Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1994.
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Modern Commercial Developments
Before the LDDC's inception, the local authorities had made efforts to attract new firms to the Isle of Dogs and Docklands. They had some success: the City Corporation relocated the Billingsgate fish market on the north quay of the West India Docks, and Associated Dairies (ASDA) were persuaded to build a much-needed superstore on the Mudchute. (fn. 1)
The LDDC did, therefore, have a basis upon which to work. Initially, it sought to attract new firms involved in high-technology industries and services, such as computing, electronic and micro engineering, design and marketing services, and printing. (fn. 2) In fact, the earliest developments were relatively small-scale, courtyard-style business units on the pattern set by the Port of London Authority's Cannon Workshops (1982–3), or, following the example of the new Billingsgate Market (1980–1), high-tech 'shiny sheds'. The Lanterns (1983–4, Plate 140c), Indescon Court (1982–3) and Skylines (1985–6, Plate , 140b ) are all courtyard-type schemes, while Milltech (completed in 1984), the PDX and Ladkarn Buildings (both completed in 1985), and Advance House (completed in 1987, Plates156b , 157b) are examples of 'shiny sheds'. Generally speaking, these buildings were typical of those on contemporary business parks being built all over the country. However, Design magazine pointed out that there was a rather greater 'profusion of exterior detailing' than normal. It suggested that one reason for this was the LDDC's wish for new buildings which caught the attention and could attract further development. (fn. 3) Not only were such schemes small-scale, but they provided relatively few jobs. By February 1987 roughly 250 of the 300 new companies which had moved into the Isle of Dogs since 1982 had fewer than 13 employees. (fn. 4)
The Enterprise Zone
In order to provide substantial inducements for firms to move into Docklands, the Government, with effect from April 1982, designated much of the area centring around the West India and Millwall Docks as an Enterprise Zone, as provided for under the 1980 Local Government, Planning and Land Act, with the intention of encouraging and speeding up development. The boundary was carefully drawn to exclude those sites which had already been, or were in course of being, developed, such as Billingsgate Market (see plan C). (fn. 5) The chief financial concessions were: freedom from local rates for a ten-year period until 1992, no development land tax, and 100-percent capital allowance for new commercial and industrial buildings, to be set against corporation and income taxes. In December 1986 the Financial Times, in announcing the proposed relocation of its printing works to Docklands, calculated that the £20,850,000 cost of the site and building would be reduced to £15,400,000 by the tax concessions offered in the Enterprise Zone. (fn. 6)
In addition, there were simplified planning procedures: the zone was set up with an overall planning scheme, and any proposed development that conformed to that scheme was deemed to have been given planning consent, unless it was considered a particularly sensitive site and therefore specifically excluded from the general planning provision. (fn. 7) Similarly, development within the zone was normally free of 'use class' planning controls, so that a structure originally intended to be a factory or warehouse could be converted to office use during the course of construction, without requiring further permission. (fn. 8) This relaxed attitude to planning was seen by some critics to produce an 'architectural zoo' or museum of selfcontained exhibits where few parts seem to fit well together. (fn. 9) While such an attitude initially encouraged developers, it was eventually seen to be acting against their best interests. Brian Edwards argued that 'the buildings constructed to date run the risk of poor connections in terms of both public space and urban transport, and have little protection from unsuitable or unfriendly neighbours'. (fn. 10) Certainly, Olympia & York were quick to intercede with the LDDC over any planned schemes which seemed to threaten the setting at Canary Wharf.
Peter Hall was acknowledged by the Government as the originator of the idea of Enterprise Zones. He was one of the authors of the New Society article in 1969, and the Enterprise Zone concept owed much to the 'nonplanning' philosophy advocated there, as well as Hall's subsequent 'Freeport solution' to the economic ills of inner cities, in which 'small, selected areas . . . would be simply thrown open to all kinds of initiative, with minimal control'. In fact, in the latter case, he conceived much more freedom from legislation, including a complete absence of immigration controls, than the Government was in fact prepared to countenance even in Enterprise Zones. (fn. 11)
'Wall Street on Water'
In September 1985 the Financial Times commented:
one of the last remaining areas in which docklands has yet to prove itself is in its ability to provide a feasible and attractive overflow location specifically for the City. Until recently, there have been virtually no signs that it was succeeding, either in encouraging institutions to fund City-oriented projects or in convincing traditional City occupiers to move to the docks. (fn. 12)
Nevertheless, 1985 and 1986 were to be a watershed in the development of the Isle of Dogs, although the effects were not immediately evident. A number of factors combined to increase the attractiveness of the area as an alternative location for City-type offices, and to encourage investors to back such schemes.
