“Waterloo is the most exciting sub-market in London in terms of its potential – what is there and what could be there,” said Jeremy Gardner, a director at JLL.
JLL is one of London’s largest real estate developers, with several ongoing projects around SE1. So, you might be inclined to think: ‘Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?’
But Gardner explained: “Waterloo is London’s busiest transport hub. If you look at the commuter patterns in terms of wealth and where CFOs commute into, it’s Waterloo. If you look at sites like the London Television Centre, Elizabeth House, St Thomas’ Hospital and Royal Street, which will be a 1.5 million-square-foot development focusing on medtech, the opportunity is enormous.
“The other thing about this market, which is perhaps missed, is that when you look at the Western Corridor and the occupiers of those business parks (around the M3 and M4) in terms of attracting staff, they’re struggling. They’re now looking to move into London, because that’s where they will get the talent. And the natural landing point for those people is Waterloo and the South Bank.”
Even Londoners will want to visit
In terms of commercial space, perhaps the most interesting project is Elizabeth House. There are buildings dating back to 1960s dotted around the South Bank that have a certain charm and cult status. Elizabeth House is not one of those buildings.
HB Reavis UK is the third developer in a decade hoping to reinvent it. Development manager Natalie Essa said: “We have just submitted a planning application for 1.2 million square feet of commercial work space (at Elizabeth House), with retail and leisure to support it, which has been designed by AHMM architects. It will deliver 11,000 jobs but also, most importantly, capacity relief for the station.
“Anyone who uses Waterloo can feel the pain of congestion. We’re hoping to remove the building as it currently stands and provide access to three new entrances that are going to be opened as part of the new Waterloo International development.
“You currently have that bridge when you exit the station and you are confronted by this grey monotonous building. We want to welcome you into a new accessible garden, to hopefully improve your experience of entering Waterloo.”
“You start with a strong and proven scientific and health-care community. Next is good transport links and a good vibrant local cultural and heritage environment.” – Peter Ward, King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
Essa added: “People see this area as a transient hub, but there are a lot of leisure and retail projects coming through at the moment. The new Waterloo will change the area right next to the station. I think the perception we have of it simply being a tourist destination will change and Londoners will want to come here.”
Indeed, new designs have just been released for Waterloo.London. Set to open in 2021, this shopping destination within the station will feature 40 glass-fronted retail and leisure units over three floors and bears a passing resemblance to the arcade within St Pancras International.
Big plans for a medtech cluster
But without question the most ambitious project will be built around two famous hospitals – St Thomas’ and Guy’s.
“Our plan is to grow from our hubs at Guy’s and St Thomas’, which will lead to the whole of the South Bank becoming an innovation centre for life sciences,” said Peter Ward, director of real estate development at King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.
He added: “You start with a strong and proven scientific and health-care community – King’s College is the biggest healthcare educator in Europe. Next is good transport links and a vibrant local cultural and heritage environment that makes it a nice place to work.
“We want to first get to a point similar to the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, and then build on that into something more like the Mission Bay facility at the University of California, San Francisco, which is a campus with multiple buildings. Then, ultimately, we would want to be a life sciences district similar to Boston.
“We have client-side commercial expertise, which will deliver projects quickly, and we have had consistent policy support because it aligns with the mayor’s objectives. That will lead to a consistent investment pipeline which amounts to about £5bn over 30 years.”
No longer just for passing through
These ambitious plans are a distant cry from the start of the decade. Sandra Roebuck is director of development, planning and housing growth for Lambeth: “Less than 10 years ago, I was sat with an audience, much like this, and we were told there would be no office market in Waterloo. It had all been passed over and there were different locations in London.”
Roebuck concluded: “The possibilities of that medtech centre, right in the heart of the South Bank, and the opportunities it brings, not only in terms of physical investment and development but also innovation around R&D in medicine, would blow your mind.
“We absolutely want to support it and anchor (the South Bank) as one of the most renowned international centres. And I think we have the capability to do it.”