26 August 2019

Looking to regenerate around the Blackwall area, East London, read all about Swan Housing Association's plans as they step into phase B of the scheme.

Project Timeline

2008 to 2025

  • 2011 - Swan Housing was officially selected as the preferred regeneration partner for London's borough of Tower Hamlets
  • 2012 - outline planning approval was granted following the delivery of a comprehensive community consultation
  • 2015 - completion of the phase 1A comprises of 98 new homes, a fantastic two-storey community facility, a regional Swan office and a replacement mosque. A new three form entry school was also launched as part of the regeneration
  • 2019 - completion of phase 1B, comprises of 242 new homes and a new public square creating high quality public realm around Blackwall DLR with retail, food and beverage commercial units.

The project

The Blackwall Reach Regeneration Project area sits north of the Blackwall DLR Station and just west of the northern entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel in the East End of London, on a site of 8 hectares.

This area needed comprehensive regeneration to address issues caused in a poor quality, under-utilised, low-density urban area. The area included a council housing estate, industrial buildings and short-term surface car parking, on a site surrounded by major roads, a railway and with road tunnels running underneath.

Following joint working between public sector bodies, a partnership was established in 2010 between Tower Hamlets, GLA and Swan as development partner. This scheme was aimed at responding to local housing need by substantially increasing the number of homes in the area from 252 to 1575, by addressing overcrowding, and delivering new and improved public, leisure and shared community spaces.

There are five distinct phase sites being designed in sequence, by different firms of architects working within parameters for the project. Each phase is then presented for detailed reserved matters planning approval. Three of the five phases have already been designed and approved to date.

Because much of the land for development was already in public ownership Swan Housing managed to cover over £300 million in development costs without having to pay for land upfront. This also meant we did not require a grant to build the affordable new homes. That would have had a severe impact on the affordable home provision options. This collaborative approach by the partners has enabled the scheme to be 50% affordable across the programme.


Rehousing: one of the key challenges was the rehousing of residents within the regeneration area.

The estate was occupied with 252 homes at the start of the programme. Keeping the community together whilst the regeneration was in progress factoring in large scale decant and demolition was a very challenging task. In addressing the issue, the project team agreed flexible re-housing options for the tenants including a new replacement home in the regeneration area, socially rented, with protected tenancy rights (including the Right to Buy), and residents’ preference on design and layout. A range of attractive options were also offered to resident leaseholders including home swap, shared equity and outright sale. These generous offers and flexibility resulted in over 60% of residents choosing to stay in the regeneration area which was one of the community aspirations enshrined in a Community Charter established in 2007. This unique decant and rehousing strategy was featured in The Inside Housing article ‘Decant happy’ in January 2016 who recognised this innovative approach, which kept the existing community (and where possible even neighbours) together, to enjoy the benefits of regeneration.

Community concerns
: when the regeneration process was initiated there were significant concerns.

These were around the change of landlord and tenancy, higher rent and service charges, being forced out of the area, change of landscape, losing the millennium green and the disappearance of local amenities such as the school and mosque etc. Swan together with the Council and other partners dealt with these concerns through undertaking a comprehensive resident’s consultation via a range of different approaches to regain residents’ trust and confidence. The embedded community development programme, targeting various sections of the community, in an informal manner supporting them into employment and training, improving health and wellbeing and promoting community cohesion was proven very effective in terms of forming positive relationships with the members of the community. This was reflected in gaining planning approval with overwhelming resident support in delivering the scheme.

Financial risk and affordable homes
: one of the conditions of the development was that the scheme had to be grant- free.

Operating within a financially constrained market, it was a major financial risk for all the partners. Our unique and innovative approach to finance has helped to secure an exceptionally high number of affordable new homes to be built in this area. Swan took the financial challenge of over £300 million development costs considering that not only over 50% of the new homes for affordable tenure, but over a third should accommodate larger families with 3-5 bedrooms. 85% of the affordable homes are to be rented at ‘social’ rent rather than the higher ‘affordable’ rent. The project will deliver almost 300% more homes for social rent on the site than there were available before, including for existing tenants.



The residents of Blackwall Reach believed that regeneration could improve the quality of lives for people in this area if it was carried out sensitively, openly, with imagination and with the full involvement of those who live in the area. The achievements so far have been obtained through the contribution by the local residents through their active campaign and involvement to get the best possible deal from the regeneration.

Community participation has been key to the successful and ongoing transformation of the area and lives on Blackwall Reach. The nature of the works has required a flexible re-housing strategy, resulting in a transient population and challenges of their own. Swans Community Development Team, working in partnership with local groups and service providers have been central to fostering both existing and new relationships, developing a brand-new multi-purpose community facility resulting in complimentary service delivery, access to new activities and facilities, access to additional funding and the creation of new community groups and activities for various sections of the community.

