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Public or Private? Who Really Owns Canary Wharf?

When most people think of Canary Wharf, they imagine the shiny skyscrapers and busy streets that form this iconic area of London. But who actually owns this estate, and is it private or public property?

In this article, we will take a look at the history of Canary Wharf Group and explore who is behind this massive business venture. We will also investigate how the company is funded, and what the private estate is currently worth.

Canary Wharf nighttime panorama

Is Canary Wharf private property?

Yes — well, most of it! Canary Wharf is the property of Canary Wharf Group (CWG), a privately owned company that is headquartered in London.

Even the public squares, such as the famous plaza in front of the Jubilee line station, are designated as privately owned spaces. You can view the full list of privately owned public spaces in London on the government website.

As always, there is a minor technicality.

  • London Boroughs are subdivided into something known as Wards.
  • There is a Canary Wharf Ward, which covers both the financial estate and the immediate area around it.
  • Therefore there are some small areas to the south of the private estate that fall under the Ward of Canary Wharf that are not owned by CWG.

So, who owns Canary Wharf Group?

As of March 2015, Canary Wharf Group plc is owned by Brookfield Property Partners and Qatar Investment Authority.

Previously owned since 2004 by Songbird Estates plc, during the takeover the group changed its name to Canary Wharf Group Investment Holdings plc. This business is currently registered as a public limited companywith it’s principle address in the famous tower, One Canada Square.

Brookfield Property Partners (BPY) are one of the world’s largest real estate and property holders, and own everything from Center Parcs to over 50,000 apartments across the globe!

Brookfield place NYC owned by Canary Wharf’s investors Brookfield Property
Qatari Investment — Canary Wharf’s main shareholder — headquarters located in Doha

Qatar Holding (QIA) is an investment vehicle of the sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar. The company was founded in 2006 and is based in Doha, Qatar.

QIA are one of the largest shareholders in numerous high-profile companies, such as Volkswagen Group, Tiffany & Co., and Barclays Bank. In the UK, Qatar Holdings have around €30 billion of investment. Besides Canary Wharf, they also own the famous Harrods department store, and are the largest shareholder in Sainsburies PLC.

What is Canary Wharf worth?

As of 2022, the value of the estate has been estimated to be around £8 billion. This includes the value of the land, the buildings, and the infrastructure.

There are several undeveloped areas of the Canary Wharf estate with existing planning permission, so it is likely that in the future this valuation will increase. However, in the short term it could significantly decrease. In the group’s 2022 financial report, the risks of interest rate rising are highlighted as a threat to the valuation of the estate.

In the future, further monetary tightening may occur, leading to increases in interest rates. When interest rates increase, the value of real estate could be adversely affected. This could negatively impact the value of the Group’s real estate assets.

CWC — Annual report 2022
Docklands cranes with Canary Wharf’s major business skyscrapers in the background

Private public spaces. What does it actually mean?

In the UK, private estates, and privately owned public spaces — known as POPS — often get a bit of a bad reputation. Some people see them as being elitist and exclusionary, while others highlight bad examples as being unsafe and poorly managed.

Pseudo-public spaces – large squares, parks, and thoroughfares that appear to be public but are actually owned and controlled by developers and their private backers – are on the rise in London and many other British cities, as local authorities argue they cannot afford to create or maintain such spaces themselves.

The insidious creep of pseudo-public space — The Guardian

There are, of course, advantages, and disadvantages to both public and private ownership. On balance, the Canary Wharf estate gets this right.

For example, private estates tend to be better maintained and more secure than public ones, and this is certainly true here.

Bridge between Canary Wharf and wood wharf the new residential estate

Private estates also tend to have more amenities and features than public ones. This is because the owners can afford to invest more money into making the estate attractive and enjoyable for residents, and react quickly to changing demands.

  • In contrast to underfunded public parks, Canary Wharf crams over 20 acres of expertly manicured green space into its small footprint.
  • Canary Wharf runs a popular annual Winter lights festival, and spends significant sums maintaining the UK’s largest outdoor art trail.
  • Using large financial might, the group have successfully lobbied to improve the public transport connections, helping to fund and secure improved Jubilee line tube and new Elizabeth line rail connections.
  • Through the pandemic, the CWG immediately changed traffic crossing buttons to proximity sensors, provided free hand sanitiser and masks, upgraded cleaning and even hosted a pop-up Covid-19 testing clinics.

However, private land ownership also has its downsides. Primarily, additional — and often opaque — rules. Enforced by private security firms, privately owned public spaces such as the Canary Wharf estate are governed by whatever rules the estate owner deems acceptable.

  • At Canary Wharf, there are restrictions on commercial photography, flying drones, homeless sleeping, and antisocial behaviour rules.
  • Residents and the public are watched over by a vast private security team, and some of the highest density of CCTV cameras anywhere in the world.

Despite the negatives, it’s hard to argue against the Canary Wharf Group’s private ownership. They have invested millions into the area, hosting free events, cleaning up the waterways and revitalising previously derelict industrial areas.

In addition, unlike some smaller private residential estates, the group has many competing customers. They are trying to attract the public and tourists, maintain excellent transport connections for the vast commuting workforce, alongside maintain a safe and secure environment for their residents.

As a result of these competing priorities, the estate cannot retreat behind a shuttered gate, and remains welcoming and open to all.

Of all the landowners contacted, only two – the Canary Wharf Group, which owns large stretches of land in the Docklands, and East Village, a new development on the site of the old Athlete’s Village near the Olympic Park – provided a full set of answers. The Canary Wharf Group said that it was “very anxious to ensure that there is public access to the common areas of its land at all times” and that it wanted visitors to “feel that the common areas can be used as public spaces.”

The Rise of Private Public Space in London — The Guardian