partnership to create new communities in the heart of East London and bring swathes of derelict brownfield land back to life.”
Ultimately, there is a clear need to develop brownfield land in east London, as this is where much of the capital’s future population growth is set to happen.
Indeed, this was borne out by the recent 2021 Census figures, which revealed the highest increase in population by London borough was in Tower Hamlets, at 22 per cent, and Barking and Dagenham at nearly 18 per cent. The latter’s population soared partly thanks to the 10,000 home Barking Riverside scheme on the old Barking Power Station site.
These boroughs lie on the north bank of the Thames either side of Newham, the borough that includes Silvertown. Its own population was up by 14 per cent, indicating the strength of demand for housing, something that the next few years will bring to the docklands in a transformative way.