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Over the last few years, the top of the Island and Canary Wharf has seen unprecedented development with a number of large scale projects. One of the largest developments has been the Wood Wharf site which will have a mix of uses, including a residential area for over 3,200 new homes, nearly 2 million sq ft of commercial office space, and 335,000 sq ft of shops, restaurants and community uses.
Wood Wharf is part of the historic West India Docks and is the largest addition to the Canary Wharf estate since it came into being.
With part of the development near to completion, it is now possible to have a wander around some parts of Wood Wharf.
Wood Wharf is connected to the main estate by a bridge with two large Floating Pavilions nearby, one of which will be a restaurant.
Like Canary Wharf, Wood Wharf makes full use of the docks themselves with dockside walks and views from the Blue Bridge to the new buildings in the west.
The neighbourhood will have everything a thriving community needs, from a new local primary school to its own doctor’s surgery.
Like Canary Wharf, Wood Wharf already has plenty of outside public art and sitting areas.
Wood Wharf is multi-billion pound development and is expected to generate £2bn gross value from new jobs, add £199m into the local small business economy and generate 20,000 new jobs.
Under normal circumstances, the opening of Wood Wharf would a cause for celebration, however recent events have cast a cloud over the whole Canary Wharf site.
With many large firms allowing workers to work for home, many people are now looking at Wood Wharf and now asking whether it is surplus to requirements. Due to its mixed usage, it might escape the slowdown in Canary Wharf itself.
What the site does for visitors is provide plenty of attractive walks around the docks and places to sit and watch the boats and ships when they return to the dock.
When the tall ships arrived last September, Wood Wharf was a wonderful sight, full of ships and people. Fast forward, nearly a year later and we have a very different site. Construction has started on the development to broaden and extend the Canary Wharf Estate. The masterplan is to create a development with a mix of uses, providing over 3,200 new homes, nearly 2 million sq ft of commercial office space, and a further 335,000 sq ft of shops, restaurants and community uses.
However this is no ordinary site because part of the plans is to reclaiming part of the dock area by constructing a cofferdam. It is expected that 9000sqm of land will be reclaimed from West India Dock South, but this will only achieved by some major work on the cofferdam which will make it watertight to be drained and then filled in.
The cofferdam design features 160 tubular piles 1220mm in diameter socketed 10m into the dock bed. The tubular piles are up to 21m long and each pile is cased, drilled then installed into place below the water. In between the tubular piles sheet piles are installed to create a watertight retaining structure for the 10m head of water being held back.
This work has already began and the sight of large cranes on pontoons being transported around have become commonplace. Although The Wood Wharf project is a large project it does face a number of difficulties that makes it not one of the easiest development. For example access to the site is limited especially for lorries, therefore the constructors are bringing in materials by river where possible. There is also the problem of operating within a dock area which needs testing of dock walls and of silt in the dock. Lack of access means that cranes are taken around the site on large pontoons.The dock is still in use with shipping, so movement of equipment and barges and other marine vessels has to be cordinated with other users.
Sometimes we are so used to developments that we underestimate the difficulties that they sometimes have to overcome. The Wood Wharf project is a good opportunity to watch the different stages of development at close quaters, so if you are in the area over the next few months why not take a look.
An artist impression of Wood Wharf
Regular readers will know that I often take an interest in the plans to build major developments in Canary Wharf and on the Isle of Dogs. I tend to be quite sceptical when I see artists impressions of massive tower blocks because the history of Canary Wharf and other areas suggest that the buildings do not always get developed due to a multitude of reasons. The Riverside development at Westferry Circus is a good recent example of grandiose schemes that hit problems and are mothballed often for years.
However the news of the Wood Wharf project being approved by Tower Hamlets council is perhaps more significant because the plans for more than 3,000 homes to be built is supported by the Canary Wharf Group and would represent the first extension to the financial district since the 2008.
The green bits illustrate much of the Wood Wharf development
Canary Wharf Group has been granted planning permission to build 30 buildings, comprising 4.9m square feet of homes, offices and shops, at Wood Wharf.
The building will be a mixture of residential and business with its centrepiece being a 211-metre 57-storey residential skyscraper facing the South Dock.
25% of the housing stock is earmarked as affordable housing with proposed new primary school, health facility and a library.
The creation of a mainly low-level mixed use area is a move away from the usual business orientated Canary Wharf Group and represents an effort to promote Canary Wharf as a place to live as well as work.
The proposed 57 storey building near South Dock
This attempt to diversify is probably sensible due to the large number of large building offering office space both in Canary Wharf and the City of London. The booming property market is another factor with Canary Wharf looking at the luxury end of the market.
It is expected some of the buildings will be completed at the same time as the arrival of Crossrail in 2018.
More than 100,000 people commute into Canary Wharf every day and it has been estimated that could double in ten years.
What all this means for rest of the Isle of Dogs is unclear, will the Wood Wharf development reduce the amount of development on the Island ? or will it increase it with developers cashing in on the arrival of Crossrail. Either way it will be an interesting development to follow in the next few years.