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Jarring visions of Royal Albert Island's future

PUBLISHED: 13:30 23 December 2015 | UPDATED: 13:52 23 December 2015

Microsoft Bing Map screen shot of Royal Albert Island, reproduced with permission from Microsoft Corporation

Microsoft Bing Map screen shot of Royal Albert Island, reproduced with permission from Microsoft Corporation

Microsoft

It has been dubbed "one of the most exciting investment and development opportunities in London" but Albert Island's future is anything but certain.

A view out over Royal Albert Island from a flat in the Galleons Point housing blockA view out over Royal Albert Island from a flat in the Galleons Point housing block

As authorities decide what is to become of the 24-acre plot of land that sits within the Royal Albert Basin, caught in the middle are the island’s business owners, community groups and nearby residents.

The Mayor of London has designated the island an “enterprise zone”, but while this may call to mind gleaming high-tech offices peeking out along the waterfront, it seems Boris Johnson’s vision favours industry over services.

In an appeal to developers in May, City Hall called for a response to the mayor’s “vision of a development that would include industrial space plus a working boatyard and marina facility”.

At first glance, it seems a good fit for an area traditionally associated with the heavy industries of ship building, dock work and freighting.

But in recent years the docklands has been transformed by the upspringing of desirable residences – a result of the ongoing regeneration of east London sparked by the Olympic bid a decade ago and attempts to resolve the capital’s dire housing shortage.

Gallions Point marina owner Leigh-Jane MillerGallions Point marina owner Leigh-Jane Miller

New homes continue to be built in the area – 819 are being created just across the water from the island, with the first residents expected to arrive in May – and the mayor has identified the “potential for a small amount of housing” on the island.

But for the island’s existing businesses still fighting to survive in a harsh economic climate, the community groups that have filled redundant spaces left behind and the residents now living nearby, this industrialised vision of their island is a bad fit.

Already an application to grant temporary three-year planning permission for a concrete batching facility on its northern edge has raised concerns and tensions.

Gallions Point Marina owner Leigh-Jane Miller and Galleons Point tenants association leader Margie Sadleir say dust and noise created by the site, which is already operating under an environmental permit, has had a negative impact on their day-to-day lives.

Ms Miller, whose father started their family business on the island 23 years ago, says she has seen her profits fall by 35 per cent since the arrival of Corbyn Construction more than 18 months ago.

Mayor of London statement...

“The Mayor has identified the redevelopment of Albert Island as a key priority in the regeneration of the Royal Docks as part of his vision to develop a world-class international business district, creating local jobs and growth.

“Albert Island, which is designated for employment use, represents a unique opportunity to regenerate a key part of east London and while the Greater London Authority seeks a development partner, short-term rental agreements with a number of businesses are in place to allow for future redevelopment.

“All existing tenants have had the opportunity to register their interests in future opportunities on Albert Island and all proposals will be subject to a stringent procurement process early in 2016.”

“It’s just spoiled everything,” she said. “We’re already under the flight path, we accept that. But it’s gone from zero to 100.

“It’s just the feel of it, the look of it, the dirt, the dust, the constant vehicle movement. It’s just killed the atmosphere here entirely.”

She said noise and dust has put off regular customers who moor at the marina in the expectation of relative peace and quiet, adding: “The problem is we’re at such opposite ends of the spectrum that no matter what you do, a heavy industrial process and a leisure/recreational business [such as mine] cannot mesh.”

Ms Sadleir, who heads up the residents’ association at Galleons Point, a complex with 800 homes located 350 yards from the island to the south, is equally opposed to Corbyn staying put.

“Our biggest objections come with the increase in noise levels, traffic and potential air and environmental pollution which will significantly impact our peaceful riverside homes,” she said.

Marina owner Leigh-Jane Miller with father EricMarina owner Leigh-Jane Miller with father Eric

Such is the strength of feeling that more than 150 objections posted on Newham Council’s website on the issue provoked the council into delaying a decision on granting planning permission until early next year “due to the expressed concern of residents”, according to a spokeswoman.

On the other side, Corbyn’s owners seem as much caught in the uncertainty over the island’s future – and their place in it – as any other.

Initially directed to the vacant Thames House site by the mayor’s office (operating as the Greater London Authority), the company was told it could only occupy the site in the short term owing to plans to redevelop the island.

But Corbyn co-directors James Molloy and Michael Cusack still don’t talk in certain terms.

“We would have no plans [to stay longer] at the moment,” said Mr Cusack. “We cannot control Newham’s planning. If we apply for it and they say yes, OK, you can have the permanent [planning permission], then that’s down to them – we can’t control that,” added Mr Molloy.

Corbyn Construction are based at Thames House on Royal Albert Island. They've been working on the island for 20 years.Corbyn Construction are based at Thames House on Royal Albert Island. They've been working on the island for 20 years.

With a number of contracts for large-scale local building developments on the go, some 500 staff employed within Newham and a 20-year history on the island (moving from one site to another),

Corbyn has as much of a claim to the island as any other, if not more so.

It also classifies itself as an enterprise, in keeping with the mayor’s vision.

“We’re a small to medium enterprise and two entrepreneurs that employ people in Newham and the neighbouring boroughs and one of the strings to our bow is this plant,” said Mr Molloy. “This business has been built from scratch.”

As for the complaints against them? “We don’t agree with any of the objections that are being made. There is no excessive noise, there is no dust,” said Mr Molloy.

Corbyn has applied for temporary planning permission with Newham Council, which will last about three yearsCorbyn has applied for temporary planning permission with Newham Council, which will last about three years

“Just because they’ve decided to point the finger at us doesn’t mean that we are the ones to blame,” he added, contending nearby developments such as the Notting Hill Housing Association complex and planes from London City Airport could also be contributing to noise and dust levels, although airport bosses declined to comment.

Certainly nothing seems to be getting sorted anytime soon and all the while the face of the island is changing daily.

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