Mike Luddy, managing director of the Royal Docks Management Authority, discusses plans for an 800-home floating village in the Thames
How did you arrive at the ‘homes on stilts’ vision?
I joined RDMA two years ago with a brief to masterplan the whole area’s regeneration. We worked with Ian Ritchie, Aspire and quantity surveyors Gardiner & Theobald on a comprehensive piece of research covering architecture through to commercial outcomes. Alongside the floating village, other developments planned include a watersports facility and a marina.
Why build homes on water when large plots beside the docks remain undeveloped?
There’s not that much land left. There are already two big projects progressing – one at Silvertown Quays (by AHMM and Arup for Chelsfield) and the other last piece in the jigsaw is being done by a Chinese consortium called Advanced Business Parks. Once those are up, that’s it, there isn’t much land remaining.
What kind of neighbourhood will it be and how will it differ from houseboat communities?
These will be permanent houses with mortgages available. It will be a long lease. It will be a mix of apartments and family houses. You can have four to five-storey apartments on a floating island and you can also get two or three-storey floating houses. I suspect the development will appeal to young people, because it is a slightly unusual concept. It will be unique and people will pay a premium to live there.
What are the major obstacles?
The challenge is getting architects and developers to work with water, because you are dealing with an untraditional development and a lot of developers are not traditionally innovative. There are technical issues about how you berth the boathouses and connect sewage and waste, and also how you get mortgages and insurance. If you can tick those boxes, it will all work.
The area recently saw a rash of failed pop-up visitor attractions such as Industri[us] and London Pleasure Gardens. Why will this scheme succeed?
There are reasons the meanwhile uses didn’t work. London Pleasure Gardens was completely mismanaged. There’s a good chance it will be restarted with an organisation that knows what it is doing. You are talking about a site which is a stone’s throw from Canary Wharf, two minutes from the O2 and with its own Crossrail station (opening in 2018). You couldn’t get a better-connected site than this one. I’m not in the slightest bit worried about whether we can make this a success.
Are you concerned by the developments’ proximity to the London City Airport Public Safety Zone?
None of it is in a Public Safety Zone. It is to one side of it. You can’t build in a Public Safety Zone.
Royal Docks boss: ‘We can make floating village a success’