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Roger Madelin Wants To Take You On A Walk Around British Land’s New £3B Scheme

Canada Water, Town Square

Roger Madelin strides into the middle of the unused car park in South London dressed in khaki shorts and a linen shirt and launches into his vision for British Land’s 53-acre, £3B redevelopment of Canada Water. It is not your bog standard plan, from a man who is not your standard developer.

“We want people here to fare una passeggiata,” the head of Canada Water at British Land said, using a phrase that directly translates as going for a walk, but in the original Italian has connotations of walking for the sheer pleasure of being in the open air and ambling with friends and family.

“You’ll be able to walk for 5KM on our site and in the woods and parks that it directly links to, and we want to get the whole community here out and enjoying the area.”

The site includes a lake with protected bird species living in it, and will have a new boardwalk built above it. 

Ten years ago a developer like British Land might have built millions of square feet of low-cost offices on its site on the South bank of the river Thames between central London and Canary Wharf, and perhaps put some shops and restaurants on the ground floor.

Instead, this week the company submitted one of the largest planning applications in London history for a masterplan that comprises 5M SF across 40 buildings including 3,000 new homes for sale and for rent, including 35% affordable housing, 2M SF of offices, 1M SF of retail and leisure space plus community health and educational facilities.

One of the first buildings at British Land's Canada Water scheme.

According to Madelin, the company is in dialogue with two health trusts to make sure the development fits the criteria set out by the NHS to be a “Healthy New Town”. Some of that housing is likely to be senior living and assisted living.

He said that scheme would attempt to reflect the way people actually live and work today, rather than the way the people who shape the built environment like developers and architects think they should live. It will focus on health and wellness by combining as much green and public space as possible with buildings, and having people of all ages living, working and studying there. That will include educational facilities for adults and retirees.

“Productivity is down, and why is that, it’s because people are stressed and pissed off and don’t feel valued,” he said.

A new high street at British Land's Canada Water scheme

Madelin was one of the driving forces behind one of the U.K.’s most garlanded regeneration schemes, King’s Cross Central, while a partner at Argent. He was weighing up retiring or taking on a series of smaller projects when British Land Chief Executive Chris Grigg persuaded him to take over a development site that British Land had pieced together over almost a decade. An afternoon spent fare una passeggiata around the site with his wife in 2015 persuaded him to join the firm.

Today the site comprises a shopping centre anchored by Tesco with a huge car park which on a sunny weekday afternoon is a quarter full at best; another completely disused car park; a historic listed office building; retail warehouse units; and a disused print works.

The planning application submitted by British Land is for an overall masterplan, plus detailed plans for the first three buildings in the scheme which will comprise 250 new homes, 300K SF of office space and a new council leisure centre comprising a swimming pool, sports hall and gym. If planning goes smoothly, construction could start in spring 2019.

The hard copy of the planning application took 10 days to print, British Land Head of Canada Water Operations Emma Cariaga said.

British Land's Roger Madelin gives journalists a tour of the Printworks.

The first phase of the scheme will total 1.8M SF, which Madelin points out with a nod to his former baby, is more space than has so far been delivered at Kings Cross Central.

“That makes occupiers think when they ask if they’re going to come down here and be on their own,” he said.

The jewel in the crown in terms of architectural interest is the Printworks, the 400K SF building where 12 presses once printed the Daily Mail and Evening Standard, which will form part of the first phase.

British Land bought the building in 2012 and has been paying £800K a year to keep the power connected and the building partially operational.

Rather than allow it to fall into disrepair, British Land drafted in events company Excite to manage it, and today it plays host to regular club nights, concerts, promotional events and video shoots. It has been used by musicians like Stormzy, TV programmes like Top Gear and the Royal Ballet Company, all looking to benefit from its post-industrial aesthetic.

The main former printing hall is the length of the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, although it is not as high and wide. Madelin said the ambition is to continue to use part of it as an events space. Half of its 119K SF could be given over to events with the other half split between an atrium and offices, he said.

“It would be a shame not to be able to carry on using the space for events,” Madelin said.

The redevelopment of the Surrey Quays shopping centre will also form part of that first phase, with an 800K SF mixed-use building being designed, and a new Tesco store that could have several hundred apartments above it. Residential towers on the site will range in height up to 45 storeys.

Half of the 119K SF former printing hall at the Printworks.

Madelin said British Land is already in advanced talks with occupiers about taking office space at the scheme, with rents likely to be about £45-£50/SF, with the businesses in talks ranging across all sectors. Starting site work was not dependent on a pre-let but he seemed confident tenants would be found before development commences.

“We’re a lot more advanced in terms of negotiations than at the equivalent point with King’s Cross,” he said.

It was not possible to say exactly how long the whole scheme could take to build out, Madelin said, but it felt closer to 10 years than the 20 years Kings Cross Central has thus far taken. A credit crunch slowed that scheme down — a downturn might well do the same with Canada Water.

Who knows what kind of large-scale mixed-use schemes developers will be envisaging in a decade’s time. But for now Madelin and British Land have dreamed up something that tries to reflect the way that people think about how to live in a city like London.