It's not such a dog's life on the Island : DOCKLANDS A SPECIAL REPORT

London's Docklands may not be the brave new world the pioneers envisage d but it is starting to show pedigree. Anne Spackman reports

Dog Island was how estate agents used to refer to London E14. The expression added a mongrel dimension to the Isle of Dogs, reinforcing the belief that it would never become a pedigree area.

In residential terms that is likely to remain true. Both the architecture and the location - so far from the social centre of the capital - mean it is unlikely to become part of prime London, on a par with Kensington or Mayfair.

But it is no longer considered a ridiculous place to live. The boundary of acceptability, which has slowly swept east down the Thames, taking in St Katherine's Dock, Wapping and Shad Thames, has finally reached the Isle of Dogs. Estate agents are now dropping the `Dogs' reference altogether and starting to talk about life "on the island".

The Isle of Dogs is pivotal to Docklands, sitting half way between the City and the Royal Docks, seven miles up river. It is dominated by the tower of Canary Wharf, which for so long hung like an empty promise over the Docklands' skyline.

Now the tower is gradually filling up. Thirty out of 50 floors have been let - one to the Independent. Half the office space in the other nine buildings which make up the Canary Wharf complex has also been taken. If the current negotiations with BZW and Morgan Stanley are successful that figure will rise from 50 to 70 per cent.

The rehabilitation of Docklands is inextricably linked with the success of Canary Wharf. The more people work there, the more Docklands seems like a natural part of London. Those who scorn it are starting to look out of date.

The housing market, which crashed here just as the paint was drying on hundreds of apartment blocks, is finally recovering. At the depth of the recession there were 3,500 unsold new homes in the area. By last summer there were fewer than 100 - though plenty of re-sales remain on the market, keeping prices low.

At least 1,000 new homes will be started in 1995, about double the figure for 1994. A further 1,500 are in for planning permission.Yet despite all this activity, one of the most notable features about Docklands is how empty it seems. It has become the zone of the 12-hour day computer shift worker.

To catch a glimpse of one you have to travel on the Docklands Light Railway at eight in the morning when the trains deliver cargoes of besuited workers into the central mall cafes. There they snatch an orange juice, a croissant and a bit of gossip, then file into the offices of firms like UBS, Ogilvy and Mather and Credit Suisse.

Ten hours later the cycle is repeated.

At these times Docklands feels like the real metropolis. There is an undeniable buzz, while the towers of glass, the automation, the scale of the architecture turn the place into Gotham City.

It is these workers, many of them young, who have been filling up the homes and are set to become the backbone of Docklands. The other main group of Docklands' people are the older professionals working either at the Wharf or in the City.

For the past two years, both groups housing requirements have been the same. Many started by commuting to work. Then they rented in the area to see if they could hack it. Knight Frank and Rutley, who barely touched lettings five years ago, now have a 50/50 sales and lettings split in their Isle of Dogs office.

These people have been looking for serviced living quarters. They want a parking place, a kitchen, bathroom and a couple of rooms. The developers who have most successfully satisfied their requirements have been Galliard Homes and Barratt - the only original Docklands survivors.

Galliard's strategy has been to buy sites off the receiver for a song, do them up and sell them on. At their Tideway development in Rotherhithe they pulled in the crowds last spring by pitching the cheapest one-bedroom flat at £49,950 including a parkingspace.

Now they are shifting tack. They have bought Jubilee Wharf, a prime riverside site in Wapping, where they plan to enter the £250,000 market. They believe - and many agents agree - that many of those who have given Docklands a go are now firm converts.

By starting to build more expensive properties, developers are demonstrating the belief that they can at last sell on something more sophisticated than price.

Chief among those merits is the 10-minute commute, which, with ever-lengthening working hours, has become a priority. Gyms are also a bonus in some developments and parking is more often available than not.

The area still lacks some obvious basics, such as a cinema and a Marks & Spencer. But, like the Jubilee Line, due to open in 1998, they will come eventually.

What it is far harder to envisage is the voluntary inward migration of families with children.

There is one Montessori nursery in Shad Thames and a second looking for premises, but after that the schooling options are bleak. This is a serious, but not a terminal flaw - after all, many of the same criticisms could be levelled against Islington, which has become a popular and expensive area to live.

Docklands is gradually fragmenting like any other part of London into the fashionable and less fashionable areas. The closer you get to the City and to the river, the smarter the area. Knight Frank and Rutley are currently selling Dockmaster's House by Tower Bridge, bought by Peter Drew for a few pounds 25 years ago, for £1m.

Across the river at Surrey Quays the new properties have largely been bought by local people, as they are likely to be at the Royal Docks outpost on the north bank.

Docklands will never be a zone of Porsches and red braces, as originally suggested. Nor has the feared economic apartheid evolved. Instead it is becoming like any other international city, a mixture of rich and poor. It is not what the pioneers expected,but it is something more natural and organic and ultimately more harmonious.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Metail Ltd: Business Development Manager for Asia Pacific

    £35,000 - £40,000 based on experience : Metail Ltd: As a Business Development ...

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Owner

    £30 - 40k (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product ...

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - £17,000 Basic, OTE Uncapped

    £17000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company are looking for a S...

    Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line Technical Analyst

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 1st / 2nd Line Technical Anal...

    Day In a Page

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate