London has a few, but not very many, skyscraper clusters. The City of London and Canary Wharf are the two largest, the two you can see even from the outskirts of town. Vauxhall/Nine Elms is another, now the site of a forest of red-light-topped cranes along the Thames. And then there's Stratford. which you might not have realised yet but is about to become Newham's Manhattan. Indeed a 42 storey tower called the Manhattan Loft Gardens is scheduled to arise alongside Stratford International station over the next couple of years. A 28 storey student bunkhouse is nearing completion beside John Lewis. The swathe of empty tarmac between Westfield and the Olympic Stadium is destined to become The International Quarter, which'll block out familiar 2012 vistas soon enough. And then there's Stratford High Street. Halfway down is the StratfordHalo, already topped out at 43 storeys, with its technicolour headband shining down somewhat incongruously over the neighbourhood after dark. A 26 storey tower of student accommodation is about to appear on the site of the former Esso petrol station. And then there's Capital Towers. Blimey, seriously?
Of all the places for a luxury highrise apartment, how do you fancy a scrap of wasteland alongside the Bow Roundabout? You probably don't. The Bow Roundabout's had a terrible press over the last couple of years, a place renowned for traffic congestion, exhaust fumes and dead cyclists. As a reader of this blog you'll likely have even more negative connotations because I've not exactly been selling the place, more extolling it as a vortex of inaccessibility and incompetence. But twist the geographic description around a bit, say Docklands North, or Olympic Park South, and suddenly this is a most desirable location. I dare you to watch this 90 second promotional video and not feel queasy.
Capital Towers will be a pair of buildings, one 14 storeys high, the other 34. They'll be linked at fourth floor level with a "skybridge", and residents in the taller tower will have access to a top floor "garden terrace". And it's the 34-storey blade that'll house the richer tenants, its thin streamlined shape permitting prestige double-fronted apartments. I'll have to live with this architectural stinker on my doorstep, unavoidably, because 34 storeys is massively out of proportion for this part of town. There is a 20 storey apartment block to one side - that's the block beside the vanished Marshgate Lane bus stop we discussed yesterday. And on the Bow side of the Lea is an only-slightly smaller block, looming over the flyover and the drive-through McDonalds. But 34 storeys is proper massive, and inescapable, and considerably taller than expected. Newham Council's Stratford Metropolitan Masterplan: Building Heights Paper (February 2011) anticipated that "the southern end of the High Street at the intersection with the A12 could potentially be marked by a district landmark (up to 24 full storey) to emphasize this strategic junction and mark the gateway into Stratford". It hasn't take long to blow that limit out of the water, but that's Olympic potential for you.
I moved here back in 2001 because it was cheap. Now in 2013 the Bow Roundabout is being marketed overseas as a desirable international destination. Indeed it was a report last night on BBC London news that alerted me to the whole Capital Towers shenanigans. Property companies prefer to flog London's prime residential developments abroad because they can make more profit that way. To a wealthy Hong Kong resident prices in London look cheap, considerably cheaper than at home, so they're only too willing to snap up a Stratford investment. Apparently Capital Towers is one of their fastest selling developments ever - more than 80 of its apartments were sold in Singapore and Hong Kong in the last week. You expect this sort of thing in Westminster or Docklands, but it's a bit of a shocker to discover it by the Bow Roundabout. If only I'd been capable of buying my flat when I moved here rather than renting it... but then I guess a lot of us think that.
By Autumn 2016, if all goes to plan, the first residents should be moving in. But the developers haven't even finished demolishing the site yet. The broader half, where the Sky View Tower will rise, was until recently the shell of J Bulman & Sons Carpet Contract Ltd. I think it's been empty for a decade, bar a massive pile of discarded tyres, but a few weeks ago the bulldozers suddenly moved in and demolished the lot. One's still there, sat atop a pile of rubble set amongst several other piles of rubble. Meanwhile the other half of the plot has long been cleared and vacant, and was used for a number of years (until very recently) by an opportunist car wash firm. The entire plot is "secured", if that's the right word, by an especially shaky fence, and every now and then a huge Crossrail lorry rumbles past delivering tunnel sections to the portal up the road.
If investors in the Far East could have seen the site last night - a field of debris beside a traffic-choked mega-roundabout - I doubt they'd be so keen to invest. But then most of them never intend to live here, they might simply rent their duplex out, or perhaps use it as a pied a terre for a fortnight if ever they're in town. Appallingly, for one of the poorest boroughs in London, Capital Towers will include zero affordable housing. Newham Council capitulated to the developers' demands in return for cash, because obviously a "no riffraff" policy sells faster. Meanwhile, according to last night's BBC report, approximately half of all new build homes in inner London are now sold to foreign investors. Even here beside the Bow Roundabout, it seems, the capital's housing policy has gone very badly wrong indeed.