It’s 20 years since Bellway Homes acquired a stake in 179 ha of land in the Thames Estuary and seven since outline consent was granted for 10,800 homes. As London faces a housing crisis, why have only 350 new homes been completed at Barking Riverside?
On a weekday morning, Barking town centre is abuzz with activity.
Cranes tower overhead delivering modern flats, sports facilities and retail schemes alongside centuries-old abbey ruins, while on the ground, commuters weave through East End market stalls to the train station that connects them to central London in just 15 minutes.
But travel 30 to 40 minutes by bus from the town centre, and the atmosphere at Barking Riverside is very different.
Roads leading to this fledgling residential estate are quiet; there are no shops or cafes.
On the morning that mayor of London Boris Johnson hops off the EL1 bus to launch his London Infrastructure Plan 2050, only one resident opens his front door to see what the fuss is about.
Bellway Homes and the Homes and Communities Agency formed a joint venture in 2003 and were granted outline planning permission for 10,800 homes at Barking Riverside in 2007.
The plan was to build a new community for around 26,000 people. But only 350 houses have been completed on the site to date.
With an escalating housing crisis in the capital, what will it take to increase the scale of housebuilding on a site secured a generation ago?
No train, no gain
Slow progress is blamed on the absence of transport infrastructure connecting the 179 ha Barking Riverside site to Barking town centre and its station served by the London Underground, the Overground and franchise c2c Rail.
Without construction of a new rail link and a station at Barking Riverside, planning agreements made in 2007 mean the housing scheme will be capped at just 1,200 units.
“A rail scheme will drive an increase in value of the end product. The next phase is infrastructure-driven, and we need certain land values before we will make a commitment”
Richard Burrows, Bellway Homes
Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council Darren Rodwell explains that the planning authority would have insisted on the building cap due to the importance of developers fulfilling their social responsibility to ‘place’ creation, rather than building 11,000 homes isolated from established community facilities.
“It’s great that all this is going to happen, but we’ve got to be fair to the people who already live here, and we’ve got to be fair to the people who are moving here,” he says.
“[The council] had the planning side of things, so back then we were saying, ‘Actually you need infrastructure’. And, funnily, it’s the same conversation we’re having today in 2014.”
Bellway Homes believes it is “not viable” to build out the land until the area gets a rail link.
Its managing director for Essex, including the Barking Riverside development, Richard Burrows says: “A rail scheme will drive an increase in value of the end product.
“The next phase of the scheme is heavily infrastructure-driven, and we need certain land values before we will make a commitment.”
Timeline of the development
1994 Bellway Homes acquires 179 ha brownfield site between the A13 and the River Thames, previously occupied by Barking Power Station. Around 1,000 homes are built by the end of the 1990s.
2003 Bellway and the Homes and Communities Agency form a 51:49 joint venture, Barking Riverside Limited, to deliver a housing-led regeneration scheme. The HCA is replaced by the GLA in 2012.
2007 Outline planning permission is granted for 10,800 homes. A section 106 agreement provides that no more than 1,200 homes will be built until transport links are delivered.
2008 Mayor of London Boris Johnson scraps proposed £700m Docklands Light Railway extension to Barking Dock. A new station at Barking Riverside on the c2c line into Fenchurch Street is considered by the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation.
2009 Detailed planning permission granted for the first 4,000 homes.
2012 First six homes are completed in January and families move in. A further 105 homes are completed in the year.
2013 Chancellor George Osborne expected to grant £150m for an extension of the Gospel Oak to Barking Overground train line to Barking Riverside, but no announcement is forthcoming.
2014 In the March Budget, the chancellor announces the government will work with the mayor of London and the GLA to develop proposals for extending the Gospel Oak to Barking line to Barking Riverside. Just 350 homes have been completed to date.
When the Barking Riverside masterplan was drawn up in 2004/05, stakeholders in the development were counting on a £700m extension of the Docklands Light Railway to Barking Dock. That scheme was scrapped by Mr Johnson shortly after he became mayor in 2008.
Now, the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, the Greater London Authority and Bellway are working on securing funding for an extension of the Gospel Oak to Barking Overground line to Barking Riverside, estimated to cost around £180m, to make the scheme socially and economically viable.
In March, the chancellor George Osborne announced in his Budget that the government would work with Mr Johnson and the GLA to develop proposals for the extension. If the Treasury puts up the funding, Bellway is promising 4,000 new homes by 2020.
