The ‘Canary Wharf-isation’ Of Shoreditch

Shoreditch is getting taller. Its brownfield sites are set for an unprecedented construction boom in the coming years. Developments along Shoreditch High Street will add more new homes than can be found at the refurbished Olympics athletes’ village.

We looked at planning documents from Hackney and Tower Hamlets Councils covering five sites off Shoreditch High Street: Principal Place (permission granted subject to legal conditions), The Stage (ditto), Avant Garde (completed), Shoreditch Village (permission granted subject to legal conditions) and the former Bishopsgate Goods Yard now known as The Goodsyard (planning permission yet to be granted).

Taken together, the sites account for up to 3,051 new residential units across 5.5m sq ft of newly developed residential, retail and office space. For comparison, the Olympics athletes’ village, which has been converted into a residential development called East Village, consists of 2,800 residential units.

“[The scale of development] looks rather too big…hence, of course, it will be a massive gentrification,” says Andy Pratt, Professor of Cultural Economy at City University London and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, who has researched this part of town. “Of course, the area is one of constant change, but this scale of change would be dramatic.”

The ‘Canary Wharf-isation’ of Shoreditch

The schemes will transform the Shoreditch skyline. Current plans for the goodsyard, which has yet to be submitted for planning approval, call for four towers in excess of 30 storeys, plus a fifth of over 20 storeys. They will sit opposite a 50-storey residential tower designed by Norman Foster in the Principal Place development, for which planning permission has been granted. The nearby tower known as The Stage will add another highrise.

“We’re seeing the Canary Wharf-isation of Shoreditch,” says Andrew Harris, another expert on the area’s history and development, who heads the masters degree programme in urban studies at University College London.

The most imposing building on Shoreditch High Street currently is the eight­-storey Tea Building, on the corner of Bethnal Green Road, which was built in the 1930s as a Lipton tea warehouse.

According to Harris, the two dominant urban development models in London are exemplified by the Canary Wharf financial district and Shoreditch. Even as columns are written decrying the ‘Shoreditch-fication’ of other areas of London, it turns out that Shoreditch itself is being transformed.

“I always thought the greatest transformation [in Shoreditch] happened in the late 90s. It’s incredible to think the momentum hasn’t stopped since. What we’re seeing now [in Shoreditch] is development on a much bigger scale,” Harris says.

The Developments

The Stage
This 40-storey tower and surrounding plaza are likely to make the biggest impression on Londoners, both for the tower’s striking orange appearance and the cultural venue built into its base. The Stage, as its name alludes, will be built over the foundations of one of London’s earliest theatres, where Romeo and Juliet was probably first staged. The archaeological remains will be preserved and incorporated into a visitor centre and small theatre. The scheme includes 385 homes. The need for affordable housing was waived because of the expense to the developer of preserving the archaeology, but 40 ‘affordable’ homes will nevertheless be built off-site. The scheme also include significant retail and business units.

Principal Place
This scheme includes a 50-storey tower with 243 apartments, and a 15-storey office complex. The site is adjacent to the Broadgate Tower, on the junction of Worship Street and Shoreditch High Street. At 161 metres, the Norman Foster-designed residential tower would be the same height as its existing neighbour. It will be developed by US-based Brookfield and Canada’s Concord Pacific.

Avant Garde
This development, which includes a 74 metre tower, was recently completed by Telford Homes on Bethnal Green Road. It contains 257 apartments, the most striking of which is a near-£3 million penthouse. The development, opposite Rich Mix, has sold well, but was also nominated for the 2013 Carbuncle Cup, which ‘celebrates’ bad architecture.

Shoreditch Village
The old car park at the back of Village Underground (the famous Shoredich venue with the two old tube carriages on the roof) is to be transformed into a mixed-use area called Shoreditch Village. It will include homes, offices, retail and numerous food and drink offerings, as well as a market.

The Goodsyard
The proposed development on the site of the former Bishopsgate goodsyard is the largest of the lot. You might have noticed that Shoreditch Station sits within a seemingly unnecessary concrete box. This was built ahead of time, to protect the station from future development above. The scheme, as currently envisaged, will add 3.7 million sq ft of residential, retail and office space including up to 2,000 new homes. It is being developed by two of Britain’s biggest builders, Hammerson and Ballymore. Plans have yet to be submitted and detailed architectural impressions are not available.

