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Property: How Canary Wharf-based Impact Capital Group is set to transform Romford

Developer’s eco-friendly plans win approval for former ice rink site next to Queen’s Hospital

Rom Valley Gardens is set to be built next to Queen's Hospital
Rom Valley Gardens is set to be built next to Queen’s Hospital

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“Mega, mega, mega going back to Romford” sang Underworld vocalist Karl Hyde on 1996 hit single Born Slippy, made famous by its inclusion on the soundtrack of Danny Boyle’s film adaptation of Trainspotting.

Its lyrics paint an abstract picture of the travails of journeying home to the Havering town from the point of view of an overly-inebriated narrator who’s just rolled out of a pub somewhere near Tottenham Court Road.

Fast forward 26 years, though, and not only is travelling from Soho and other parts of London to Romford set to get much quicker, it’s an area that’s experiencing a degree of mega change.

The opening of Crossrail’s central and eastern section – rumoured to be happening in May – will not only mean direct connections to Tottenham Court Road but also radically shortened journey times to whole swathes of the capital including Canary Wharf.

That’s something, presumably, the founder and CEO of One Canada Square-based Impact Capital Group, Robert Whitton, is looking forward to.

In addition to being born and raised in Romford, he’s created a company that is part of that change.

Impact Capital recently won planning permission from Havering Council to build the best part of 1,000 homes on the site of a former ice rink within walking distance of the town’s Crossrail station.

“I used to go skating there and I remember watching the Romford Raiders ice hockey team play,” said Robert. “I also used to take my children there to use the facilities.”

Artificial slippiness at the site – a piece of land encircled by Rom Valley Way adjacent to Queen’s Hospital – came to an end around a decade ago when the rink was demolished and another opened elsewhere in the town.

For the past nine years, various plans have been tabled for the area’s regeneration, culminating in Impact’s successful application.

While approval from the Greater London Authority and a Section 106 agreement remain outstanding, the hope is to break ground on what will become Rom Valley Gardens by the end of the year.

Impact Capital Group founder and CEO Robert Whitton
Impact Capital Group founder and CEO Robert Whitton

“The proposed scheme will see 972 homes built as well as 223 care units for later living or residential care, a medical centre, retail and cafe spaces, gym facilities and other amenities.

Impact’s intention is to use its modular construction factory to deliver much of the development, which will have a strong focus on sustainability.

“It feels good to have reached this point – there’s a lot of support for it,” said Robert.

“When it does come forward people will be very pleasantly surprised, because we are trying to do something that’s very different.

“It’s not going to be an ordinary development – we are looking for this to be a zero-carbon development, pushing the boundaries and looking for new concepts like inter-generational living and creating a real sense of place and community.

“That’s why we’ve included a lot of additional provision for these things within the plans, which we didn’t have to do, but wanted to.

“There will be facilities, both for residents and other community groups – an indoor gym and an outdoor gym and a big public square, where we hope to hold big outdoor events.

“There are residents’ lounges and a mixture of public and private open spaces to create a real neighbourhood – in many ways an urban village.

“We’ve put in there what is now termed ‘independent living’ with extra care provisioning, which is a great concept – it’s the idea of integrating that within a larger development, which will have elements that will also attract younger people, such as the private rental homes, and larger units for families. We want that whole mix of generations.

“I don’t live very far from it now, and have lots of friends and family who live in the area, so it’s very much my home town. It’s a great honour and privilege to be able to bring forward such a transformational project as this.”

An artist's impression of how Rom Valley Gardens will look when work is completed
An artist’s impression of how Rom Valley Gardens will look when work is completed

Robert said Impact, which will manage the development in perpetuity once it is built, would use its factory in Peterborough to ensure a high level of quality control in the building process, helping it deliver on its eco-friendly ambitions for the project.

“Construction and the built environment are the biggest polluters in the world, so we want to have a neutral footprint in delivering this neighbourhood,” he said.

“That way everyone living there will know this new neighbourhood doesn’t have a negative effect on the environment at large.

“They will also notice their energy bills are very, very low – the buildings will be firmly thermal-efficient with double or triple glazing and we’ll be making use of renewable energy.

“Because they’re built in a controlled factory environment, we can get the air-tightness of those units much better than traditional construction methods, and speed up the time it takes to get the project built.”

The development’s proximity to Queen’s Hospital – something that will be particularly beneficial to its older residents – is also an important element in its delivery.

“Included in the plans is a 3,000sq m diagnostic centre for the hospital,” said Robert.

“Timing for that is dependent on agreement with them, but that’s great for local residents.

“The hospital has also told us it has big issues with recruitment and retention, so having housing and facilities close to it will be good to help address that.

“Havering Council will work with the NHS so key workers can get prioritisation within the social housing element.”

For Wharfers interested in spotting trains – estimates vary, but Elizabeth line services could cut the commute from Romford to Canary Wharf by about 16 minutes per journey – more than half an hour a day, or two and a half hours per week.

Oh, and incidentally, Born Slippy was named after a racing Greyhound that members of Underworld once watched run in Romford – mega.

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Canada Water: How Canada Water Dockside fits into regeneration plans

Art-Invest’s scheme to build offices on the edge of the water will see work at town centre’s heart

An artist's impression of how the office development might look
An artist’s impression of how the office development might look

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Art-Invest is doing something a bit unusual – at least in the context of the ongoing regeneration of Docklands, east and south-east London. 

The German developer recently received outline planning permission from Southwark Council for a scheme covering the former Decathlon store (now temporary events venue Dock X) on the edge of Canada Water.

