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Canada Water: CN tours British Land’s £4bn mega-project

British Land is pumping close to £4bn into transforming Canada Water, with around 5m sq ft of new developments on the cards. The project’s mastermind Roger Madelin takes CN around a site that is catching the eye of industry heavyweights.

Around 200 years ago, Canada Dock was pulsating with economic activity.

It was part of a network of 10 docks that hugged the banks of the River Thames in south-east London. Collectively, they were known as the Surrey Commercial Docks and marked a boom in trading activity in the early 19th century as the British Empire expanded overseas. The docks were built and named after the countries from which goods were shipped to the capital, hence: Canada Dock.

But as transportation and technology developed throughout the 20th century, the role of these trading hubs declined. By the end of the 1960s many of them had closed down for good.

Canada Dock is now more commonly known as Canada Water, and is best known for its station served by the London Overground and Jubilee lines, and for the lake it overlooks. Many of us might even have mistaken it for London’s financial hotspot Canary Wharf, accidentally getting off our trains one stop too soon.

But British Land is planning to radically transform Canada Water’s reputation.

Under the leadership of Roger Madelin, the mastermind behind Argent’s regeneration of King’s Cross, British Land has submitted a masterplan to regenerate the 21 ha site, pumping close to £4bn of investment into the area.

british land canada water john sturrock 2

British Land Canada Water john sturrock 2

Source: John Sturrock

The planning application for the scheme was submitted to Southwark Council last week. It will be split nearly 50:50 between commercial and residential space with around 5m net sq ft of land will be developed into office, retail and leisure space, and up to 3,000 homes. 

The masterplan covers the former SE16 Daily Mail printworks, the Surrey Quays Shopping and Leisure Centre, the Dock Offices, and the former Rotherithe police station.

A huge pipeline of work is up for grabs, whetting the appetites of the industry’s top contractors and featuring plenty of opportunities for the supply chain to get involved, according to Mr Madelin.

Different from King’s Cross

With more than 35 years of experience in the industry, 15 of which were as chief executive of Argent, Mr Madelin has been involved in some of the country’s most high-profile regeneration schemes.

Having spent 29 years at Argent, he left the company in 2016 to head up the Canada Water development for British Land. In November that same year, he told CN that his “biggest disappointment” while working on the King’s Cross scheme was that Argent had been unable to confirm to tier one contractors “exactly what was going to happen and when”.

This time round, he hopes this will be different.

Canada Water Masterplan British Land The Cuts

Canada Water Masterplan British Land The Cuts

“When I was at King’s Cross, it was 2008, you couldn’t borrow any money and Argent just had what was left of the investment from British Telecom pension scheme,” Mr Madelin says. “We couldn’t say [to contractors], ‘Next year we’re going to start this building’.”

As the severity of the recession finally began to subside towards the end of 2012, he recalls how Argent had to play catch-up on King’s Cross to ensure returns on the investment that had been committed.

On Canada Water, British Land’s balance sheet will allow it to give contractors more visibility of the pipeline, with Mr Madelin adding that the developer has sufficient resources to finance not only the major first phase, but ongoing work on the wider scheme.

Phase one

In total, 1.8m sq ft of residential, office, retail and leisure space will be delivered under phase one, which is split into three sections: 1A, 1B and 1C.

British Land has submitted a detailed planning application for phase 1A, which encompasses about 315,000 sq ft of office space, 271 homes and 30,000 sq ft of retail as well as food and drink space.

The centrepiece of 1A will be a 35-storey tower that will house 185 apartments and overlook Canada Water Dock. This will be adjoined by a six-storey 115,000 sq ft office block, while another building under phase 1A will comprise 200,000 sq ft of office space above a sports hall.

Man with the plan

Roger madelin

Roger Madelin

He joined Argent in 1987 and sat on the firm’s development consortium during the 90s. He oversaw the delivery of major schemes in the Thames Valley, Manchester, the City of London and Brindley Place in Birmingham.

Mr Madelin became Argent CEO in 1997. In 2000, work started on the regeneration of the 27 ha King’s Cross site under his leadership. He joined British Land in 2016.

Architect Allies and Morrison, which has worked on mega-projects such as the London 2012 Olympic Park, the regeneration of Elephant Castle and 100 Bishopsgate, is behind the design of these buildings.

The final part of phase 1A will be a five or six-storey residential block that will house 86 apartments with a courtyard facing the Russia Dock woodland area. It has been designed by Duggan Morris Architects, which also worked on projects at King’s Cross.

Phases 1B and 1C are currently in the design process, Mr Madelin adds.

Plans for 1B centre on the redevelopment of the SE16 printworks, where the Evening Standard and Daily Mail were once produced. British Land acquired the site in 2012 from the Daily Mail & General Trust.

“We are talking with major contractors and specialists about the opportunity of delivering not only a huge first phase, but the continuation of construction work over 10-15 years”

Roger Madelin, British Land

The printworks were left empty until 18 months ago when the doors were opened to the public as a cultural events space. Since then this 119,000 sq ft industrial space has made a name for itself as one of London’s best nightclubs, and has also been hired out by artists such as Ed Sheeran and Stormzy for music videos.

Following the venue’s success, the Canada Water team is mulling over whether to keep parts of the printworks as entertainment spaces. However, British Land head of operations for the development Emma Cariaga says the warehouses will “almost certainly” be demolished and replaced by new developments.