Affordable Housing in Hackney

The impact of the planned residential units on Hackney’s housing supply is one of the main concerns around the Shoreditch sites. Alex Rhys-Taylor, a Spitalfields resident and deputy director of the Centre for Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths University of London, points out that public services and housing resources in the borough are already strained.

“This is a massive increase in density. Will there be new public services in the area to cater for this? People are waiting three or four weeks sometimes for a doctor’s appointment. They are struggling to deal with [density] at the moment,” he says.

Hackney Council has an affordable housing policy in place that mandates 50% of all new developments, from 2011, must consist of ‘affordable housing’. Affordability is defined as a percentage of prevailing market rates. A one-bedroom flat, for example, is deemed ‘affordable’ if a tenant pays up to 70% of its market rate.

Planning guidance for the goodsyard site, for example, stipulates that 35% of its residential units, or up to 700 units, must be affordable. That planning document was issued in 2010. The Principal Place development, which won approval in August 2011, has an even lower proportion of ‘affordable’ units — 39, or 13% of the total number of residential units in the development.

“What constitutes affordable housing in London is a really big question,” Rhys-Taylor adds.

Prices Going up

According to sales figures recorded by Sitrling Ackroyd, the property agency that has its headquarters on Curtain Road a stone’s throw from the five Shoreditch sites, residential property prices in the area are rising steadily. Buyers paid an average of £541 per sq ft for Shoreditch residential property in 2007, compared with £900-£1,200 per sq ft last year. In nearby Clerkenwell, for example, the firm recorded average prices of £681 per sq ft in 2007 compared with £924 per sq ft last year. Prices have also been steadily rising in Hackney Central, from an average of £359 per sq ft in 2010 to £609 per sq ft last year, according to the agency’s records.

Rising property prices in Shoreditch benefit landlords. But some landlords are questioning the impact of the planned developments on the area. James Goff founded Stirling Ackroyd and has lived in Shoreditch since the early ’80s. He also owns property in the vicinity of the planned developments. He campaigned against Principal Place, for example, because it threatened one of his businesses, a bar called The Light, that is housed in a 19th-century electricity substation next to the Foster development. Goff is ambivalent about the long-term impact on Shoreditch the new developments might bring.

“In 1983 you could buy any Victorian building for 20 pounds a foot, freehold. Now, we’re getting well over £1,000 a foot on converted residential [units]. That’s just over 25 years, that’s phenomenal growth. But [development] has to be sympathetic [to the area] and sustainable. If we get lots of steel and glass buildings going up and then in five years they are empty, how depressing will that be? That’s not good for the area,” he said.

Among the benefits large-scale developments are thought to produce are an increase in local job opportunities. But Murselin Islam, a community development and tenant participation officer at Spitalfields Housing Association, is sceptical. The organisation is the largest Bangladeshi-led group of its kind in the UK, and it owns and manages homes for families in the area. Murselin recounted another large-scale development, of Old Spitalfields Market and Bishops Square, which promised to bring benefits to the area that, he believes, never materialised. Ballymore was the owner of the market and Hammerson was one of the developers.

“We’d been told that probably about a thousand new jobs would be created in the area at the time, seven or eight years ago. But at some point, everything kind of faded away. None of our residents got employed. We were never told at the very end how many local people got jobs,” he said.

Brookfield declined to comment for this article. Hammerson and Hackney Council have not responded to questions at the time of publication.

History of Change

The recent history of Shoreditch is rife with change. As Andrew Harris of UCL notes in his published research on the area, widespread deindustrialisation of inner London occurred during the 1980s. Shoreditch was a site of light industry from the 19th century. But deindustrialisation created a surplus of disused Victorian warehouses and other industrial spaces that attracted visual artists, fashion designers and other creative specialists with cheap rents.

In the 1990s, Shoreditch and neighbouring Hoxton were the backdrop for the explosion of a new breed of savvy art graduates — the YBAs. The likes of Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas and Fiona Rae moved into the warehouses and workshops off Shoreditch High Street, Great Eastern Street and Old Street, creating an artistic community and movement that came to define the British art scene. Nearby, Gilbert and George had moved into Spitalfields and Tracy Emin was in Bethnal Green. The social loci of the burgeoning Shoreditch art scene was the Bricklayers’ Arms at the junction of Charlotte Road and Rivington Street. As Harris notes in his paper: “During the 1990s, both the area and idea of Hoxton became a significant artistic launching pad and calling card.”

But the current plans for Shoreditch contain an echo of the area’s deeper past. According to Harris, before Shoreditch became a site of Victorian industry, it was a suburb for wealthy bankers and diplomats who worked in the City in the 16th century.