The new attitude was signalled when, in the autumn of 1985, a consortium of North American investment banks announced plans for an office development of eight million sq.ft on Canary Wharf. (fn. 13) This, more than any other factor, engendered confidence in the investment potential of the area. Until that time most Docklands developments had been under 100,000 sq.ft, but the sheer scale of the proposals for Canary Wharf encouraged other developers to think in terms of much larger schemes. (fn. 14)
The second important factor was that from April 1986 Enterprise Zones became even more attractive to those companies and individuals seeking shelter from their tax liabilities. A general 75 per cent initial allowance against tax for investments in industrial buildings anywhere in the United Kingdom was abolished for expenditure incurred after 31 March 1986, except in Enterprise Zones. In November 1987 Accountancy Age, referring to Docklands, argued that 'there is little doubt that the capital allowances have been a hugely important factor in the developments to date', while an estate agent involved in letting commercial properties claimed in November 1989 that 'the justification for building vast amounts of space on the Isle of Dogs has not been occupant driven, but tax driven'. (fn. 15)
The third factor which helped to increase office development on the Isle of Dogs was the 'Big Bang' in the City in October 1986, when trading in stocks and shares was deregulated and new technology was introduced. As a result, new firms sprang up, existing ones were seeking to expand and were looking for more modern facilities. Moreover, as the Financial Times pointed out, 'the City of London, caught off balance by the speed of the revolution and determined to resist any development which threatens its architectural heritage, has so far been unwilling or unable to respond'. (fn. 16) Furthermore, in October 1985 the Bank of England announced that banking firms were no longer required to remain within the City's square mile. (fn. 17)
Quite rapidly, therefore, the Enterprise Zone became regarded as an alternative to the City as a suitable venue for offices. Already in the summer of 1986 Norman Tebbit, then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, was predicting that the West India and Millwall Docks might become 'Manhattan-on-Thames' or a 'Wall Street on water'. (fn. 18) By December of that year just over 14.6 million sq.ft of actual or potential office space had either been built or was planned on the Isle of Dogs, most of it within the Enterprise Zone. (fn. 19)
The effect of all this was, firstly, that low-rise developments in the course of construction, such as Great Eastern Enterprise, which were envisaged as a mixture of lightindustrial and office use, became entirely offices, (fn. 20) and secondly, plans for unbuilt phases of existing developments were quickly revised. At Great Eastern Enterprise the final two phases, begun in 1987 and completed in 1989, consist of two office blocks of five and six storeys, in contrast to the two-storey units of the first phase. At Heron Quays, a near neighbour of Canary Wharf, the developers decided in 1986 to increase the gross area of development from 650,000 to 1,500,000 sq.ft. (fn. 21)
New developments were now, very largely, office blocks, usually built on a speculative basis, and often initially comprising medium-rise buildings. An example of this is the first phase of South Quay Plaza, begun in 1985 and completed in 1987, which became the Daily Telegraph's new offices, designated Peterborough Court. Thames Quay, nearby, is another medium-rise development which was built in 1987–9, although plans were originally drawn up in 1985 (Plate 139c).
This medium-rise phase was quickly followed by a high-rise one, reflecting greater confidence and increased funding from investors keen to be involved in Docklands, and influenced by the tall towers envisaged for Canary Wharf. Thus, for instance, the plans at Heron Quays were again revised in 1988, this time envisaging towers of 25 and 30 storeys, while subsequent plans, announced in 1990, proposed two sail-like towers of 36 and 46 storeys. Harbour Exchange, completed in 1990, is an example of an extensive high-rise office development, providing 1.25 million sq.ft of accommodation on a tenacre site (Plate 140b). In some cases the effects of these three phases of development can be seen within a single scheme. At Waterside, for instance, where work began in 1984, the first block is a two- and four-storey building of 40 small-business apartments which was completed in 1987. Then came the medium-rise Beaufort Court (fig. 271), Quay House and Ensign House, completed in 1987 and 1988. The final block, South Quay Waterside, is a high-rise, 24-storey office building, completed in 1992.
