The Irish developer with a big vision for London
Ballymore Group planning apartment development in East London
London City Island: Ballymore Group plans to transform a 12-acre spit of wasteland into a new living quarter with the relocated home of the English National Ballet as its centrepiece
Coffee table books featuring images of imagined not-yet-built residential schemes, with computer generated people going about their non-existent lives, were all the go at the height of the last property boom. Now Irish developer Sean Mulryan’s Ballymore Group is hailing its latest London venture with a similarly elaborate tome.
Its ambitious London City Island project on the Leamouth peninsula, in the middle of the Thames, needs to help potential investors visualise the unlikely transformation of this 12-acre spit of wasteland into a hip cultural living quarter, with the relocated home of the English National Ballet as its centrepiece.
Technically it’s not an island – a small sliver links it to the mainland – and it takes vision to imagine this part of east London could ever become a chi-chi district where apartment prices range from £300,000 to more than £1 million, with retail space reserved for small independent specialists and creative studios.
London City Island, and two other projects, comprise a €2.8 billion property deal with Malaysian-backed Eco World Investments that will enable Ballymore to properly exit Nama by September this year. Under the arrangement Ballymore gets a 25 per cent stake in the joint venture and it received €547 million for its interest in London City Island, Arrowhead Quay in Canary Wharf, and phase two of Embassy Gardens in Nine Elms. Much of the cash raised in the venture went straight to paying off the Nama debt.
Mulryan saw the potential in these London wastelands decades ago when the container-ship business ended. One day he attended a conference on demographics and population change in London, and it became apparent the only direction the rapidly burgeoning city could go was east. So he started buying tracts of former dockland that nobody wanted.
Others thought he was mad and would never get planning to develop there. But persistence and vision paid off. Since 1992 Ballymore has become one of the biggest providers of residential space in London. It redeveloped Spitalfields Market in the unlikely location of Shoreditch. It was significantly involved in the development of Canary Wharf’s One Canada Square, and more recently, at Nine Elms, its Embassy Gardens scheme sits alongside the relocated American embassy.
The completion of the Docklands Light Railway and Jubilee Line extension have finally linked these areas to the city proper and vindicated Mulryan’s original vision. London City Island seemed inaccessible until Ballymore persuaded two adjoining boroughs to agree to the building of a critical footbridge linking the peninsula to Canning Town and the Jubilee Line. Access problem solved.
The London City Island project is something of a pet vision for Mulryan, and those who work with him say it is the one of which he is most proud. The scheme, designed by architect Glenn Howells, has a very different aesthetic. For a start the nine low-rise buildings are arranged asymmetrically with irregular angles and each is boldly coloured from a palette of red, blue and orange. It’s in sharp contrast to London’s unrelenting grey surrounds and the stark Millennium Dome across the way.
The launch phase comprises 417 apartments, rising to about 1,700 apartments when complete, priced from about £375,000 for a one-bed up to £750,000 for a three-bed. The launch pricing has been hailed locally as reasonably good value in a market where property prices continue to soar because of limited new development.
The concept is designed to appeal to young professionals working in Canary Wharf and other outlying business districts who need somewhere close by to live and relax.
The inclusion of the English National Ballet at its heart is something of a coup; passersby will be able to view the dancers rehearsing through curtain wall windows.
City Island residents will have membership of the exclusive City Island Arts Club, which will include access to a high-end grocers, screening room, gym and swimming pool, all of which is designed to persuade buyers that the move to a relative outpost will be rewarded with an instant community of like-minded types. Hipsters need apply.
The island is a two-minute walk across the bridge to Canning Town station, making the City and the West End less than 20 minutes away. Canning Town still has a way to go in the upwardly mobile path towards urban cool, but a leap of faith is required to make it happen.
London City Airport is a 15-minute spin, although it’s still reeling from the recent overturning of planning approval to almost double the number of passengers it could take to six million by 2023, when lord mayor Boris Johnson wiped the approval on the basis of concerns about noise.
Chief executive and Irishman Declan Collier plans to continue to fight the decision, as the business is growing exponentially. He sees developments like London City Island fitting perfectly with the airport’s plans to service the leisure travel needs of its current business travellers as they increasingly move out to east London.
Meanwhile, Mulryan and Ballymore (which is building about 60,387sq m of office space and about 300 homes adjacent to the new Central Bank headquarters on Dublin’s North Wall Quay) have their sights on a new and possibly more ambitious London project. Royal Wharf, on another unloved tract on the Thames, is a full-on town plan, with terraced houses, schools, hospitals and traditional high street. The target market here will be young professional London families. Another leap of faith for some, maybe, but Mulryan’s vision tends to serve him well. He just has to keep drawing pictures for the rest of us.