In Medieval times development occurred on the Thames, where Romans had once settled. Growth of shipbuilding industry led to the development of this area. The London Docks were built between 1700 and 1921. The reason was to ease congestion on the Thames between ships, and the lock gates helped to control the water level in the river. Security was also improved within the docks because of the high walls around the dock basins. The Eastend of London developed around the Docks. At the docks hay day London was at the centre of world trade.
However in 1967 the docks started to decline, a number of reasons were to cause the downfall to one of the worlds greatest trading ports. The docks were not designed for the size of the more modern ships, not been wide enough or deep enough to allow the ships in. The newer container ships could not be catered for in the docks. This meant that competition was starting to arise form other ports around the British Isles, mainly Tilbury and Antwerp. These newer ports offered a facility to handle containers, with the efficiency of a roll on/roll off system. With the competition a problem, the London Docks now had to battle through the decline of traditional trade that was associated with Europe and the docks. Adding to the problems, traditional industries in Britain were declining all the time. The docks in effect were been suffocated from of trade. After years of decline, the docks became too expensive to run, with the lack of trade and inefficiency of loading and unloading. By 1981, all the docks along the Thames were closed, with the exception of the new Tilbury dock. As the area gradually started to run down, the local authorities and government realised that some kind of redevelopment had to take place.
Regeneration of the area had begun in places since the end of the war in 1946, due to the extensive bomb damage the area had suffered. Other projects also went ahead before the docks totally closed. The “Greater London Development Plan” and “Inner Urban Area Act” were carried out in the 60’s and 70’s. However, these projects were never deemed a success, as the majority of the docks were still run down. In addition, those that were regenerated were not popular because of the misuse of materials and ideas. None of them seemed to cure the problems that the Docklands had. Derelict land in the docks was about 40%, around 6 square km. In the last 15 years before 1981, 150,000 jobs had been lost. The local population was living on council estates that were crumbling, and had no basic amenities. Counter urbanisation was happening to the area, over 20% had moved out. The communication network was poor, no rail links existed, roads were few and narrow, and public transport was little. Local residents were deprived of both leisure facilities and basics like schools and hospitals, they were not even given the chance to make a go of the area they lived in.
However, a new scheme was to be set up, which was thought to be the answer to all the problems that the Docklands contained. In 1979, a new Government came into power with different attitudes and views. They set up a non-elected corporation, which had total control over the area. They could use government grants to prepare land and release it to mainly private developers. Using public funds, they were to attract private funds. Enter the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC). The LDDC had four aims that they wanted to achieve in the Docklands, they were basically to improve the economic, social and physical aspects of the area.
To improve the economic aspect of the area they had to create jobs for the unemployed who were living in the Docklands, to do this they had to bring in major companies. The LDDC decided to provide a good infrastructure to the area, they provided the gas, electric, and roads. Transport was a main problem, so Ј600 million was spent on transport, and another Ј300 million on just the Docklands Railway. The most expensive road in Europe was built at a cost of Ј220, it is only one mile long and stretches from The Isle of Dogs to the City of London. However, these costs have eased the congestion to the Docks. This was enough to convince businesses to move to the area. Large newspaper companies were also attracted to the Docklands, away from Fleet Street because of the new Canary Wharf building. This is one of the tallest buildings in England, at 800ft high and boasting 50 stories. Companies like Reader’s Digest also located here. Companies were attracted to Canary Wharf because of the quality of it with air conditioning, deep floors, and open office space. Building space in London was short, and expensive. Canary Wharf was an excellent place to relocate for its cheep rent, and large offices. With only 27,000 jobs in 1981, the estimate for today is that there are around 175,000 jobs in the Docklands. Employment is now three times higher than it was before the LDDC was created. Within the St Katherine Docks the World Trade Centre was built.
The Docklands, had a feeling of racial tension and despair, the LDDC had to improve the public facilities and leisure facilities to ease these problems. Education and healthcare were recognised as inadequate, so Ј65 million was spent on renovating the services. To resolve the problems of poor quality living accommodation the LDDC developed large areas of housing, both renovation and building from scratch took place. Ј40 million was spent on renovating over 50 existing council estates. A mix of houses were required to suite the needs of different people, 2000 very affordable houses were erected with low mortgages to suite the original eastender. For the richer businessperson luxury, flats were created from old run down warehouses. St Katherine Docks have examples of both of these types of housing. More luxury flats can be found in the old warehouses on the Isle of Dogs. In all the LDDC has provided 24,000 housing units, this will accommodate the additional 45,000 people that are moving back into the area. To help the local residents find work in the Docklands, training centres were set up to provide training. This helped the people to develop skills in the tertiary industry, like computing, which were the main source of jobs in the Docklands. Pubs, restaurants, a floating museum, a hotel with 826 rooms, and a marina were all created in the St Katherine Docks. These were created for both people who lived in the Docklands, and for the tourists visiting the area. A dry ski slope has been created out of an old slag-heap, within the Royal Docks, also theses docks are the site for a number of large shopping centres.
The land use has changed in the Docklands from been derelict, it has now become drastically improved. The overall physical view of the area has improved. 100,000 trees have been planted in the Docklands area. This has been mixed with the careful design and placement of buildings around the Docklands. Large areas have become changed in their physical appearance for the better, like the Royal Docks. In this area was built the London City Airport. Short haul flights can be taken to many capitals of countries within Europe.
With so much money having been spent on the redevelopment of the Docklands, protection against flooding from the Thames was required. This was found in the Thames Barrier, at only 200 metres across and costing Ј500 million. This barrier can control the height of the river, with giant gates that can be raised and lowered.
The Docklands was once one of the worst run down inner city areas in Britain. However, all this has changed as the derelict land has become regenerated. It has turned out to be the largest urban regeneration scheme in Europe. So can we say that the Docklands redevelopment scheme has been an all round success?
Economically the area has improved, a lot of private investment has been attracted into the area. For the Ј3,900 million spent on the Docklands with public money, a total of around Ј8,700 million has become injected into the area from private funds. This is a very good thing, as companies are realising that the Docklands has a good future, and are prepared to invest heavily into the area. Another attractive is that the infrastructure has been laid by the LDDC, all costs accounted for. This has meant that the development of the Docklands can continue without the investment of public money. More jobs are been created all the while, and people are moving back. People are realising that the area has a future. The economic aspect of the regeneration should be branded as a success.
With more pubs, restaurants, and services locating in the area, people can see a future in the Docklands. Better houses have been made available, and it is a place that the public want to live in. Urbanisation is staring to happen, and new housing blocks are quickly been filled. A success for sure, as people are moving back into the area realising it has more to offer.
Before the LDDC took over the area looked ugly and run down, but now has been transformed. The LDDC received a total of 43 awards for architecture and conservation. Land prices within the Docklands also suggest success, before development land was available at a relatively cheap price. Now a one-hectare plot is worth over Ј2 million.
In all aspects, the Docklands have been a success. From a run down inner city, it is now a city within a city. Docklands is a modern hidden community, which once was only run down land. With careful planning and consideration it has become transformed into what it is today. Nevertheless, as with all successes there are a few failures. Contained on London Docks, are the warehouses of the Tobacco Dock. This was redeveloped into a shopping centre, but with poor custom had to close. This was through the lack of planning, but lessons were learnt.
With the Docklands having been significantly regenerated, in 1998 the LDDC finished its work in the Docklands. However, redevelopment continues to carry on the good work that the LDDC did.