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King’s Cross chief gets a second bite of the cherry at Canada Water

Paul Finch
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Paul Finch takes a walk around Canada Water with Roger Madelin, who is heading British Land’s 5 million sq ft development there

As Stuart Lipton likes to say: ‘You don’t often get a second chance to make a first impression’ … and the idea of the second chance is one that has frequently attracted novelists and dramatists. I remember reading Conrad’s Lord Jim for O-levels and being struck by the idea that the anti-hero of the story would get a second chance, a shot at redemption after a previous personal disaster: ‘A clean slate did he say? As if the initial word of each our destiny were not graven in imperishable characters on the face of a rock.’

Happily, not all second chances are about redemption after failure – they can also be the chance to do something similar even better second time round. This was the thought that struck me walking around Canada Water with Roger Madelin, where he is spearheading the British Land team undertaking a masterplan for, eventually, 5 million square feet of development and redevelopment of the area around the Surrey Quays shopping centre – which currently attracts more than 7 million ‘customer visits’ each year. Allies and Morrison are the architects of the masterplan.

Cwm 598(02)1005 (1 2000) r06

Cwm 598(02)1005 (1 2000) r06

Visualisation of Canada Water masterplan by Allies and Morrison

Magnificent views of the area from the top of Glenn Howells Ontario Tower residential block immediately demonstrate what attracted the developer to the site: it lies between the City and Canary wharf, two Jubilee Line underground stops from London bridge. It also has an Overground station, a wonderful expanse of water, a mature woodland, and a gigantic print works formerly occupied by the Daily Mail group, with ‘meanwhile’ uses as an event and music venue (the uses will be retained, though the complex will be extended and adapted).

There are more than 50 acres of space to play with, more than Madelin’s old stomping ground at King’s Cross, where he spent two decades at the head of Argent, developing London’s most successful urban regeneration project. British Land cleverly snapped him up for Canada Water, where he is clearly enjoying his second chance at redefining inner London for the current century, deploying all the development and planning lessons he learned at King’s Cross. You might say, as he does, that he is lucky – but the luck has been earned the hard way …

In both cases, redevelopment has been triggered now redundant logistic routes for goods. In the case of King’s Cross, it was the railways bringing in grain and other produce to the heart of London. At Canada Water, the wider area (the Surrey Docks) was where timber arrived from Canada, Russia and Scandinavia into an extraordinary complex of docks and wharves, much of which has now vanished, partly through Second World War bombing, partly as London’s central docks became redundant because of their location and 19th century operating methods.

Many of the docks were filled in in the 1960s and 70s, not least to create the now rather tired-looking shopping centre. The Russia Dock was replaced with what is now a delightful woodland, created by the London Dockland Development Corporation. Big water remains, however, in the form of the magnificent Greenland Dock, from which river craft still have access to the Thames. All this gives the area a unique character. King’s Cross has more significant historic buildings but rather less ‘blue and green’, that is to say: water and landscape. It is not a question of one being better than the other, just that while they have resemblances but also significant differences.

Allies and morrison's designs for a new town square at canada water

Allies and morrison’s designs for a new town square at canada water

Allies and Morrison’s design for a new town square at Canada Water

Madelin hopes to submit a planning application before Christmas and, given the mixed-use nature of the proposal, plus substantial subsidised housing, you might expect it to get an easier ride through planning than King’s Cross did after a decade of negotiation (approved late at night by one vote after a move to defer).

Alas, there is always opposition to any development, however well-considered and important for the future not just of a local area, but for London as a whole. No doubt the nimbys and the amenity societies will have a grumble, but they should bear in mind the variety of good designers brought on board, the robust masterplan, the opening-up of useful landscaped public routes, and the commitment to quality throughout.

This is great news for Southwark, and a second chance at getting development right in a relatively forgotten patch of London’s extraordinary industrial history.

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