As developments became more and more office-orientated, not only did the scale of the buildings change, but also the smooth marble-clad and tinted-glass curtainwalling, already employed by office blocks in the City and in the great international business centres throughout the world, was adopted. Richard North, commenting on this new type of Docklands building in June 1988, wrote:
They are Meccanoed together in steel frames, providing huge floor areas free of pillars. Then, to add the excitement their architects aspire to, semi-circular or triangular steel work is planted on top. Often its shape-work is no more than drapery. Sometimes, there are atria: multi storey glassed spaces which might, if you were very lucky, remind you of the glass work at Kew Gardens, and the genuine fun of Decimus Burton and Joseph Paxton.
Many of the new offices have token additions of stone facing. In the case of the Telegraph building and its bigger brother, the thing is made to look as though its ground floor was solid stone blocks. In reality, the "blocks" are wafer thin and make arches like a stage set's. (fn. 22)
Large-scale office developments attracted a number of City businesses and institutions to the Isle of Dogs. Among firms which had their headquarters on the Island by 1990 were the Regency Life Group and two City accountants, Littlejohn Frazer and Price Waterhouse. By then, international bankers included Merrill Lynch Europe at Greenwich View, and the Italian International Bank at Heron Quays. At Coriander Avenue, just to the south of East India Dock Road, the London Telehouse had computer suites intended as data centres for international finance houses. The institutions represented included: the Association of International Bond Dealers in Limeharbour; FIMBRA - the financial regulatory body set up by the Government - at Hertsmere House; and the Stock Exchange, which had a computer centre at Greenwich View. In 1992 the Western University of Phoenix, Arizona, opened its London Business School at Glengall Bridge. (fn. 23)
Although the transfer of a major Government department to Docklands now seems unlikely (see Canary Wharf, page 712), in August 1991 the 530 staff of the Government Export Credit Guarantee department moved into Harbour Exchange, (fn. 24) and in 1992 the Department of Transport took 8,000 sq.ft at South Quay Plaza 2 for its London Docklands division. The central services of Tower Hamlets Borough Council moved to Mulberry Place on the East India Dock Site in the summer of 1993. (fn. 25) With the Jubilee Line extension going ahead, 2,000 London Underground staff will move into No. 30 The South Colonnade at Canary Wharf. (fn. 26)
Docklands was particularly successful in attracting newspaper and magazine publishers away from their old premises in the City or elsewhere in inner London. Quite fortuitously, the development of Docklands coincided with the moment when new technology was making possible the physical separation of editing and printing processes. This led to a mass exodus of national newspapers from their traditional locations in Fleet Street, and, as with other types of firm, the financial concessions offered by the Enterprise Zone proved a strong inducement to move to Docklands. (fn. 27) There are four such newspaper groups - Telegraph, Express, Guardian, and Financial Times - which now have printing works within the Enterprise Zone, the first two sharing premises at West Ferry Printers. The Telegraph also moved its other staff to Peterborough Court, and subsequently to Canary Wharf, and in 1994 Mirror Group Newspapers moved 1,000 staff from Holborn to Canary Wharf, where they were joined in the same year by the Independent and Independent on Sunday. Other publishers to take offices in the Enterprise Zone are the Northern and Shell Group, now at City Harbour (having moved from its own building at Millharbour), Thomas Telford (the publishing offshoot of the Institution of Civil Engineers) at Heron Quays, and the Builder Group at Great Eastern Enterprise. In addition, Reuters, the international press and financial data agency, has built a data-centre on part of the Blackwall Yard site, while FT Analysis, a Financial Times subsidiary, providing a financial information service, moved into Telehouse Europe in 1991. (fn. 28)
Private Financing and Investment
Much of the private investment in Docklands has come from overseas, because, it has been argued, foreign investors were unaware of the problems that deterred more local investors and the prejudices against the 'East End'. (fn. 29) On the Isle of Dogs, Canary Wharf was developed by the Canadian firm Olympia & York; Japanese firms were involved at Ferguson's Wharf, Harbour Exchange, the London Telehouse, and South Quay Plaza 3; Swedish firms at the East India Dock site and the Price Waterhouse Building; a Dutch bank at City Harbour; and a Kuwaiti consortium at Meridian Gate. In October 1990 it was stated that 70 per cent of investment in Docklands had originated from overseas sources. (fn. 30)
