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Barking Riverside, a former power station site in East London, was a blank page
when it was earmarked for regeneration, and that presented both a challenge and
an opportunity.

On the one hand, you are creating a community from scratch; there is no existing footfall or neighbourhood to plug into. But on the other, you are developing infrastructure from scratch, which offers the potential to implement sustainable frameworks with long-lasting benefits.

Matthew Carpen, Managing Director of Barking Riverside, says reducing carbon was a key driver across the 443-acre brownfield site on the Thames:

“This is a long-term proposition, so it was always an
opportunity to do something innovative.”

And that is what Barking Riverside Limited (a joint venture between the Greater London Authority and L&Q) are doing.

Outline planning for 10,800 homes was granted in 2007. The density of development was driven by then Mayor of London Ken Livingston because of housing need, but it was also important for viability given the level of site
remediation and infrastructure required.

The only way to deliver that level of housing was to improve the site’s connectivity with new transport links. Carpen joined the project in 2013: “When I started my performance review had one goal on it which was: ‘Deliver a railway’. And I thought: Where do you even start?”

But start he did, and, having managed to secure £56m of Government funding, the extension of the London Overground line from the Barking terminus finally
opened last summer. This was a landmark moment, providing the critical transport infrastructure to allow further development at the site.

The neighbourhood currently has 2,500 homes, but those numbers still make placemaking and community building a challenge.

“You can’t just put in a café because there aren’t enough people to buy coffee
and sandwiches. Amenities have to be pump-primed for the residents who are the pioneers of the site,” says Carpen.

And it’s a similar problem for essential amenities like healthcare. For the NHS to provide any form of health provision, it requires a minimum of 10,000 people.

As more homes are delivered, the job of placemaking will get easier but keeping up the momentum can be tricky, particularly when the economic conditions are
challenging as they are currently.

It requires a pivot to focus on tenures which are more easily developed. Currently, that is affordable homes and build-to-rent (BTR). The latter is in high demand not only from residents but also investors keen to fund development.

A combination of planning requirements and sustainability aspirations for the site has focused attention on low-carbon heating and environmentally conscious waste management.

Various options for providing an affordable, green heat source for homes on the site have been reviewed, including water source heat pumps taking heat from the River Thames. The current strategy is to use waste heat from an adjacent energy from waste plant.

“The Trowers Energy & Sustainability team have been helping us with the commercial and legal side of a deal with our neighbours to deliver heat, which we’ll pump around the entire site through a heat network,” says Carpen.

“Heating is complicated and emotive, as you’ll know if you’ve ever had to have a cold shower,” says Carpen.

“It’s important to not only deliver a good, reliable service but
be very good at customer relations.” says Carpen.

That job falls to L&Q Energy, the Energy Service Company (ESCO) that was appointed under a 40 year concession in 2019.

Describing the heat network as a continual learning process, he adds: “The source of energy may well change in the future as technology advances, but if you focus on the network you are installing, then that is the legacy.”

The heat network is not the only area of innovation Barking Riverside is looking at to reduce environmental impact. An Envac vacuum waste collection system has been installed to ensure that waste collection operates sustainably and efficiently. Waste and recycling are deposited at dedicated waste inlets close to buildings and then sucked through underground pipes to a central collection station. The aim is to remove bin stores, increase recycling and minimise waste vehicle movements around the site.

The cost of running the Envac system forms part of the estate service charge. There were initial concerns about whether it would be used and used correctly, but already 46% of the waste is being recycled. This is against an average household recycling rate of 12% for similar housing schemes.

“It’s an investment to install the Envac system, and it could be viewed as a luxury, but when you see recycling far above the London average, it is worthwhile. It’s something we want to develop across the site,” he says.

Whether delivering a transport link, heat network or waste system, the key is having a common goal.

Carpen says for every five supporters of an idea, there will be 100 blockers: “These are all deals which require the leadership team to have a common goal, and that can be hard. You also need to build a team that are aligned with that goal – and good lawyers that become part of the client team are critical to successful delivery”.

While Barking Riverside has already reached some important milestones, there are another 10-12 years of development to go. If the density is increased, which is possible as plots are optimised through detailed design, then the development timetable will likely stretch beyond that.

The next steps on the journey, says Carpen, are growing the amenity offer, bringing on new house-building partners and rolling out the employment and commercial strategy.

This article is part of our Responsible business newsletter - Energy and sustainability edition. To read the newsletter in full, please download it here.