An ambitious £3.5 billion masterplan aims to transform a neglected slice of industrial east London into the capital’s first factory-built town.
Once a forlorn little east London corner, Silvertown is poised for stardom thanks to a regeneration programme that will create the capital’s first factory-built town.
A factory will be built on-site to construct the components for 850 new homes as part of a £3.5 billion masterplan. Residents should be moving in by 2020.
Their new homes will be part of an architectural and retail scheme that is promised strictly to be free of skyscrapers and chain stores.
Right now there are few clues that Silvertown, stranded on a sliver of land between the Thames Barrier, London City airport and Pontoon Dock, is being put on the map.
A few small developments were thrown up on disused industrial sites in the Eighties and Nineties but work fizzled out, leaving the new locals stranded.
Buying a pint of milk is still a challenge in Silvertown, and if you plan on going out locally to eat or drink, you can forget it: there is nothing here but old, abandoned mills.
Olaide Oboh is spokeswoman for the Silvertown Partnership, a consortium of three developers — Chelsfield Properties, First Base and Macquarie Capital — leading the regeneration.
“We see it as a vibrant, 24-hour area,” she says. “And we are obsessed with design. We won’t build homes that are just boxes with no character or identity. They will work well and be beautiful to look at.”
The regeneration of Silvertown has been considered for years.
There has been a lengthy preparation period, part of which was taken up with obtaining planning permission for the project from Newham council.
Stripping out a ton of dangerous asbestos from the Millennium Mills, a hulking Art Deco former flour mill which will eventually become the centrepiece of the 62-acre site, was a mammoth task. But over the next few months the pace will pick up.
Later this year a “container city” of up to 250 shipping containers will be installed, providing affordable temporary workspace for small businesses. By the new year the ambitious first phase of this giant project will get under way.
THE POTENTIAL TO BE SPECTACULAR
The restoration of the potentially spectacular Millennium Mills, which will feature shops, bars, and restaurants plus workspace for start-up firms, will be completed by about 2019, and simultaneously a new bridge will be installed over Royal Victoria Dock, giving pedestrian access to the new super-fast Crossrail links to the City and West End when they begin next year from nearby Custom House station.
Transport for London, meanwhile, is pursuing plans to dig a new road tunnel beneath the Thames from Silvertown to the Greenwich Peninsula. A government decision on whether to allow the £1 billion project is expected within days. An opening date of 2022 or 2023 has been pencilled in.
Eventually there will be about 3,000 new homes, ranging from one to five bedrooms — a mixture of private, affordable, shared ownership and built to rent.
Whatever their tenure, all of Silvertown’s new homes will be prefabricated, their components created on-site in the purpose-built new factory. This process will be faster than regular housebuilding, and roughly 20 per cent cheaper.
This saving will not be passed on to buyers, as pricing will be based on local values. However, Olaide Oboh promises other benefits. “We want to deliver 100 per cent snag-free homes.
"Don’t think about the old idea of a prefabricated home, built like a cross between a shed and a bungalow. Prefabricated homes are now a sophisticated and universally used way of providing beautiful and well-designed, long-lasting homes. We are going to make this area look beautiful.”
The partnership is working with a seriously impressive 20-strong design team of internationally recognised architects including David Adjaye, David Chipperfield, Rem Koolhaas, Richard Rogers and AHMM, which designed the Saatchi Gallery. The first detailed designs will be revealed next year.
Award-winning practice Stanton Williams has drawn up the plans for the new Silvertown Bridge, a wide concrete boardwalk curving across Royal Victoria Dock, with an opening section to allow boats and barges to sail below.
The other ambitious promise made by the Silvertown Partnership is that it will not create a town just for people who work in the City and Canary Wharf but cannot afford to live there, but a self-sufficient urban town.
As well as independent shops, cafés, bars and restaurants, Roundhouse, based in Camden Town, is planning to open up in Silvertown.
Like its north London counterpart Roundhouse East will be a music venue and education space.
Silvertown will also have a new school, a health centre, and there’ll be plenty of job creation — both during the construction and also in the new businesses that will be able to take space at the site.
The drawback is that the project will take “at least 20 years” to complete, and residents will have to live through the building process. And its proximity to London City airport means flight path noise is inevitable: some homes will need quadruple soundproofing.
The bright side is the convenience of having an international airport just half a mile away, says Olaide Oboh, while plane takeoff paths will ensure there are no high-rise buildings at Silvertown.
“Millennium Mills is our tallest building at 12 storeys,” she says. “We are going to show you can do high-density housing without having to go high rise.”
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