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 Those who scorn it are starting to look out of date.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
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
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

    Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Change Manager - London - EMEA & CIS projects

    £56500 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful & reputable global business is l...

    Ashdown Group: Regional HR Advisor / HR Business Partner - Oxfordshire

    £30000 per annum + contributory pension: Ashdown Group: An established Not for...

    Ashdown Group: Tester / Test Engineer - Cheshire - Growing Industry Leader

    £32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

    Ashdown Group: Data Migration Specialist / Architect - SQL Server / SSIS - gro

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003