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Property: How Berkeley Group’s Poplar Riverside transforms a slice of east London

Head of sales and marketing Doug Acton on how 20 years of regeneration will create and urban resort

An artist's impression of the first phase of Poplar Riverside
An artist’s impression of the first phase of Poplar Riverside

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“I call it an urban resort,” said Doug Acton, head of sales and marketing at Berkeley Group and the man responsible for driving the success of its Poplar Riverside development.

“It’s close to nature and it has facilities such as a gym, a pool, a spa, a cinema room, shops, bars and restaurants.

“It could almost be a self-contained little town, but it’s open to everyone – somewhere to get away from the hustle and bustle of Canary Wharf.”

To describe Poplar Riverside as ‘tucked away’ is both accurate and somehow inappropriate.

Officially launched in June last year, the development covers a 20-acre site, will take around two decades to build and will see about 2,800 homes delivered in the East End.

This is major regeneration by Berkeley division St William – a project that will also provide a new 2.5-acre public park, a couple of bridges across the Rvier Lea, 500m of riverside walkway, 90,000sq ft of commercial space. The list goes on and on.

But take the 20-minute stroll over to the site from Canary Wharf to the soft tranquillity of Leven Road on a sunny day and you’ll find it’s something of an oasis, albeit one where the concrete superstructures of its first phase have quietly risen.

The waters of the Lea flow lazily past as cranes perform their slow-motion ballet. There’s something happening here and it’s only just begun.

Head of sales and marketing at Berkeley Group, Doug Acton
Head of sales and marketing at Berkeley Group, Doug Acton

“When people come here, they’re really excited about the regeneration story – they can see it’s a part of this massive growth corridor that’s happening along the river,” said Doug.

“They can see the potential with our investment in things like the bridges – how that improves the connectivity to Canning Town station.

“The challenge for us is getting more people to come here. Once they see it, they know it really is a transformation, that it’s a step change.”

And “step” is the right word, because Poplar Riverside is a scheme of many levels.

There are the public parks and walkways themselves and, of course, the river, all framing the buildings.

Then there are raised podium gardens for residents, underground parking and private balconies lining the pointed elevations of the brick-clad blocks.

It’s partly the attraction of these features that have seen buyers purchase about 100 of the 156 homes at the first building in the first phase of Poplar Riverside – Calico House. 

The next to go on sale will be Porter House, which is right on the river and is expected to hit the market in July.

That will be followed by Bowline House and Sisal House, which all together complete the first phase with 643 properties.

 Construction of the first phase of Poplar Riverside
Construction of the first phase of Poplar Riverside

“With Porter House we’ll be launching three-bedroom homes for the first time to go alongside the studios, one and two-bedroom homes available,” said Doug.

“It’s right next to the Lea so many will overlook the river and enjoy views across the London skyline.

“They will also benefit from the Leven Banks park, which includes a children’s playground, so it’s an exciting block to release.

“One of the things we’re really good at as a company, having learnt from projects like Royal Arsenal Riverside in Woolwich and Kidbrooke Village in Greenwich, is that you would never know, as a resident, that construction is going on.

“We commit to the landscape nice and early, not as an afterthought, so people moving in can enjoy it.

A range of properties are available at the development
A range of properties are available at the development

“We’re also constantly speaking to our residents to get feedback and find out what they want and what they don’t.

“One of the things we’re creating at this development is the Riverside Club – 16,000sq ft of facilities that will help foster community here.”

Laid out over two floors that includes a co-working space, a cinema room, meeting rooms and a games room as well as a residents’ lounge, a spa, steam room, sauna, salt room and a 20m swimming pool.

“We also have The Great Room,” said Doug, who was recruited by Berkeley from the luxury hotel industry to help it deliver the kinds of facilities normally found at such resorts at its residential property developments. 

“It’s somewhere to work, play and meet just so people can have that strong sense of community.

“We’re really keen to create that feeling of togetherness and that goes for families as well – it’s not just for adults.”

All apartments at Poplar Riverside feature outdoor space
All apartments at Poplar Riverside feature outdoor space

The homes themselves feature floor-to-ceiling windows, underfloor heating, Bosch appliances in the kitchens and Italian terrazzo worktops.

All have some form of outdoor space and the two-bedroom show home features a jack and jill main bathroom, effectively offering both bedrooms en suite facilities.

“There’s mood lighting in the bathrooms and good storage comes as standard,” said Doug.

“There’s even a nod to the golden age of industry with the taps and that’s a theme we’ve carried throughout the properties.

“The principal bedroom has built-in wardrobes and there’s an option to have those in the second bedroom too.

“We know storage is really important, so we’ve also put full-height cupboards in the kitchens to maximise the use of space.”

Properties currently on sale at Poplar Riverside start at £410,000. The earliest completions are expected in the second half of this year. 

The Poplar Riverside sales and marketing suite, which includes a two-bedroom show apartment, is open for viewings.

An artist's impression of open space at Poplar Riverside
An artist’s impression of open space at Poplar Riverside

Read more: How Republic is placing future talent at the heart of its campus

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Woolwich: Why Berkeley Homes continues to finesse Royal Arsenal Riverside scheme

Tweaks to Building 10 deliver greater access, commercial units and eight new properties to buy

Windsor Square under construction at Building 10
Windsor Square under construction at Building 10 – image Matt Grayson

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As the team from Berkeley Homes are leading me on a tour of the Building 10 site at its Royal Arsenal Riverside development, I spot an unexpected local resident. 