Finally, plans for phase 1C are currently being discussed; Mr Madelin says 800,000 sq ft of space could be developed under this programme. 

Enabling works and ground investigations will commence later this month, before main construction on phase 1A gets under way this time next year.

Who’s eyeing up the scheme?

With such a massive pipeline of works, it is no surprise to hear that many contractors have been knocking on Mr Madelin’s door wanting to know more about the opportunities.

These include Balfour Beatty, Bam Construction, Laing O’Rourke, Mace and Wates, according to Mr Madelin, saying that wider conversations with the industry are ongoing.

Four contractors are expected to be picked this autumn to sit on a Canada Water developer panel. Opportunities to secure repeat work on the scheme could be on the cards, Mr Madelin hints.

“We are thinking, talking and strategising very hard with the supply chain, including major contractors and major specialist contractors, about the opportunity of delivering not only a huge first phase, but (one would hope) the continuation of a lot of construction work over 10-15 years,” he says.

He adds that British Land is looking at how it can benefit from relationships with its contractors on other major London projects, including Sir Robert McAlpine (which is on site at Broadgate) and Lendlease (1 Triton Square in Euston).

Brexit effects?

With Brexit looming ever larger, has the political climate hit the development’s progress?

It certainly affected certain plans on British Land’s £1bn upgrade of London’s Broadgate Campus near Liverpool Street station. The developer was initially going to fully redevelop the 1 Finsbury Avenue building. However, following the result of the EU referendum, it submitted another proposal to refurbish the building instead, due to the resulting uncertainty.

However, no plans have been altered on the Canada Water development, according to Mr Madelin. On the contrary: the demand for office space has been high. “British Land slowed down after Brexit and we paused for a while,” he says. “But the number of office lettings has surprised us all. I’ve had more conversations with potential office occupiers than I have ever had at any development I’ve been involved in for 35 years.”

Mr Madelin suggests the location and connectivity of Canada Water could be reasons why workspace in particular is in such high demand. The site sits along the underground line, linking more affordable neighbourhoods popular with millennials in the south-east of the capital (such as New Cross) and the north-east (Hackney and Dalston).

british land canada water john sturrock 1

British Land Canada Water john sturrock 1

Source: John Sturrock

The tube line also runs through London’s epicentre for technology start-ups in Shoreditch and Hoxton, where office space can reach an eye-watering £80 per sq ft.

“Generally, all the under-35s want to live [around the Canada Water] area,” Mr Madelin says, adding that setting up office space on the site offered many attractions for companies. “This is partly down to connectivity and partly down to the fact we can offer office space at less than £80 a square foot.”

Other factors have also had a significant influence on the scheme’s progress. 

British Land’s existing assets on site – the Surrey Quays shopping centre and cinema complex – dropped in value by 10.8 per cent, according to the developer’s trading update last May. This has acted as a “kind of an incentive to get on with it, knock it down and redevelop it,” Mr Madelin says.

Too much paperwork

To grasp the scale of the site, Mr Madelin takes CN to the top of the 28-storey Ontario Point building, located next door to Canada Water station.

The site borders two green spaces: Southwark Park and Russia Dock Woodland. Canada Water station sits at the north-west of the site, with Surrey Quays station at the southern boundary.

Mr Madelin says the biggest challenge the scheme has faced so far has been the planning process. “The King’s Cross planning application was very big and very complicated,” he says. “It needed 42 supporting documents. But this planning application for Canada Water, which is a similar size, needed 82 supporting documents.”

This is the nature of building in London, he says. “We wouldn’t necessarily have to respond like that in places outside of London – in Manchester perhaps. But London is a mature and politically active area, lots more people are interested in a development […] the process has become more complicated.”

“We paused for a while, but the number of office lettings has surprised us all. I’ve had more conversations with potential office occupiers than I have ever had at any development I’ve been involved in for 35 years”

Roger Madelin, British Land – on the referendum vote

With the need for housing becoming increasingly desperate and new developments constantly springing up across the capital, it’s no wonder this mega-scheme is attracting interest from council planning departments and the general public.

As Mr Madelin continues our tour of the site, we walk over to what remains of Canada Water Dock: the freshwater lake. Although 70 per cent of the Canada Water area was once covered in water, only this lake remains.

We pause, standing in the same place where tradesmen would have offloaded cargo from ships that had travelled across the world during the height of the British Empire.

Now, British Land will be forging the next chapter of Canada Water’s story. This time, the construction industry will not be building docks, but transforming this south-east section of London into a new community.

Unusual partnership

Canada Water has produced an interesting union between local authority Southwark Council and British Land.

In March this year, a deal was signed pulling both parties’ interests together. The council granted British Land a 500-year lease in exchange for a larger portion of landownership of the site.

Southwark Council now has a 20 per cent stake in the development – a somewhat unorthodox deal between the private and public sector, according to British Land head of operations for the development Emma Cariaga. “It is unusual,” she says. “It allows the council to put 20 per cent into the development and get 20 per cent in return.”

And as squeeze on local authority budgets tightens, Ms Cariaga says the council has struck an “entrepreneurial” deal with the private sector to secure alternative sources of revenue. “It allows the council to get the spoils too,” she says.

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