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The London Docklands is an area of land located in East London along the river Thames as you can see on the right hand side, overtime this area flourished and at its peek became the largest port in the world, now however it is full of large multinational companies and residential areas, so what happened to the Docklands?

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The London Docklands also known as the Isle of Dogs, supposedly due to there being Royal kennels there in the 13th century, despite being a port for over 800 years the docks only seemed to boom in the medieval times and became the main port in the country for trades and ventures with ships like the Mayflower setting out from there in the 1620’s.

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In 1802 the opening of the West India docks made the London Docklands grow to be the largest port in the world stretching from the Tower of London up to Barking, it consisted of several different docks combining to become the London Docklands.

Throughout the 19th century the Docklands experienced great wealth with cargo coming form all over the world, the inhabitants of the docks experienced a lifestyle quite unique to the country at the time. With the shipping of raw materials brought about processing plants, ship repair and heavy industries, also flourished, and making this a key economical site for the country.

This area continued to grow especially with the opening of the King George v Dock in the Royal Docks in July 1921, opened by the king, this new port helped the port to grow further by the 1930’s the port of London carried 35 million tonnes of cargo at an estimated value of �700 million and with 55,000 ships visiting the docks annually, and with over 10,000 lighters. This boom in the industry led to 100,000 people depending on the port of London who themselves employed over 30,000 people at the docks despite there being huge unemployment in the east end of London during the 1930’s.

Given the importance that the Docklands now had, not only for employment but for trade and essential resources, it is no wonder during the Second World War (1940-45) it became a main target for German bombers, the most devastating attack on the Docklands being black Saturday, that happened on the 7th of September, which left 430 people dead, 1,600 injured and 10,000 people homeless.

After the war despite a lot of damage having been inflicted, not only here but also throughout the country, the Docklands carried on and was vital for the regeneration of the country thanks to the imports and exports that it offered. This continued long into the 1960’s when in 1961 the Docklands peaked transporting more than 60 million tonnes of cargo.

With this epic growth what went wrong for the Docklands? Why are the London Docklands not still thriving today?

There are many reasons that the London Docklands began to decline after the 1960’s for a start, like in the 1980’s with coal, the workers started to want more money for there work and better conditions to work and live in, and the large companies that own the docks were reluctant to give in to the demands, partly due to there self gain and the shareholders wanting more of a profit but also due to the fact that the docks were becoming more and more expensive to run. Meaning that like in the 1980’s there was to be huge layoffs by companies.

London as a city in 1960 was a city on the grow, the population was becoming much more dense and with car ownership increasing this led to an increase in traffic on the road, and despite the invention of container lorries being able to transport vast quantities of goods, it was still very hard to negotiate the small streets of London and try to avoid the congestion of other road users.

The introduction of using container Lorries and trains to transport cargo also meant that fewer people were needed to actually work on the docks. This coincided with the real mechanisation of the docks, not only in London but globally, with the introduction of cranes and other machinery it meant that fewer people were needed to move the same amount of cargo, again meaning further layoffs to the people who worked on the docks.

There was also a growing issue regarding the size of the river Thames, it was becoming increasingly crowded, with bigger ships transporting more cargo was the Thames not only deep enough but wide enough to house this new class of ship? The simple answer to this is yes, however it was a hard task to navigate up the Thames and very time consuming, and with companies constantly looking to become more and more efficient coastal ports close to London with good transport links, like Felixstowe and Tilbury, became the best option, given these ports were located on the coast there was no risk of congestion, and they were no were near as big as London so the issue of space and congestion was removed.

Transport to these places was also improved with the creation of motorways and improved rail links around the country meaning that the port could be located anywhere in the country and the goods could travel the large distances needed meaning the need for localised ports was important now hence there is a gradual closure of smaller ports throughout the country.

There was also a threat of competition from other coastal ports near by that could unload bigger ships faster and with a cheaper work force than at the Docklands so naturally businesses began to shift their industries to theses areas again like Felixstowe.

It was a combination of these effects that led to a gradual closure of the London Docklands with the biggest blow coming from the closure of the Royal Docks between the mid 1960’s and early 1970’s, which was a huge blow to the docks. During the decline of the docks, unemployment in the docklands area reached 20% (150,000 people lost there jobs) compared to a national average of 2% so naturally there was huge devastation to the thousands of families who relied solely on the docks for employment.

The East India dock was also closed by the London Port Authority in 1967, the St Katherine docks in 1968 and the West India and Mill Wall docks were closed between 1978 and 1980, with a decline in shipping came the disinvestment furthering the blow to the local economy.

With such an epic blow to the East End of London what did the government do to try and help the area out of such a decline?

The local government was quick to act, they set up an organisation called ‘The London Docklands Development Corporation’ they had the job of regenerating the eight and a half square miles of land stretching between Southwark and Newham the organisation had five main aims for the area; firstly bringing the existing land and building back into use; secondly to try and encourage industry and commerce in the area; thirdly to create and attractive environment; fourthly to provide and encourage housing and retail in the area to try and encourage people to come back to the area and fifth for the London port authority to close the rest of the docklands.

The organisation had a huge impact in encouraging big industry back into the area, the Isle of Dogs was officially declared an enterprise zone, and new investors were offered special tax rates that would last for ten years to help persuade them in. Buildings like Canary Wharf, a 12.2 million square foot office space was proposed and despite a lack of funds an American firm Olympia and York took over and built it.

With the building of Canary Wharf came other investments, the building of the Docklands light railway meant a fast link to the centre of London making the Docklands far more accessible, again making the Docklands more appealing for multi national companies, with companies like HSBC providing a huge cash injection into the area. In October 1987 the opening of London City airport also meant further investment in the area from big companies. The Docklands light railway soon began to run a weekend service as the local area starts to become more residential as well as industrial; the Jubilee tube line is also extended to reach the Docklands again providing a speed link to the Centre of London.

In more recent years the Docklands is still booming, new upmarket housing schemes have meant that there is now a working population of over 90,000 in the Dockland area. Socially there has been an improvement too, with three new shopping centres with big names like Marks and Spencer’s. The waterways have also been cleared and has allowed for an Olympic Rowing centre of excellence to be built in the Docklands.

It is clear that The London Docklands Development Corporation was a huge success in the area and that is evident today with the upmarket accommodation and large multinational companies that have office blocks in the area.

So what can you expect to get for your money in the London Docklands today?

Again evident of the success of the London Docklands Development Corporation is the price of property in the area, to let a 2 bedroom apartment can cost up to �550 per week, as opposed to out of London where you can let a two bedroom apartment for �550 a month. Like wise with buying property, in the docklands to buy a one bedroom apartment can cost up to �365,000 on a lease hold as opposed to out of the area where a one bedroom apartment would cost perhaps a third of that and be freehold. This high land cost means that the average family can’t really afford to live here so the majority of housing is owned by young professional couples that work for big companies, again making a better image for the Docklands.

It is a similar story with commercial office spaces in the area with the cost of rental of land now averaging about �26 per square foot, given that 200 square foot is said to be sufficient for two people it is clear that the cost soon escalates, and it is a similar story with light industrial spaces.

But it doesn’t stop there, still now there are new developments going into the area that will further increase the cost of land in the area. However despite all these new developments The London Docklands Development Corporation was keen to not loose the docklands historical past so today we find that the new developments are incorporated into the old docks, with the original cranes still a main feature and also the river itself incorporated wherever possible as a reminder to the Docklands past.

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Kylie Garcia

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