Condensing 50 years of Docklands history into 12 minutes is no mean feat, given the area’s dramatic change in this period. Nevertheless, it’s something Spencer Fortag, new business director at Landmark Estates , hopes to achieve at Buy London: The Developing Skyline on Thursday, November 3 at the Radisson Blu Edwardian New Providence Wharf.
“Selling the area to people while the transport system – the DLR – didn’t run on weekends, was always a tough job,” said Spencer.
“We look back and laugh now, but trying to convince prospective buyers to come to a new area served by rail only five days a week wasn’t easy.”
Landmark Estates has been active in Docklands for 22 years. Purely focused on residential developments, the company works with not just London residents but investors from Hong Kong, Singapore and China.
It sells to investors, and offers management contracts for properties once the bricks are on the ground.
Spencer, who also produces an independent monthly newsletter on the local area, said in the past half century the area had been transformed from mud flats and wasteland into a small community and then a thriving one, albeit tied to the lofty towers of Canary Wharf. Today he said the area even appealed to families.
“When I started out in the 1990s, people used the area for five days a week only,” he said.
“People have begun looking for family accommodation in the last five years. It’s not the desolate backwater it once was. It has bars, really good transport infrastructure, and a blossoming private rental sector.”
In the past, Spencer said people were often accidental landlords. They didn’t want to sell, and ended up taking on tenants. Now people are specifically buying properties to rent out.
“They’re exploring the practicality of development,” he said. “For example, they now build properties with bedrooms the same size, with a mind to rentals.”
In amongst this developments, Spencer is aware of the risk of building only high-end properties such as The Spire on West India Quay - western Europe’s tallest residential development.
He said: “The last few developments being completed are all upper end luxury. It’s almost a case of one-upmanship: ’Look at London: we have The Spire’.”
This will continue to limit the diversity of development in Docklands but it doesn’t mean the place will remain as it is today, for the next 50 years. However, don’t expect to see vast swathes of affordable housing invading the area any time soon.
“Canary Wharf is not the place for this,” he said. “There should be more as a whole in this country, but the Wharf is certainly not that area.
“I think Mayor Of London Sadiq Khan has some really grand plans in Barking, for example, and I think that could be a really good area for affordable housing.
“Historically Barking hasn’t performed that well economically, but that’s an area where we will certainly see development in the future.”
To achieve much of this development, London is dependent on overseas investment but Spencer said fears that this was pushing residences in the capital out of UK tenants’ reach are unjustified.
“It’s a great thing,” he said. “At the tail end of 2015, a survey found 81% of new-builds in central London were completed due overseas investors.
“Most of these developments would never have happened if we relied on our own investment.
“These properties then come back onto the private residential market, to be picked up by British tenants.”
It is a cycle that he said would remain unchanged post-Brexit.
“When we canvassed foreign investors in the wake of the referendum, they told us the main reasons they invest in the UK haven’t changed since Brexit,” he said.
“Education is immensely important in Chinese culture, and Brexit or not, four of the top 10 best universities in the world are in the UK.
“We also have strong stable land titles in this country. Land ownership is not something that is questioned, unlike elsewhere in Europe, such as Cyprus. We also have a stable democratic society, so investments are secure.”
So does Spencer have a wishlist for future development in the Docklands? What would he like to see developed in the next 50 years?
“I suppose that would be for an esoteric, funky, live-work development,” he said.
“Something akin to the likes of Shoreditch or Hackney to soften the edges of the corporate image associated with Canary Wharf for example.
“I don’t think it will happen because we’re running out of space on the island, but perhaps there is space around the Royal Docks, or the airport. Something more bohemian. A new cool side to east London.”
Given the area’s rapid development and increasingly varied influx, perhaps it’s not so far fetched.
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