Born out of the London Docklands Development Corporation to regenerate Tower Hamlets, at the time one of the poorest boroughs in the country due to the decline of the docks as new container ships too large to access the docks moved east to Tilbury, Canary Wharf was conceived as a financial district to complement the City of London. The design of the vast gleaming modern tower blocks was far more suited to house the miles of underfloor wiring necessary to power modern banking and broking systems, than a Georgian or Victorian office in the Square Mile.
Initially, although shiny and new, Canary Wharf and the Docklands was not a popular destination. In a past life as a recruiter based in the City, I recall it being a challenge to persuade some bankers to move to the area. The Jubilee Line extension helped and over the last twenty years, I have seen the area improve beyond recognition, while remaining a hub for financial services and accountancy firms. However, more change is coming soon – the eagerly awaited, much anticipated Crossrail – Queen Elizabeth Line is now operational.
Crossrail will vastly improve transport links. Wharf-ers are now able to travel to Liverpool Street or Farringdon in less than ten minutes. Heathrow is accessible in 39 minutes.
Crossrail Place, built above the station, is a new eating, drinking and shopping hotspot and represents the efforts of the Canary Wharf group to transform the area as a go-to destination for all Londoners.
This effort by Canary Wharf Group, much like its new flex workspace offering, MadeFor, is future-proofing the estate. The landlords long-held ambitions to create a thriving neighbourhood are well in motion: more than 1,000 people already live on the estate, while its new 23 acre neighbourhood Park Drive, will add up to 3,600 homes and 350,000 sq ft of shops and restaurants, as well as 2m sq ft of office space, a new NHS GP surgery and primary school.
The Docklands as a whole is taking on new priorities. A host of higher education institutions are increasingly looking for space in the area, with around 500,000 sq ft of requirements that we are aware of, as universities from across England, Wales and Scotland, look to expand their London operations.
While higher education is by no means the only sector increasingly showing interest in the previously financial services dominated area-with a 55/45 split between creative and financial businesses on the Canary Wharf estate, it is indicative of the fact that the identity of the Docklands is changing.
Now the Queen Elizabeth Line has opened, the area once largely frequented only by its residents and its workers, will open to visitors in a way that would have been unimaginable nearly two decades ago when I first opened Fisks London.