As the dwindling light of an autumnal Monday streams through the open roof of what will become a partially enclosed public square, it falls on the glossy, auburn coat of a fox.

He stops briefly to survey us in our hi-vis PPE, before disappearing off about his business, bushy tail bobbing behind him.

Foxes are deeply practical animals. Their intelligence and flexibility has seen them adapt with ease to increasingly built-up areas of London, becoming a common sight across the capital as they effortlessly tailor their lives and ambitions to the realities they encounter. They’re smart – and it pays off. 

Berkeley is similarly adaptive and pragmatic. It has to be. Instead of simply levelling the 88-acre Woolwich site and starting again – arguably the easier option – it’s made a consistent and conscious effort to preserve and celebrate the area’s heritage. 

That has meant refurbishing and reimagining existing structures and ensuring a flavour of Royal Arsenal’s sprawling operations – that at their peak saw 80,000 people employed locally in the manufacture of weapons and ammunition and supporting trades – remains.

Berkeley East Thames development director Julian Evans
Berkeley East Thames development director Julian Evans – image Matt Grayson

Working with older buildings, no matter how careful the preparations made, is unpredictable. Sometimes, until you get on site, the feel of the finished product is unclear. 

It’s also the case that developments take a long time and, sometimes, what was originally planned no longer suits the demands and desires of the people who will ultimately use it.

A certain amount of finessing is therefore to be expected and Berkeley’s latest proposal for Building 10 continues a process of tweaks made to the original scheme, which was approved in 2017.

That included plans for 18,800sq ft of commercial space split into seven units, which was increased to 34,600sq ft over 10 units in 2019 with the addition of mezzanine floors to spaces at the western end of the site and the introduction of a fresh access route out to Major Draper Square.

The original architectural model of Building 10
The original architectural model of Building 10 – image Matt Grayson

Berkeley East Thames development director Julian Evans said: “We continually think about whether we have the right solution in terms of the buildings we are developing.

 “We’ve recognised that the nature of the proposed commercial spaces underneath the new-build section of Building 10 is they are constrained by the historic arches, meaning they would be compromised to the point that, if we took them to market, they wouldn’t be attractive to potential tenants.

“The nature of retail, particularly, is about that frontage – that footfall. It’s understanding that visually, people need to be able to see that where a business is and what it does.

“So we reviewed the eastern large ground floor space and created something new – we’re proposing an atrium with four smaller commercial units that gives people a wonderful sightline through to an existing archway, which will connect out to the next phase of Royal Arsenal Riverside.

“This will create a link between the two, while also maintaining the ability to have smaller, modern but more prominent retail units that face outwards onto the street.”

An interior at the Building 10 show home
An interior at the Building 10 show home – image Matt Grayson

The new proposal keeps the total number of commercial units at 10, with a slight reduction in space on the 2019 proposal. It still represents an increase of 52% on the 2017 scheme and opens up the semi-enclosed square at both ends. 

“At the same time, this change means there’s an opportunity to create eight mews-style houses that we know people crave from what we’ve delivered on-site to date,” said Julian. 

“Buyers want something different. The properties would be set over two levels – they have the feel of a house and they’re quirky in their nature.

“The houses at Building 10 will also be homes people can both work and live in if they need to.

“What people have loved over the years is that the historic properties we’ve created at the development don’t exist anywhere else – they’re unique to this place. 

“It’s a really great proposal and, I think when we take all of the commercial units to market, it’s such an exciting space that they will be really well received.”

The change also plays into Berkeley’s strategy for fostering small business growth locally.

Head of social value Carolina Correia
Head of social value Carolina Correia – image Matt Grayson

The developer’s head of social value Carolina Correia said: “We’ve been very lucky to have been working with a number of micro businesses in the area who have expressed an interest in being on-site. 

“They recognise how interesting Royal Arsenal Riverside is as a proposition.

“We have a coffee cab that stays here from Tuesdays to Sundays. Then we have a rotation of different street foods.

“The plan is to create an arcade at Building 10, which will have some of these smaller commercial units, and it’s a great opportunity for some of these businesses to trade here. We’re also working hand in hand with Greenwich Cooperative Development Agency to provide training and mentorship so these businesses can grow to full commercial propositions.

Julian added: “This whole concept of incubating local businesses that start on a kitchen table and come to us, explain what they want to do and then get help, is what Berkeley has been doing from day one. This latest proposal is part of that.”

Building 10 comprises a new-build structure containing more than 110 apartments, alongside Windsor Square, a partially covered space that once formed part of the Carriage Works at Royal Arsenal.

The proposed eight new residential properties would range in size from one to three bedrooms and would feature double height spaces, first floor balconies, historic features, a split level layout and dual aspect living.

Prices for homes already on sale at Building 10 start at £470,000. One, two and three-bedroom properties are available. 

The building is located close to Woolwich Crossrail station which will offer direct services to Canary Wharf in seven minutes when trains start running in 2022.

A show home is available to view on-site. 

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