As part of the programme the team, along with local partners, promoted and employed its own local labour and training initiatives. We have implemented a range of employment and training programmes which enabled hundreds of people receiving various employment skills, qualifications and jobs to supplement the economic regeneration with the physical changes of the neighbourhood. This has ensured real people have not only secured construction skills but then secured a long term career too.


Despite only being around 50% complete now, there have already been many noticeable changes in the local area. This scheme responded to not only the housing need of the people who live in the neighbourhood but also addressed the chronic housing crisis in the borough by substantially increasing the number of homes in the area from 252 to 1575, addressing overcrowding and delivering new and improved public, leisure and shared community spaces.

The first development phase completed in 2015, included 98 new homes, a fantastic two-storey community facility, a regional office for Swan and a replacement mosque. A single form-entry school has been replaced with a three form entry school to meet the need for additional school places in the area. This first phase delivered additional infrastructure creating a focal point for the scheme.

This has created a sense of place and belonging for local people and provided a new image of the neighbourhood. A clear street language, coupled with the use of high-quality materials, lighting and the use of semi mature planting, along with sensitive car parking and improved transport links have resulted in a clear qualitative gain. A new large multi-purpose community centre is now the heart of the community with activities daily.


Swan brings significant experience in partnership working with organisations to deliver this programme. Joint working between public sector bodies, a partnership was established at the beginning between the Council, Mayor of London and Swan Housing Association as development partner. This has grown gametically over the years. There are five distinct phases which enabled us to work with different firms of architects and construction companies who have been working on various sites of this phased programme. Since the inception of the new community facility in 2015, Swan has established an exemplary partnership working model with various local partner agencies ranging from statuary, voluntary and community organisations who have been adding real value in building a sustainable and cohesive community.

Over the last year we have worked with 15 different local organisations who have delivered a range of community projects in the new multi purpose community hub such as the youth club being run by London Tigers, a study support club by Inspire Academy, Time Bank by East Xchange, ESOL classes by Bromley by Bow Centre, Transform and Achieve by Metropolitan Housing etc. The activities delivered here are changing lives – from children receiving private tuition, for example, for free, as the community made this one of their priorities for us to deliver.

We also have a very close working relationship with the Blackwall Reach Resident Board which was established to represent residents’ views and interests in terms of local housing management and regeneration issues. The Board constitutes of 10 local residents who makes joint decisions with Swan from grass cutting to building design on the estate.

A new ‘Blackwall Trust’ is being established funded by a circa one million pound endowment and ground rents from Swan to create a future legacy investment across the regeneration area. This Trust will support local initiatives and activities for the benefit of the community to include education, training, personal development and improved well-being and enhancing community cohesion.

Housing Association

Swan actively contributes to regional and local regeneration strategy through its vast experience in this field. Our vision for Blackwall Reach was to deliver a development that places the community of Blackwall Reach at the heart of one of the most dynamic, vibrant and attractive areas of East London. Blackwall Reach will connect Canary Wharf, Poplar and the Lower Lea Valley and become a catalyst for change in Poplar, connecting the new with the old and achieving a place to live of renowned quality. As a lead partner of this large-scale regeneration Swan is committed in delivering the following impact on the area and its inhabitants:

    • the creation of an exemplar sustainable urban neighbourhood
    • a partnership with residents to deliver high quality living standard and enhanced quality of lives
    • integrated design factoring in cultural sensitivities and local diversity along with quality streetscaping and open space
    • a £1m fund to improve the Public Realm throughout the life of the regeneration
    • high quality training and employment including apprenticeships for local residents
    • education and engagement to promote community cohesion
    • bespoke community investment plans delivered through a dedicated community development team and local partners

If you did this again, what would you change?

  • reduce financial risk by integrating private sale units with the affordable accommodations at the beginning to ensure cross subsidy at the start of the programme
  • prior agreement with the landowners to speed up the process and reduce complexity around Compulsory Purchase Order
  • experiment with modular homes in developing some of the low rise units to achieve cost and time effectiveness

What can others learn from this example?

It is well documented that transformation of run-down housing estates can have an enormous positive effect on an area. The regeneration of Blackwall Reach has hugely improved the local environmental and housing typology, and it is now a safe, welcoming and attractive community neighbourhood. It demonstrates that regeneration can work for local communities if you take their views into account, engage with them to ensure that the regeneration delivers on their needs – putting new facilities in first so the new community can grow!

This is a perfect example of socio-economic transformation along with the physical regeneration to tackle not only the housing need but also factoring in community cohesion, health and wellbeing, training and employment as well as local diversity and cultural needs. A wide range of 'option to remain' offers for tenants and leaseholders which gained residents’ trusts and confidence resulted in the majority of residents preferring to stay in the regeneration whilst the work is in progress. Also, where buildings are to be redeveloped in future years, vacant homes can be utilised as short term lets for homeless families due to the shortage of both public and private sector homes available in the area.

For more information contact Caroline Richardson on carichardson@swan.org.uk

Blackwall Reach Regeneration