“[Shoreditch] was an upmarket suburb for people to live close by the City of London. In some respects, it’s returning to its pre-industrial role,” he says.

Local Views

Local groups have spoken out against some of the planned developments. The East End Preservation Society, for example, was launched on 27 November partly in response to developers’ plans for the goodsyard. The historian and broadcaster Dan Cruikshank, one of the society’s founders, is a resident of neighbouring Spitalfields. He thundered at the launch event that the East End had become “an unsavoury developers’ playground” and singled out the goodsyard as a valuable site that had been “sat on” by developers until property market conditions suited them.

The society has gained support from some local residents. Johnny Vercoutre, for example, owns a home on Shoreditch High Street. He says he is considering moving out of the area after living there for 20 years, largely because of the amount of construction taking place around his home.

Vercoutre runs the Time for Tea cafe from the ground floor of the building he owns. He lives upstairs. The space, a seamless homage to the 30s, is also available for rent for photo shoots and events. Vercoutre’s property is not directly affected by the new Shoreditch sites highlighted above. The construction affecting him comes from smaller developments.

“We wake up to the sound of construction every morning. There is a lot of bullying going on with these developers right now, and that’s why we’re considering moving out,” he claims.

Not all locals are against the development at the goodsyard. Gary Sharkey, who lives across the street from the site, attended one of the development’s information sessions last summer. Amid placards filled with statistics and descriptions of the proposed development, the sustainability consultant noted with approval the developers’ efforts at consulting with the public.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before. This type of engagement builds a greater sense of community. I look forward to getting more from the site than I do now,” he said.

Like any area-changing development, the Shoreditch projects are sure to attract both ire and interest. As the towers of the Square Mile continues their seemingly inexorable march north and east, into former industrial lands, the people living and working there will surely change too. This is a story that has been repeated in London many times, over many centuries. Yet the scale of change we’ll see in Shoreditch over the next decade is almost unprecedented.

By Joon Ian Wong

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  • http://www.christianmeyer.net Christian

    Thanks, nice run-down.

  • MB

    The developments would probably make more sense once the Central Line has a station at Shoreditch High Street (currently they’re holding back on it, because in the absence of Crossrail, the Central Line couldn’t deal with the additional passengers).

    Also, is it too much to ask for that the subsurface rail tracks to the south of the Goodsyard development be covered over? This was done at Exchange Square I think, and there are also examples in France. If they made it into a linear park it could be good social mitigation for the impact of the development.

  • Kent Wang

    I don’t see a single cogent argument against the developments.

    Vercoutre – Dislikes construction noise—boo hoo. What bullying is he referring to?

    Goff – Theorizes that all the residential properties will remain empty in five years and will be depressing. A wild guess. And even if it happens, why would that negatively affect the neighborhood? If undeveloped, then those are empty lots anyway.

    Rhys-Taylor – Lack of neighborhood doctors and services. Surely this will sort itself out as surgeries will move in? Is that a problem in Canary Wharf? Is there an imbalance in lack of commercial space versus residential?

    • Wong Joon Ian

      Wang:

      The lots are empty because the owners and developers who could do something with them have decided not to, until now. So the question is, why should the choice be between luxury flats or an empty lot, as Cruickshank pointed out.

      You seem to have a lot of faith in services sorting themselves out. In fact, this is a longstanding issue in Hackney and Tower Hamlets. One wonders why they haven’t somehow sorted themselves out since the 1890s?

      • Kent Wang

        What’s the third option between flats and empty lots?

        Why is there a shortage of services? Why don’t surgeries open in those boroughs? Lack of commercial space? High commercial rents? Vast conspiracy against the poor? Does Canary Wharf have the same problems—why or why not? Is there some sort of study on this?

        • Wong Joon Ian

          It’s hard to say what the third option is because it’s up the landlord or developer.

          The body of literature on the lack of services in these boroughs is vast. One popular starting point is the Booth poverty map of Shoreditch from the 1880s. After that, let Google Scholar be your guide. http://booth.lse.ac.uk/

        • Alex Rhys-Taylor

          I cannot name one cause for the pressure on local services, but consider that the ‘worried-well’ easily mobilised middle classes in Surrey have historically received disproportionate amounts of health funding for their density, compared to inner-city areas where perhaps it is not made a bigger electoral issue. There are studies done on this. The ‘market’ certainly doesn’t sort these in-balances out. And yes, Canary Wharf, also a part of Tower Hamlets, has also experienced issues in terms of enabling all residents access to services.

