Covid-19 lockdown has got Londoners craving fresh air, wide-open spaces and nearness to nature.
However, this trinity of needs is not always satisfied by green space.
There are home buyers who find greater peace by the waterside — walking along Thames towpaths, strolling the wetlands and taking a Clipper to work via new marinas and piers.
The Thames-side penthouse, once the ultimate trophy home of the super-rich, is becoming more accessible to young families and first-time buyers.
The list includes Greenwich Millennium Village, almost half-built now, and those in planning, such as the 100,000 homes outlined for the Lea Valley.
“Planning is far stricter now than it ever has been and these new schemes will bring both affordable and social housing, giving more people the chance to live by the water,” says Siân Berry, the Green candidate for Mayor of London.
Today’s waterside property market is about more than new homes. Often in collaboration with the Canal & River Trust, councils and developers are unlocking disused towpaths with dedicated cycle lanes, building new marinas and cultivating mudflats and wetlands.
In a city still reeling from the confines of lockdown, the mass development of the waterways opens up mile upon mile of much-needed “blue space”.
Roger Still, chairman of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA), is passionate about blue space.
“City waterways are enjoying a renaissance with people increasingly searching for ways to reconnect with nature. There is also research to show the health and wellbeing benefits of spending time by water,” he says. The towpath walks and cycling routes are part of current Mayor Sadiq Khan’s active transport plan. For those home buyers and tenants without a garden, quick access to the riverside for relaxation and exercise is more important than ever, according to Keir Waddell of Knight Frank.
Much is being made of the interplay between green and blue space. “Urban green-and-blue infrastructure are the nature-based features that should be part of every built-up environment,” reads a recent report from Imperial College London, adding that they are “important for climate change mitigation” and have “a host of wider benefits to people and wildlife”.
Homes in Compass Wharf, next to Maribor Park and the river at the Royal Arsenal Riverside redevelopment, launched this week and are available priced from £500,000. The linear park, described as a “green spine”, has been designed to connect regenerating Woolwich town centre with the Thames. Call 020 3918 7163 for more details.
Barking Riverside is one of the largest of the new waterside schemes under way making the most of its setting. Based on an old power station site, the new Thames-side village will knit together 10,800 new homes, seven new schools, healthcare facilities and an ecology centre within a nature reserve.
Developer Barking Riverside Limited has announced that the Thames Clipper will run to the site from next year. One- and two-bedroom apartments are available in the Parklands phase, set back from the river, with prices from £340,000 with Help to Buy. Four-bedroom townhouses are coming soon (lqhomes.com).
New waterside homes across London
More than 200,000 new homes are being delivered through these major developments, each of them bringing more than 500 homes either beside the Thames or on a London canal. Other small and medium-sized waterside schemes are also in the offing in the capital.
|Royal Arsenal Riverside||5,000|
|Greenwich Millennium Village||2,800|
|Morden Wharf, Greenwich||1,000|
|Lea Valley (inc Hackney Wick, Fish Island Village etc)||100,000|
|Vauxhall, Nine Elms, Battersea Power Station||7,000|
|Old Oak Common & Park Royal||25,000|
|The Brentford Project||867|
|Greenford Quay (build to rent)||2,118|
Living along west London’s canal network
The greatest change to come to west London is the unlocking of the Grand Union Canal network, says the IWA’s Roger Still. Construction sites now line the once overgrown towpaths and hidden basins.
Still argues that the arrival of Crossrail and delivery of thousands of new homes will bring more cyclists and pedestrians to the towpaths. “We have to make sure they are wide enough, with dedicated cycle lanes, and that heritage buildings such as locks and lock keeper cottages are preserved,” he says, referring to Hanwell Flight, a series of locks designed in the 1790s to move the canal up and down a steep hill.
In Alperton, Wembley, is Grand Union, one of the largest canalside developments under way in west London. Once home to logistics sheds, the 22-acre site is being transformed into a mixed-use scheme with 3,000 homes and new restaurants dotted along the canal. Prices start from £425,000 (grandunion.co.uk).
The small town of Brentford is where the Thames, the River Brent and Grand Union Canal all meet. As part of The Brentford Project to revive the area, new towpaths are being created as well as shopping lanes that connect the high street to the water. The scheme will deliver 876 homes when complete, starting from £437,000. Call Knight Frank on 020 3826 0673.
Further along the canal is the opportunity area of Southall. Catalyst’s Southall Village is breathing new life into a 500-metre stretch of the Grand Union Canal with homes designed around communal gardens. Apartments start from £310,000 with Help to Buy available (catalyst.homes).
Way out west in Hayes, Barratt is building Hayes Village, more than 1,300 homes on the former Nestlé factory site. Homes in the retained Art Deco buildings will sit along the restored canalfront, with a canoe club and pontoon, new parks, a gym, a 200-metre running track and natural playgrounds. Prices start from £320,000 for a one-bedroom apartment. Call 0330 057 6666.
Help to buy in Hackbridge
Interior designer and actor Steven Luemba bought his first home at New Mill Quarter in Hackbridge just as lockdown began. Now able to explore again, he is enjoying the area.
The 440-home scheme is close to the River Wandle and the springs at Carshalton Ponds, an ancient Saxon site at the heart of neighbouring Carshalton Village.
Steven saved £25,000 and using a Help to Buy ISA bought a £315,000 one-bedroom apartment. Call 0333 3558 496 for information about New Mill Quarter homes.
A little bit of luxury
While the former industrial sites in travel Zones 3 to 6 offer home buyers a cheaper way on to the waterside property ladder, dreamy luxury homes are still being built along the central section of the Thames.
Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich splashed £30 million on a penthouse in the Chelsea Waterfront scheme, set beside Chelsea Creek, within sight of Albert Bridge.
The eight-acre former Lots Road Power Station site is being turned into an upmarket complex with 700 homes in towers of up to 37 storeys. Prices start from £1.4 million. Call Knight Frank on 020 3826 0673.
The royal connection at Morden Wharf
Delivering 1,500 new homes, U+I’s Morden Wharf in Greenwich will also be the permanent new home of the royal rowbarge The Gloriana, which starred in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012.
The riverside scheme will include a new waterside park to serve the local community.
Pollution threat to the Thames
The Thames is becoming more physically accessible. Children can now dip a toe into the water at King’s Cross.
However, research has shown that the Thames has some of the highest recorded levels of microplastics of any river in the world — and there are now fears that the pandemic may exacerbate the pollution problem, as, in a bid to be more hygienic, people throw away face masks, gloves and other items after just one use.
“There’s a rise in unflushables,” explains the Green Party’s Siân Berry. “Despite contagion fear we must simply put these things in the bin so we can carry on enjoying the water.”
This month, Roger Still, Inland Waterways Association chairman, will start a canal cleaning exercise in west London. Visit waterways.org.uk if you would like to get involved.