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The development story

The planning permission granted to Vastint UK in 2012 required:

"a strong focus on employment uses, cultural and creative activities and a new residential community.”

Vastint UK adopted this vision to create a mix of uses for Sugar House Island which prioritises commercial resilience for the future community as part of its long term ownership and sustainable placemaking strategy.

We wanted to create a truly balanced community establishing a new business hub in Newham, bringing 2,500 jobs to the locality. Introducing new independent retail and amenity operators serving the wider district, will enliven the area and support its commercial viability.

The balance of residential also prioritises families, with 40% of its 1,200 homes three-bedroom or more. Previous proposals for this site mimicked the high-rise designs appearing along the High Street. In contrast, our masterplan’s  overriding aim was to bring buildings of a more human scale to this corner of east London. None of the accent blocks on the development are taller than 16 storeys, and contemporary mews houses aid permeability as well as personalising lower-scale perimeter blocks.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure district heating

Site preparation

Site preparation

Industrial heritage

A warehouse with sawtooth roof structure and missing roof panels showing the sky beyond

Design & masterplan

A wooden large-scale model of sugar house island prepared for planning in 2012

Sustainability

Ducklings at the river edge at Sugar-House-Island

Community

Community consultation undertaken at Sugar House Island as part of the planning process

Industrial heritage

A warehouse with sawtooth roof structure and missing roof panels showing the sky beyond

Another key factor determining the masterplan is Vastint UK’s aspiration to preserve and reinstate key aspects of the site’s rich industrial heritage within the fabric of the design. As well as retaining three buildings in Dane’s Yard, within The Sugar House Lane Conservation area, the arrangement of the new buildings alongside the old was very much informed by the desire to retain the alleyways, yards and spaces between the buildings which gave the area its intimate, historic feel. This could not have been achieved had we proposed fewer, more efficient commercial buildings. The combination of these buildings and the spaces between respect the collaborative nature of the creative industries to whom they are targeted. Added to this was the team’s aspiration to create a characterful neighbourhood, connected into its history and local context, not least by the retention of the three industrial chimneys that have been on site for nearly 200 years.

 

This proved to be more difficult than at first imagined. The chimneys’ flues needed to be properly cleaned, as did the soil underneath them. As a result, they have had to be dismantled, the bricks cleaned and stored on site until that part of the scheme is built. Once reinstated, they will provide the centrepieces to a pedestrianised retail area called “Chimney Walk” which follows the route of an old river, leading down from the creative hub in Dane’s Yard to the riverside park on the western edge of the site.

These important decisions drove up cost, but at the same time retained what we felt was an important connection to the history of the place. The team and wider stakeholders believed they were essential to the long-term revitalisation of the area; of creating a new neighbourhood which balances working, living and leisure activities while retaining its important sense of place.

Site preparation

Site preparation

With centuries of mixed industrial heritage, the site has housed numerous different industries. These have included: tar works, boiler makers, a sugar refinery, printing, paint pigment works, and a cooperage for the nearby tidal mill, which served one of London’s primary gin distilleries for generations.

A four-year programme was required to clear the existing buildings of rubbish, demolish old structures and warehouses, remove out dated infrastructure, remediate the soil, and replace 1.2km of river wall; all whilst reclaiming important elements of the site’s heritage.

In 2010 the site was still made up of multiple ownerships and dominated by industrial warehouses. During the following four years Vastint assembled all 8 land parcels to create the ‘island’ and in doing so started to clear many of the disused buildings of the tonnes of waste that had illegally been dumped here.

Demolition began in 2012. Where possible, elements of the old buildings were retained, including 90,000 London stock bricks; light fittings from some of the warehouses; granite setts from across the site as well as old iron weighbridges. These will be re-used where possible. The demolition was also halted by our natural friends. A single pipistrelle bat was seen entering an old toilet block near the centre of the site during one of the bat activity surveys.

We obtained a licence from English Nature to provide alternative homes for these unique creatures and installed two bat boxes on 1 Dane's Yard which are now happily in use. 

By 2016 the majority of the site had been cleared and remediation was underway. This involved a carefully-managed programme of selective excavation, complex sorting and cleaning. This was implemented to maximise the re-use of material and included a variety of proven methodologies including bioremediation using white rock fungi (mushrooms) with special degrading properties. These fungi were cultivated in our on-site laboratory to reduce treatment times by almost 50%. As the clean-up of each plot was completed we secured sign off from the Environment Agency that the land was ready for re-use.

Another important task to prepare the site for the forthcoming homes and offices, and to future-proof it for over 100 years, was to replace the river wall. There were over 1km of different types of river wall structures around the site, of different ages and efficacies, and in some places none at all. Whilst many of the structures would have remained structurally sound for a the foreseeable future we took the decision to replace all the river walls to minimise disruption to the community in future.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure district heating

The physical infrastructure that is needed to deliver our vision for a neighbourhood that knits into the surrounding areas must reach out to others. We committed, via the Section 106 obligation, to the delivery of three new bridges (two pedestrian and one bus/cycle/pedestrian) and the refurbishment of a fourth.

One of the early moves to improve connectivity was the funding and implementing of a junction across the High Street at its intersection with Sugar House Lane, to offer a safe pedestrian crossing and to provide improved vehicle access to the area.

Other transport contributions include a £1m contribution to TfL for bus stops and a new/redirected bus route through the site and a fairly large landscaped area to accommodate 27 Santander Cycle docking stations.

Another element of site infrastructure requiring considerable investment and co-ordination is that of the new site-wide district heating pipes. The intention is to connect to Engie’s Olympic Park District Energy Network, providing low carbon heat. Until their hot water pipes reach the site the homes and offices will be heated by boilers in the on-site energy centre.

A particularly European twist has also been introduced to deal with waste, yes, rubbish. The first underground refuse systems have already been installed. These bins, hidden beneath the landscaping, are common in the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, France (and, neighbouring Tower Hamlets). They have a small pillar above ground – one each for mixed recycling and general waste and are conveniently located outside the front doors of apartment blocks, for dropping off small bags on the way out of the house.

Community

The team undertook significant community engagement to develop and refine the scheme.

As well as 1,200 homes and offices catering for 2,500 people working here, the scheme has been shaped to ensure there are benefits to all living locally. This is through new day-to-day shopping needs, cafes and restaurants as well as the collection of open spaces accessible to all.

We have planning consent for a new two-form entry primary school on the site. This was not a planning requirement, but we felt it would be important for the families we hope will buy or rent the homes at Sugar House Island.