          Perhaps the acute local area issues experienced at present could be compounded by the fact that the healthcare trust might have overstretched itself, or have been made to stretch too far, by the new Royal London. As for local schools, the new secondary schools designed for the south of the borough have already come in for criticism for being potentially orientated towards the area’s wealthier residents rather than fostering a healthy social mix. Again, the market hitherto has not ensured equal access to quality education for all. My argument is to ensure that the whole of TH and Hackney benefit from any development, which historically, has far from always the case.

          • Kent Wang

            Well written.

            But does development actually make the services for the poor worse, or is it that it fails to raise the quality of services for the poor to the same level as what the wealthy receive? In other words, is it that the rising tide fails to lift all boats, or does it actually harm the lower boats?

  • Sean

    Great to see articles like this here, well researched too. I’ve been working on a similar article for my blog on Vauxhall which is seeing even more developments than Shoreditch.

    Alex Rhys-Taylor’s argument about local services has some weight, but it’s much easier to built a doctors surgery than it is to build transport infrastructure. Homes around here require far less in the way of transit infrastructure (you can walk most places you need to go including work, and existing transit is excellent) than building in the suburbs. I’m not expert on the pricing of either, but looking at the cost of crossrail I wouldn’t be surprised if the infrastructural cost of locating people in the zone 4 to 6 is ten times as high as in Shoreditch. Doctors surgeries can be placed in skyscrapers too – there’s plans to put one in a skyscraper that’s proposed near Canary Wharf. You could even adapt existing office space for the purpose if needed.

    Prices are influenced by a lot of factors, and yes it is likely that prices will go up in Shoreditch because of these developments because they’ll raise the average price. However it should, through increased supply, lead to a lowering of property prices overall in London. Obviously if we keep building far less than we need each year prices will still rise – but these will have an overall positive effect.

    We need to build more homes in London if we’re ever going to make the place affordable. If we don’t we’ll end up with a city that isn’t fun to live in. Most people I know, including myself, are being priced into worse accommodation or locations due to the price rises. While rent controls etc might help, ultimately the lack supply is the real problem. Just to keep up with household increase we need over 40,000 new homes per year, and to reduce existing prices and provide people adequate accommodation we’ll need to build far more. And people increasingly want to live in or near central London. The only way to accommodate this is skyscrapers – we need to build far more, and not just rely on private developers to build them. Council’s need to start using the S106 money they’re receiving to build mixed-tenure high rise on land they own, selling some units to help cover the build costs.

    • MattFromLondonist

      Sean – thanks for your comments. We’ll be very interested to see your Vauxhall piece when it’s ready.

    • Wong Joon Ian

      Agreed. FWIW, Rhys-Taylor did tell me in our interview that ‘density is a good thing’. But his larger point is to ask who benefits and who makes decisions about density. Vauxhall’s situation is definitely worth watching.

    • alex rhys-taylor

      density not a bad thing… we need more homes, no doubt! but the fact remains that royal london and barts just got a shocking report on health care standards, surgeries are not opening to meet demand, and the new schools that are being planned for the area have the potential to be quite exclusive. widely accessible public services are far from the guaranteed product of these developments. sadly, they need to be argued for.

  • Kay

    Excellent article. Crossrail will add some value into this, it junctions on Liverpool Street and continues to Whitechapel, both areas on the border of Shoreditch and in very close proximity to these developments.

    The good news is more and more young people in the borough will get a slice of the pie through “affordable housing” no matter how murky that concept is. Shoreditch was always BOUND to grow this was as the city expands northwards and the area on broadgate stretches upwards. Right now there is a big space between Broadgate Tower and Shoreditch High Street (part perception, part actual gap as The Principle and other browfield sites create a buffer). As this area gets filled and Shoreditch High St connects with Liverpool Street southwards and Old Street west bound this will become prime time London. Islington will benefit too, I reckon it will get a boom of its own soon.

  • Adam

    These developments are vital to London, as for the complaints about noise, go and live in zone 6. I’m sure someone will be happy to take over your business and the profits that come with the increased footfall. I only wish the developments were slightly taller than there neighbours to add some variation and soar.

  • John Moss

    There are many good reasons not to build high-rise residential, especially for families. http://www.createstreets.com

    • Adam

      There any also many good reasons for families not to live in the centre of a city but we don’t tell people what to do with their own money.

    • Bunter999

      i live in Hong Kong and can see no “good reasons.” Could you explain what these are ?