But while rolling cranes onto such sites isn’t exactly out of the ordinary, the fact that it intends to build offices, is.

Art-Invest’s plans for Canada Water Dockside cover a chunk of land either side of Surrey Quays Road, including the now defunct Hawker House, adjacent to the 53 acres that developer British Land is currently engaged in regenerating. 

It’s a missing piece in the redevelopment of the area – a site originally earmarked for housing – that enjoys a lengthy stretch of dock edge and connects the British Land project with buildings already completed beside the Tube station.

Art-Invest’s plans are for a series of three buildings housing about 1.5million sq ft of space alongside community facilities and places to eat and drink at ground floor level. The scheme also promises to bring up to 10,000 jobs to the area.

“Back in 2019, there was an opportunity to get involved in this particular site, and we were very aware of what was happening in the area with British Land,” said Luka Vukotic, development director at Art-Invest.

“Given that the whole area was going to change from a residential district to a proper town centre, we thought it would be quite remarkable to help with that wider vision.

“What really attracted us to it was that it was already established, with existing communities all around it.

“As we were starting to consult with people, we realised how strong they were and how much local identity there already was. In addition, we were really attracted by the green and blue spaces of this place – its parks and its docks. 

“With British Land coming forward with a town centre, our scheme needed to be more than just a residential building with a boring ground floor.

“We wanted to create office space with lower levels that everyone could use – both occupiers and local communities.”

Art-Invest development director Luka Vukotic
Art-Invest development director Luka Vukotic

While many had questioned whether people would return to workplaces following the pandemic, Art-Invest remains confident that its plans have a place in the evolving way businesses and organisations operate.

“A lot of existing offices will become less attractive in the coming years for a number of reasons, some technical and some social,” said Luka. 

“We’re convinced we’ve got a really special location, so it’s now about how we make something really remarkable out of this opportunity.

“We want to help build this new town centre and to create the offices of the future. 

“What’s really helped us in this process was talking to the local community – I personally had more than 150 meetings with community stakeholders, local businesses, local residents and local groups. 

“We realised that people really like the idea of a town centre as a place to socialise – to have a drink and some food and to enjoy it.

“So then we asked people what they wanted to see and they said they would like so many things – a food hall, restaurants, local shops, a community centre, a health hub, a bike repair shop. They told us what they thought was missing.

“That allowed us to think about our buildings in a different way – instead of having a large reception area for the offices on the ground floor, we thought it would be amazing to make that space vibrant, to create streets and squares there, before looking at what’s above.”

The next round of consultations focused on what the office buildings themselves might be like.

“That’s when we started thinking about the urban green factor, with external space and terraces, and how we make this a car-free place, a zero-fossil fuel development,” said Luka.

“It’s how we’ve begun to develop the vision of what the office of the future will be. 

“That’s very different from the old thinking, where developers created these super buildings where you can spend the entire day without leaving.

“We thought it would be much nicer to deconstruct the building and ask what’s needed that’s not already there – then you can create a relatively simple development that plugs into the existing grid of facilities and amenities.

“We ended up with a planning application that has been really well received by the local community.

“That wasn’t surprising to us because of all the work we’d done.

“Now we’ve got the go-ahead, the next five to seven years are going to be really exciting, where we can actually put a lot more thought into what this development is going to be like – to bring more colour to what we have already shown.”

An artist's impression of how the ground floor of Canada Water Dockside might look
An artist’s impression of how the ground floor of Canada Water Dockside might look

Art-Invest is working with BIG Architects on the scheme, which will have an eye firmly on sustainability, aiming to create a net-zero development entirely powered by electricity.

“The office of the future is not the building itself, it’s the environment you’re creating,” said Luka. 

“Workplaces will be spaces where you come maybe three or four times a week, but not somewhere you’d come to sit at a desk for the whole day.

“When it comes to the buildings, we think that the look and feel of office blocks needs to change – they should be more welcoming. 

“Our intention is also to have lots of terraces. A lot of people complain about the weather in the UK, but I think for most of the year you can actually work outside, depending how cold it is

“We use the terrace quite extensively at our office for about eight or nine months of the year.

“Fresh air is very important to us – Canada Water has some of the cleanest air in London and we want to create buildings with opening windows, not sealed boxes that don’t feel very human.

“In the future, offices will also be places where you might come to meet other people and to do other things in addition to work that you wouldn’t necessarily do at home.

“That’s why we think Canada Water has a lot to offer – you can do all sorts of activities within a 500m radius. 

“For example, Decathlon are our next-door neighbours and with everything the area has to offer there’s an opportunity to encourage healthy lifestyles.

“When we engaged with Decathlon, we realised its vision aligns with what we’re trying to achieve in terms of healthy living, active transport, and so on.

“That’s why we have a partnership with them and have set aside a £200,000 fund to encourage health and wellbeing in Canada Water over the next five years.

“This is a grass-roots project, supporting what’s already here. 

“We are strong believers that we don’t need to create a place here – there’s already a place here – we just need to see if there’s something missing or if we can help with something that’s already in existence.

“I’d really like to thank everyone who’s been involved in the processes over the last couple of years – all those who have worked with our teams, but also all the stakeholders, the community and Southwark Council who will be engaging with us to make this a success.

“We feel that Canada Water is going to be the start of an amazing journey in the years to come.”

Art-Invest hopes to start construction in 2023 with its buildings coming in phases. Residents can expect some spaces to open by 2025 or 2026.

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