Canary Wharf is a large business development on the Isle of Dogs, centred on the old West India Docks.
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Rivalling London’s traditional financial centre, The Square Mile, Canary Wharf contains the UK’s three tallest buildings: 1 Canada Square (commonly known as the Canary Wharf Tower or simply Canary Wharf); HSBC Tower; and Citigroup Centre.
Canary Wharf was the site of cargo warehouses that served the docks in the Docklands area. It takes its name from sea trade with the Canary Islands, whose name comes from the dogs (Latin canis) which the Spaniards found there, producing the linguistic coincidence of trade between the Dog Islands and the Isle of Dogs. However, in the 1960s, the port industry began to decline.
The project to revitalize the eight square miles (21 km?) of derelict London docks began in 1981 with the establishment of the London Docklands Development Corporation by the government of Margaret Thatcher. Initially redevelopment was focussed on small-scale, light industrial schemes and Canary Wharf’s largest occupier was Limehouse Studios, a TV production company.
In 1984, Michael von Clem, head of the investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston was visiting the Docklands area looking for a site for a client’s food processing plant. He was also aware that the bank’s city offices were overcrowded, and ill-equipped to deal with modern trading systems ? especially with the impending, 1986 deregulation of the finance markets. He noticed that there was developable land.
He contacted his opposite number at Morgan Stanley who said that a large scheme with critical mass would be necessary. It was also agreed that a new Tube line would be required to make the scheme viable. Plans were announced, but the project very nearly came to nothing as both banks had a change of heart. The scheme seemed dead when London Underground deleted the new Canary Wharf station from the map of the planned Docklands Light Railway.
However, Canadian developer Olympia and York bought the project and literally put it back on the map. Construction of Canary Wharf began in 1988, with phase one completed in 1992. Critically, Olympia and York agreed to meet half the cost of the extension to the Jubilee Line.
Property market collapse
Disaster struck when the world property market collapsed in the early 1990s. Tenant demand evaporated and ? even worse ? the Jubilee Line work had not started by the time Olympia & York collapsed. The scheme went into administration. For a while, it seemed, Canary Wharf would be a white elephant, accessible only by the under-specified Docklands Light Railway.
Indeed, Canary Wharf’s image was so tarnished that when investment bank Merrill Lynch announced plans to relocate there from the City, guards had to be put on a model of Canary Wharf ? erected in the bank’s lobby ? to prevent vandalism. The move was cancelled soon after.
1 Canada Square stood with its top half in darkness, bleakly symbolic of the disaster that had befallen not only Canary Wharf, but also the entire UK commercial property market.
Rescue and recovery
In December 1995 an international consortium, backed by the former owners of Olympia & York and other investors, bought the scheme. At this time its working population was around 13,000 and well over half the office space was empty.
Probably the critical event in the recovery of Canary Wharf was the much-delayed start of work on the Jubilee Line, which the government wanted ready for the Millennium celebrations. From this point on tenants and workers began to see Canary Wharf as a alternative to traditional office locations. Not only were the remaining phases completed, but new phases were built. Its working population in 2004 was 63,000. Canary Wharf Group, the scheme’s owner became ? briefly ? the UK’s largest property company.
The present day
Canary Wharf tenants include major banks, such as Credit Suisse, HSBC, Citigroup, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, and Barclays, as well as major news media firms, including The Telegraph, The Independent, Reuters, and the Daily Mirror. Increasingly Canary Wharf is becoming a shopping destination, particularly with the opening of the Jubilee Place shopping mall in 2004.
In 2004 the Canary Wharf Group plc was taken over by a consortium of investors led by Morgan Stanley, and it is no longer a listed company.
Canary Wharf is connected to central London via the Canary Wharf DLR station, opened in 1991, and the extension of the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf tube station in 2000. A river boat service from Canary Waterside connects Canary Wharf to central London and Greenwich. Heron Quays DLR station is also nearby. London City Airport is a few miles further to the east and can be accessed by DLR, bus, or taxi. The DLR extension opened in December 2005.
The significance of Canary Wharf
Canary Wharf is not just an office scheme. It has had impact at the local level, at the metropolitan level and, to a lesser extent, at the national level.
The most immediate impact of Canary Wharf has been to massively raise land values in the surrounding area. This means that the Isle of Dogs, which had previously been seen as suited only for low density light industrial development, has been up-rated. Projects like South Quay Plaza and East India Dock are a direct consequence of this. More recently, Canary Wharf has opened the path for other developments in East London such as Stratford City and Greenwich Peninsula. It has given fresh impetus to already well established residential construction, especially of middle class owner occupier apartments and townhouses.
At the metropolitan level, Canary Wharf was ? and remains ? a direct challenge to the primacy of the City of London as the UK’s principal centre for the finance industry. Relations between Canary Wharf and the Corporation of London have frequently been strained, with the City accusing Canary Wharf of poaching tenants, and Canary Wharf accusing the City of not catering to occupier needs.
Canary Wharf’s national significance comes from what it replaces: The former docks were, as recently as 1961, the busiest in the world. They served huge industrial areas of east London and beyond. Both the docks and much of that industrial capacity are gone, with employment shifting to the kind of service industry accommodated in office buildings.
In this respect, Canary Wharf could be cited as the strongest single symbol of the changed economic geography of the United Kingdom.
Its symbolic importance was bleakly demonstrated in January 1996, when the IRA planted what was at the time the largest bomb yet seen in England, with almost three tons of explosives. It was safely defused. Later that year, they successfully detonated a slightly smaller bomb at nearby South Quay DLR station, killing two people and destroying the South Quay Plaza development and several nearby buildings.
Recently, Canary Wharf has gained unwelcome notoriety by banning a demonstration highlighting poor pay for office cleaners. Ken Loach ? whose film Bread and Roses inspired the march ? denounced the ban as "despicable".
Canary Riverside is a large scale residential and leisure complex immediatley adjacent to the main commercial scheme. It is a private development on the Canary Wharf estate owned by Pidemco Land and Hotel Properties Ltd.
It comprises a Four Seasons Hotel, over 300 residential apartments, a Holmes Place health club and restaurants with views over the Thames.
Canary Wharf Pier
Canary Wharf Pier is located at the Canary Riverside, providing a river boat connection to Greenwich in the east and the City of London and the West End in the west on the commuter service, and a shuttle service to the London Docklands Hilton in Rotherhithe.
Canary Wharf (soap opera)
Canary Wharf was also a short running soap opera on L!VE TV, a British Cable television channel. It used the channel’s premises there as sets.