A number of commercial developments within the Enterprise Zone have been purchased by trusts set up as tax shelters. In this way an investor who had put £10,000 into such a trust and who was paying tax at 60 per cent would immediately recoup £5,700 in tax relief. The balance could be borrowed through the trusts, and the interest payments on this also attracted tax relief. At the same time, the proportion due to the investor of rents from the property purchased by the trust might provide the repayments on any such loan. Thus, a series of Property Enterprise Trusts (PETs) was set up by Rutland Trust, which purchased buildings at Harbour Exchange, as well as the Price Waterhouse Building and part of Nos 30–40 Marsh Wall. In the same way, Laser (London and South-East Enterprise Zone Real Property) Trusts were launched by Colegrave Johnson Fry (subsequently Johnson Fry), which purchased Harbour Island (at Harbour Exchange), the Isis and Wallbrook Buildings at Thames Quay, another part of Nos 30–40 Marsh Wall, and five buildings on the western phase of Glengall Bridge. (fn. 31)
The commercial development of Docklands also coincided with the introduction to the British property market, in the mid-1980s, of 'off-balance-sheet financing'. In simple terms, a company first decided to engage a partner to share the risk of development. They then set up an associate company, off their own balance sheets, whose sole asset was the development. This associated company raised finance against the security of the development, so that there was no liability on the developers, except, for instance, when cost or construction time overran. The developers entered into construction contracts at a fixed price. Finally, the developers sought to lease the building to a company before it was completed, or arranged to sell it once it had been completed. In this way a profit of about 20 per cent of the value might be obtained. Should the project fail it was the financiers, not the developers, who were left with a halffinished, unlet, or unsold building. (fn. 32) At South Quay Plaza 3 the joint developers, Marples International and National Leasing & Finance, set up special companies to carry out this development - Notchmixi and Gablewide and these companies were financed by an international syndicate of banks. (fn. 33)
Reaction and Recession
As the pace of development on the Isle of Dogs quickened and investors became increasingly eager to back schemes in the area, so land prices rose rapidly: in 1981 land values averaged £50,000 an acre, by March 1988 these had increased tenfold, with waterside sites fetching over £1 million per acre, and some particularly prime sites reaching as much as £10 million an acre. (fn. 34) Yet commercial rents remained much lower than comparable rents in the City. In 1988, when top rents for offices on the Isle of Dogs were £20 per sq.ft, those in the City were £60 per sq.ft. (fn. 35) Rents remained lower on the Isle of Dogs, even after 26 April 1992, when properties became liable to pay the local Uniform Business Rate. (fn. 36)
The original concept of Docklands was as an area of fairly small-scale developments, with cheaply constructed high-tech buildings, which, as the need arose, were capable of a variety of uses. They were designed to be relatively temporary in nature, so that they could either be re-sited (as happened to the Ladkarn Building, see below) or demolished to make way for a different type of development. Canary Wharf and its many imitators brought an end to this flexible approach and established the Isle of Dogs as an area predominantly of office blocks. The dangers of this were already becoming apparent early in 1988, when it was predicted that the office market in the Isle of Dogs would soon become flooded. According to the Daily Telegraph:
So far only around one million square feet of offices have been completed, and of that less than 800,000 is occupied. Little space will be completed this year. The build-up begins in 1989 when over two million square feet will be completed, with massive floor area coming on to the market in 1990–1992. (fn. 37)
Also, the challenge presented by Canary Wharf immediately persuaded the City to relax its planning controls in 1985, allowing the creation of developments over roads and railways and on sites previously regarded as inviolable, so that another 20 million sq.ft of office development was added within the Square Mile. (fn. 38) As a result, by the end of 1993, half the City's stock of office accommodation had been built since 1986. (fn. 39) Similarly, the City of Westminster encouraged prestige developments, such as the world's largest financial dealing room above Victoria Station. (fn. 40) Furthermore, during 1987 and 1988 the Government introduced a general relaxation of planning regulations, allowing industrial or warehousing premises to be changed to offices without requiring planning permission, and thus taking away one of the distinctive advantages of an Enterprise Zone. (fn. 41) So, by the late 1980s, Docklands was in direct competition with the City and other inner London areas to fill new office blocks. During 1989 some rents began to drop to about £16 per sq.ft, as developers tried to attract tenants. (fn. 42) Among the financial incentives then on offer in Docklands were free fitting out of accommodation, six-month rent-free periods, and other rental agreements advantageous to tenants. (fn. 43) By October of that year it was claimed that 'it is probably true that with such a vast amount of space coming on to the market in Docklands nowhere else in Greater London can a prospective occupier negotiate such a comprehensive package of inducements'. (fn. 44)
