The 743-home Canada Gardens development – the latest step in Wembley Park’s major regeneration journey – is now occupied. Julian Tollast at Quintain Living explores the lessons from the project so far with Jack Wooler, plus the wider benefits of the developer’s Build to Rent focus.
Anyone who hasn’t visited Wembley Park in north London over the last decade will likely be surprised by the huge changes it has undergone in recent years.
Arriving at Wembley Park tube station, visitors are still greeted by views of the iconic stadium, but the once (anecdotally) run-down Wembley Way and its surroundings are now almost unrecognisable.
Following a 15-year development process, the newly tree-lined, repaved, widened, pedestrianised route is surrounded by a range of new shops, event spaces and bars, with new and under-construction residential towers rising high above on either side all the way up to the stadium.
This widespread regeneration has been spearheaded by Quintain Living, owner and operator of the 85-acre area. With a huge portion of the neighborhood under its ownership, it has taken control of many of the area’s functions – including not just the properties themselves, but also events, waste, cleanliness, and security.
Quintain Living has been incentivised to uphold high standards across the project, with its Built to Rent-focused business model less likely to keep residents tethered to their property than those owning their own homes. This has resulted in a genuine transformation of the area in a wide ranging masterplan that includes consent for a colossal 8.8 million ft2 of development.
Following on from Quintain’s purchase of exhibition land and car parks around the national stadium in 2002, ideas quickly developed and building consent for the project as a whole was granted, for a range of tenures and typologies. Reportedly widely accepted among locals and the council, the plans intended to create a ‘15-minute city’ neighbourhood offering all residents’ cultural, civic and everyday needs on their doorstep.
Quintain’s latest and ‘greatest’ project, Canada Gardens, marks the completion of 65% of this masterplan, which, once finalised, will include 6,044 build to tent apartments (out of a total 8,500 homes) delivered in phases over the next six years.
Moving through Wembley Way from the station, and turning left at its end beneath the Olympic Steps leading up to the stadium, visitors can now find the developer’s latest build-to-rent
Including 743 homes – the developer’s largest so far – Canada Gardens is intended to be Quintain’s flagship, centred around a secure acre-large podium garden, and featuring a range of onsite amenities to lure-in city renters.
Forming part of the Eastern Lands section of the development – built over the stadium’s old eastern car parks – the project joins its two counterparts in this section, Madison and The Robinson, all set around a public, seven-acre Union Park – also developed by Quintain.
One of multiple in the area built by Quintain, Union is reportedly the first major park to open in the neighborhood in 150 years, and offers a bandstand, children’s play areas, sports zones,
lawns, trees, wildflowers and fountains, providing a welcoming centre between the three developments.
Canada Gardens itself overlooks the southern end of this park. The project is home to 113 studios, 334 one-bedroom apartments, 225 two-beds and 71 three beds – including 303 homes let by Wembley Park Residential at discount market rent, ‘peppered’ throughout the development to ensure they are tenure blind, and all under Quintain Living’s Management.
Approaching the project from the other side of this park, Julian Tollast, head of masterplanning and design at Quintain Living, tells me that the greatest opportunity that Canada Gardens brought to the team when it was first introduced was to demonstrate the company’s developed expertise in the build to rent sector.
“As our flagship development,” he says, “we were presented with the opportunity to showcase the best that the build to rent model has to offer.”
He believes that this has been achieved, and has been most successfully manifested in the project’s “extensive array of shared facilities,” as well as its popularity among the locals.
Homes & amenities
With the stadium still looming behind us and Canada Gardens’ brick facade ahead, when moving through the park
it is apparent the now completed and occupied project is already teeming
Heading inside the building through sliding doors, visitors are first welcomed by its concierge and management team, who can direct users to the right, towards a coffee shop that’s open to the public, above, where a library resides, visible over the balcony in this double-floor space, and to the left, where the mail rooms and the lifts and stairs to the rest
of the development are located.
Going up the stairs and out first into the air towards the shared podium gardens between Canada Garden’s multiple buildings, visitors can find a pirate themed children’s play area and water feature, an indoor playroom, outdoor kitchens and BBQs, “work-from-home sheds,” allotment beds, and a serviced ‘clubhouse,’ all available to residents and their families.
Influenced by Covid-induced lockdowns, Quintain believes the key to apartment-building success is in such readily available outdoors space; their belief in which is further evidenced at the very top of the building, where a roof terrace offers expansive views over the area, and a unique viewpoint over the stadium itself.
Between these exterior spaces are the apartment floors, the interiors of which – as in the residents’ amenities – have been designed alongside Fossey Arora, who developed a concept of ‘urban country,’ which Julian explains “means the apartments are very cosy and comfortable.”
“They have a contemporary country chic vibe that feels very welcoming,” he continues. “Think soft textures, warm colours, very natural tones and lots of natural materials; there’s wood everywhere, which brings a sense of warmth and comfort.”
In each apartment, which can be rented furnished or unfurnished, are appliances from Quintan’s partners, Samsung, as well as furniture from John Lewis & Partners, and all utilities arranged and WiFi set up and ready to connect to.
