Billingsgate, Smithfield & Spitalfields markets moving out east – 1000s of new homes coming

Plans to move all three of London’s major wholesale markets to a vast site in Barking are moving ahead as the City of London begins talks with contractors this month.

It’s been known for a long time that markets would eventually move, and all three Billingsgate (fish), New Spitalfields (fruit & vegetables) and Smithfield (meat and poultry) are confirmed after a 2019 agreement. Billingsgate beside Canary Wharf was the last to get the green light. This opens the door to thousands of new homes in Canary Wharf alongside adjacent a major plot near Poplar DLR station. And as luck would have it, a day after writing this mostly writing this post a consultation on the future of the area opened.

Around 1,500 homes are estimated at North Quay alone though I can see that being surpassed given density in the area. The vast site is just one of a number in the immediate area as show below. They are:

  • Billingsgate Market – owned by Tower Hamlets
  • North Quay – owned by Canary Wharf
  • DLR depot – owned by TfL and funding secured for oversite development

A few other plots are included such as Poplar business park though those three are the big ones.

If plots are designed as part of a cohesive masterplan this could – and should – reduce severance between Canary Wharf estate and Poplar to the north. It’s long been divided by DLR tracks and a six-line road. North Quay has seen a number of applications that never went anywhere. That was before adjacent sites’ future became know. An outline application was submitted in March 2020.

Billingsgate seemed increasingly incongruous as Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs saw ever more development. It moved from central London in 1982 when the local landscape was vastly different. In 2019 the City agreed to move east to a site just over the river from Thamesmead. Unfortunately thousands of jobs wont be easily accessible to many south of the river due to no river crossing.

Looking to North Quay from passing DLR

The Barking Riverside London Overground extension ends on the north bank of the river – visible from Thamesmead but not accessible. There is also no confirmed DLR extension, though even if approved it will not serve the area of the market.

The new market is expected to open in 2025-26 which would then see development in Poplar. Money for building over the DLR depot was announced as part of a £291 million deal in 2018. That could permit 2,000 homes.


The most recent public consultation on this area has just opened. The masterplan is a joint project between Tower Hamlets Council, Transport for London and the Mayor of London. Excellent public transport links already exist and will only improve. The DLR will see new trains with additional capacity from 2024-25 and increased frequencies. Crossrail should finally open in 2022. This offers the chance for high density building across almost the entire area.

DLR station and depot

The masterplan area extends north into Poplar with an intention to integrate both sides of the A1261 – Aspen Way. It’s a major barrier currently traversed by a single footbridge. Canary Wharf’s plans for North Quay did little to improve it except cosmetic adjustment. Improvements were not at a level befitting many thousands of new homes and jobs that will eventually arrive.

Building over the DLR depot offers an opportunity to greatly increase links between each side. Aspen Way is described in the consultation as: “A major highway which supports the economy of London, Aspen Way is also a significant barrier and source of noise and air pollution.” Improvements suggestions include “Upgraded existing and new bridge connections should create attractive walking and cycling routes with planting and seating. New development facing Aspen Way should act as a buffer to internal streets.”

Poplar station improvements are to: “Improve the existing access to Poplar Station with a hard-landscaped stepped and ramped route incorporating planting and seating. In the future, there is also potential for a secondary eastern station entrance and public square at the landing
of the new bridge over Aspen Way”.

An evolving role for Canary Wharf from office to mixed-use is noted with North Quay beside the Crossrail station: “Although office space will continue to be a major part of the character, it is recognised that there are opportunities for housing, as referenced within the
Local Plan site allocations for North Quay and the Billingsgate Market. This character area can also accommodate a mix of supporting uses including food and beverage, retail and community so the area becomes an active place in the daytime and evening. The planned opening of the Elizabeth Line at the new Canary Wharf Crossrail station provides significant opportunity for connectivity across the wider area.”

The area seeing an enhanced nightlife is somewhat inevitable. It’s important to remember the massive change Crossrail provides. Abbey Wood, for example, will be just 11 minutes from this area. It’ll be quicker to reach for a few drinks with friends than Bexleyheath or Greenwich.


Housing over the DLR tracks and depot offers the chance of better connections including cycle routes north to south. Building over tracks is nothing new of course, with much of Woolwich town centre built over rail tracks to give one example. Buildings over the line include the former M&S – now Poundland – and General Gordon Square, which was formerly open to the elements and the site of billowing smoke from passing steam trains.

Masterplan of entire site

Across the general area building heights would taper down from existing towers towards mid rise in Poplar.

Tower Hamlets have a target to build 58,965 additional homes by 2031 with 31,209 of these homes are targeted to be delivered within the Isle of Dogs and South Poplar area alone. Greenwich, for example, to give a comparison has a target just shy of 30,000. Tower Hamlets has often topped housebuilding in London and looks set to continue for some time to come.

What happens now depends on how quickly funds and demand arrive. TfL have received money to push ahead with building over the depot, but the pandemic and subsequent short term funding agreements that central Government are insisting upon limit long term planning. This is turn could hamper housebuilding and subsequent income to assist the network.

The new wholesale markets open in 2025-26 so Billingsgate will only see major change from the end of the decade. Canary Wharf are an unknown with their North Quay plot. They submitted a plan back in 2007 to build on North Quay. Almost 15 years later it’s still vacant. A new outline application is in the planning system as we speak.

To view the masterplan SPD document click here.





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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

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