Negotiations between the Treasury and the Barking Riverside stakeholders over a suitable funding package for the rail scheme are understood to be ongoing, but there are questions over the contribution each party will be expected to make.
Mr Rodwell says it is the Treasury’s responsibility to fund major infrastructure schemes, but adds that those with a vested interest and who stand to profit from selling homes on the development should also chip in.
“Think of the cost of Crossrail and HS2 – £180m is a small fraction of that. It’s already been value-engineered down from an extension of the DLR or c2c line”
Rocky Gill, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham
“If Bellway, or any other developer, is building thousands of homes there, they’ve got a vested interest to make sure they get what’s right for the residents they’re trying to sell to.”
Mr Burrows says the rail extension and station will be funded “in three or four different ways” but whether Bellway contributes, and at what level, is part of the negotiations.
“The joint venture partners are looking to make a significant contribution, but the gap funding needs to be met by the Treasury,” he says.
LBBD Labour councillor Rocky Gill says the lack of progress on the housing scheme is disappointing. “Think of the cost of Crossrail and HS2 – £180m is a small fraction of that. It’s already been value-engineered down from an extension of the DLR or c2c line.
“What frustrates me is the amount wasted on the mayor’s vanity projects such as the Garden Bridge, the Emirates cable car and the Routemaster buses. All of those things versus this to deliver 11,000 homes – it’s a no-brainer.”
Mr Rodwell points to the masterplan hanging on the wall of his office: “That was the masterplan in 2004/05, when they thought the DLR would be coming, it was very much in the lines of what was happening in the Docklands at the time.
“I can’t speak for the council because I wasn’t a councillor back then. But as a resident, I’d have expected it to be a lot further along than it is by now.”
“Rather than just taking a parcel of land, is there someone else that could come in with equity and say, ‘I want to put in a third and get this moving’?”
Rocky Gill, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham
To kick-start the delivery of affordable homes, the joint venture sold a parcel of land to L&Q for 246 units, which Bellway is building for the housing association.
It is now in discussions with the housing association to take forward more development at Barking Riverside and to help boost the annual completion rate to around 500 units.
But Mr Gill asked whether more could be done to breathe life into the scheme: “Is there potential for a bigger housebuilder to get involved with an equity stake?
“Rather than just taking a parcel of land, is there someone else that could come in with equity and say, ‘I want to put in a third and get this moving’? Because this has been going on for 20 years now.”
Mr Burrows says Bellway is not holding talks with any other potential partners, and that the intention is to reach an agreement with L&Q to continue work with the housing association. “We do not need an equity partner in place as equity is not the problem. We need confidence in the place.”
Next stop Barking Riverside
That confidence will come at a price of around £180m. If funding is committed late this year, it will be the end of the decade before the line extension is up and running. But Mr Burrows insists Bellway will “press the button” to deliver 4,000 homes by 2020 if a clear commitment is made.
Speaking to Construction News, Mr Johnson says he is “hopeful” there will be “something very clear” in the autumn statement to ensure the infrastructure improvement goes ahead.
“I am going to continue my normal diplomatic means of engagement with the government and with the Treasury, which have so far been quite successful.
“London is the motor of economic growth in Britain, I think the Treasury understands that, and you can put a lot of homes here.”
Build in Barking
At Barking Riverside, a new school and community centre have been built, but that is not enough for existing residents.
Mother-of-two Shelley Taylor-Morgan, who has lived on an adjacent housing development for 12 years, took the opportunity to tell the mayor exactly what the area needs: a rail link, a gym and a supermarket.
She said: “The nearest shop is 15 to 20 minutes’ walk away. When you’ve got kids you cannot be jumping on the bus just to get a pint of milk. We need somewhere to take the kids and somewhere where we can keep active.”
The Barking Riverside joint venture is in late stages of negotiations with a big-four supermarket to build a convenience store on the estate.
Barking and Dagenham is one of the most under-developed London boroughs, with regeneration opportunities for up to 20,000 new homes on brownfield land, including the riverside.
Bouygues, Laing O’Rourke and Willmott Dixon are delivering schemes in the borough, and Canary Wharf Group has taken a tour of development sites.
Mr Rodwell said: “We’ve had a number of developers now come and talk to us, and they’re serious on where they could invest in different parts around the borough.
“We’ve got Crossrail coming through Barking and Dagenham, so there’s a great opportunity there. We’re open for business and consider all shapes of partnerships. If you’re serious about developing here, come talk to us.”