There is a general focus on ease of use in these apartments, with WIFI set up on a per-floor basis, and water heated outside the rooms to reduce maintenance access to the homes themselves. Beyond this, the apartments are also pet-friendly (rare in such buildings), with pet amenities onsite.
This easy, family sense of living has been well-developed by the company. Inspired by its previous projects, the team glue this all together with regular resident events, both in-person and online, “from artisan bread-baking classes to MasterChef supper clubs,” helping to engender community spirit.
While immediately successful – with many of its homes quickly occupied – such a project was of course not without its challenges. Despite this, Julian tells me that Quintain’s “significant experience” in the area has left them well prepared to rise to each and every hurdle.
Looking back to its earliest days, in the first instance, outline planning permission for Canada Gardens was secured as part of the previously mentioned wider masterplan. It was followed by the approval of the detailed design, which Julian tells me was “relatively straightforward,” and didn’t raise any significant objections from the council or any of the consultees.
Getting planning consent was perhaps the easiest part of the project, however – with Brent Council and the locals impressed with the range of public spaces and JVs Quintain brought to the table.
One of the first challenges presented was its sheer size. Canada Gardens and one of its counterparts, the Robinson, formed the largest construction contract Quintain had ever signed at Wembley Park, with a value of £211m, and involving a range of contributors including contractors John Sisk & Son lead designers PRP.
Beyond the challenges of its size-induced complexities, Julian tells me that the delivery of the project in the midst of an already active residential neighbourhood proved “especially daunting.”
He says however that the site’s principal contractor, John Sisk & Son, aided this significantly with its use of digital technologies, from design through to delivery to improve efficiency, productivity and health and safety on site, including the use of drones for high-altitude quality checks and radical digitalisation.
Other technologies he praises, especially at Canada Gardens, was the continued use of prefabricated facade elements such as balconies and offsite manufactured bathroom pods, which he says encouraged “factory-controlled, consistent standards for the end user” at the pace necessary and in the tight spatial requirements.
Through “remarkable levels of collaboration” between contractors, he says, the team were able to utilise these new technologies and “work leaner and more efficiently than ever before,” minimising the impact on existing residents. “It took exceptional logistical management and collaboration!”
Beyond this, delivery of all three of the Eastern Land sites – which total 14 buildings – during the uncertainty of Brexit and against a backdrop of changing fire safety regulations and a global pandemic “has also been no mean feat,” says Julian.
“Despite the challenges,” he adds, “Canada Gardens was delivered on time and under budget – an incredible achievement for the team.”
Beyond and above such challenges, when explaining the project to me, Julian makes clear that throughout the planning, design and build processes behind Canada Gardens, minimising the environmental impact of the project was key.
During the construction process for example, the team recycled 91.7% of the waste from the site, as many materials as possible were sourced locally, and local workers were prioritised also. With over 6,500 workers employed, over 40% were local, and the project facilitated 42 opportunities for local, long-term unemployed workers and apprentices.
Another major contributor to the site’s sustainability – and one more immediately apparent from inside the building – is its waste management system, called Envac. The system vacuums waste that has been emptied into inlets on each storey of the building through a series of underground tunnels at speeds of up to 70 kph into a collection station, reducing the need for bin stores and significantly reducing the need for refuse lorry collections.
The development also includes an energy centre operating a district heating network to serve thousands of Wembley Park homes. “No individual Heat Interface Units are required in any of the Canada Gardens apartments,” adds Julian, “releasing much valued space back to the resident.”
Furthermore, visible from the roof terrace on the highest building at Canada Gardens, green and brown roofs are included on the other six buildings to encourage biodiversity, alongside several acres of gardens with their vast array of flowers, shrubs and trees.
Discussing the time between it’s opening and the time of interview, Julian says the reaction to the project has “been really positive” so far, “particularly with families, who love the cosiness of the apartments and being surrounded by so much greenery.”
He says that the pirate ship-themed play park has been a particularly big hit during the summer months, and the ‘clubhouse’ is proving “very popular, no matter the weather.”
Indicating its success, there has been “huge demand” for the homes to rent at Wembley Park, with September seeing over 150% more leases signed than any of its previous top performing months, pre- or post-Covid.
Overall, Julian believes the project has achieved its lofty aims to be the “best of build to rent,” providing the company with a flagship development to be proud of, and contributing significantly to the vibrant neighborhood that now encompasses Wembley Park.
While many fans will come and go, oblivious to the deluge of residential spreading out around its central way, for those looking to stay, ‘going to Wembley’ is beginning to mean much more to a wide array of people.
- Architecture and lead design: PRP
- Employer’s agent and project management services: Stace
- Landscape architecture: PRP
- Interior design: Fossey Arora
- Planning consultant: Carney Sweeney Cost consulting: Faithful and Gould
- Infrastructure: Buro Happold
- Structural engineering services: Campbell Reith
- M&E engineering: HPF
- Fire engineering: JGA