By April 1990 the Daily Telegraph was nothing that: 'The property market in London's Docklands has marked time over the last six months with only a handful of lettings to companies not already represented in the enterprise zone'. (fn. 45) By November 1990 there was 1.4 million sq.ft of vacant commercial property available in the Isle of Dogs. (fn. 46) In the same year receivers were called in at South Quay Plaza 3, where the development companies found it difficult to let this phase of the scheme, and failed to keep up with their interest payments. (fn. 47) Similarly, in March 1990 the shares of the developer of South Quay Waterside were suspended, and part of the development had to be quickly sold off and the financial arrangements for the rest restructured to allow completion of the scheme. (fn. 48) Yet in both instances the first phases had been very successful. At Skylines, where again the original part was sold very quickly, the last stage has proved much more difficult to dispose of. By February 1991 vacancy rates in the Enterprise Zone were running at about 50 per cent, and only Canary Wharf was regarded as part of the Central London commercial property market. (fn. 49)
In the same month, office space at South Quay Plaza 3 was being offered at just £10 per sq.ft (compared with about £30 in West London and £40 in the City), yet even at this price it failed to attract tenants. (fn. 50) An earlier and more modest building - Parker House, at nearby Waterside - was available in April 1991 for £5 per sq.ft. (fn. 51) At the same time, the Isis building at Thames Quay was offered with a two-year rent-free period and no obligation for a tenant to remain in the building after that date. In the summer of 1992, according to the Estates Times, accommodation was let at South Quay Plaza 2 at a rent equating to 'substantially less' than £5 per sq.ft. (fn. 52)
By the spring of 1991 those seeking smaller accommodation could find sufficient cheap premises in the City and only larger users were still considering Docklands. (fn. 53) Fears began to be expressed that the Isle of Dogs had become too dominated by offices, such specialization leaving it vulnerable to economic decline, and the LDDC revised its development plans in order to get a greater mix of uses in the future. (fn. 54) The glut in office accommodation appeared to be much greater than that in residential property and existed throughout the whole of the London region. In May 1992 about 20 million sq.ft of office space was available in the City, and 14 million sq.ft was on the market in London's West End. (fn. 55) In 1992–3 it was being predicted by property experts that the chances of letting some office accommodation in London during the next ten years or more was extremely slim. (fn. 56)
Most worrying for the long-term future is the nature of this new office accommodation. Much of it was specifically intended for the financial services industry in the wake of the 1986 'Big Bang' (see page 704). The offices are, therefore, designed to meet the needs of the new technology, with floor-to-floor heights one-and-a-half times greater than those in a normal office block. This allows the accommodation of air-conditioning with twice the usual power, an electricity supply with three times the regular capacity to run the computers, higher floor loadings, and large unobstructed floors. (fn. 57) Yet the pace of technological advance has been so rapid that by 1991 such office blocks had become largely obsolete and, especially with the decline in the financial services industry, no longer met the current requirements of the commercial property market. (fn. 58)
In a reversal of what had happened in Docklands a few years before, developers began to consider converting commercial space to residential accommodation, as that market seemed likely to recover more quickly. At South Quay Waterside the developers explored the possibility of converting the small-business suites into student accommodation, with about 1,000 bedrooms, but by March 1994 this scheme had not been implemented. (fn. 59)
From 26 April 1992, the Isle of Dogs lost its Enterprise Zone status. The most serious blow, for developers still struggling to let commercial property, was that they then had to pay 50 per cent of the Uniform Business Rate on any empty buildings, amounting to about £3.50 per sq.ft at that time. (fn. 60)