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  Initiating Urban Change - London Docklands before LDDC (July 1997)
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Rochdale Report
Planning Scenarios-1968/71
Redevelopment Options-1971/73
The Docklands Joint Committee-1974/80
The London Docklands Development Corporation

Other Monographs in this series
Completion Booklets
Popular Press Releases
Annual Reports and Accounts


Large Maps and Plans

Map of the Upper Docks (West) - 112kb
Map of the Upper Docks (East) - 105kb
Chronology of London Docklands/Key Dates and Events 1962 - 71 (86kb)
Chronology of London Docklands/Key Dates and Events 1972 - 81 (101kb)


(Note: This Monograph has been reproduced by kind permission of the Commission for the New Towns now known as English Partnerships. It is published for general interest and research purposes only and may not be reproduced for other purposes except with the permission of English Partnerships who now hold the copyright of LDDC publications)

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This rnonograph is the first of a series published by the London Docklands Development Corporation discussing the regeneration of London Docklands. It reviews the events and conditions leading to the setting up of the Corporation in July 1981. There were a series of analyses and planning exercises in the 1960s and 1970s reviewing the future of the Port of London against the background of progressive closure of the upper docks from 1965 to the early 1980s. Various regeneration mechanisms were tried culminating in the setting up of the LDDC as a Government regeneration agency. Subsequent papers will cover key issues including accessibility and transport, urban design, employment and community development. Together these will provide a helpful source of information and analysis. Inevitably a regeneration exercise on this scale in the heart of a great city is controversial and it is hoped that these papers will contribute to a balanced and informed debate.

July 1997


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The great stretch of former upper docks from St Katharine's by the Tower of London, past Surrey Commercial Docks, through the East and West India and the Royal Docks to Barking, was the world's largest port. These docks grew and developed over 200 years and more. Growth was particularly fast in the 19th century bringing a muddle of factories, poor housing, and new communities. It was an area which enjoyed a unique economic lifestyle based on the growth and prosperity of traditional port activities including ship repair, heavy engineering, food processing, warehousing and distribution. Industries grew up based on the import of raw materials - tobacco, timber and skins.West India Docks 1805

By the mid-1930s the docks were at their peak. More than 35 million tons of cargo were being handled each year, carried by 55,000 ship movements and served by more than 10,000 lighters. In all, some 100,000 men were dependent on the Port of London for employment, of whom more than 30,000 were employed by the port itself.

For a number of complex technological, trading and management reasons, the port's prosperity began to dramatically decline in the post war period. The great expansion period of enclosed dock development, which had culminated in the opening of the King George V Dock in the Royal Docks, by the King himself, on 8th July 1921, was over. For the first time, Government started to consider the implications and consequences of possible closures and alternative uses.

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The Rochdale Report

In September of 1962 a committee headed by Viscount Rochdale led an inquiry into the efficiency of the major ports of Great Britain. Within the Port of London it was the London and St Katharine Docks that concerned them most:

"As a general proposition we think that port activity should be moved away from the centre of London and there is, on the face of things, land at these docks which could be valuable for redevelopment. We are aware that at present the docks perform a useful and to some extent specialised function, but we think it at least possible that the traffic could be catered for elsewhere in the port, especially if pressure can be eased by development at Tilbury.

As for the potential use of the land, it may be doubted whether it is suitable for development for industry or housing, but the docks themselves might be filled in and at least or otherwise developed for storage purposes and the warehouses might be sold or let to private enterprise; it could be that capital derived from such arrangements could be put to very good use by the authorities elsewhere, for example at Tilbury. Much detailed study of the possibilities of such a project is required and we urge that the port authority should give it very careful consideration and it should take outside advice on development potential of the area."

West India Docks 1967In looking back it can be seen that the Rochdale report could be interpreted as a key starting point in the review and process leading up to the demise of upper dock operations by the Port of London Authority (PLA), and with it the collapse of traditional activities associated with the area since the turn of the previous century. Whilst Rochdale initiated a period of much study, planning and research, conversely it was also a period of little effective action to counter the drift into decline of population, employment and investment. Prospects for the local population became grim when the Port of London Authority after extensive review, decided that the smaller of the docks, within the upper system, were not viable and started a pattern of closures, commencing with the East India Docks in 1967, St Katharine and the London Docks in 1968, and the Surrey Docks later in the same year. It left both the West India and Millwall Docks, together with the Royal Docks, under serious threat. The consequences of these closures on local employment was dramatic. The PLA started to reduce its workforce, which shrunk to some 6,000 by 1971 (and which was to shrink further to 3,000 by 1981). East London itself, broadly the area of the five Dockland boroughs (Tower Hamlets, Newham, Southwark, Lewisham and Greenwich), was to lose some 150,000 jobs between 1966 and 1976. This represented 20% of all jobs in the area, and was in contrast to a decline of only 13% in Greater London and just 2% in Great Britain. Specifically, hard hit sectors included transport, distribution, and food/drink processing, all sectors which were particularly related to port activity.

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Pool of LondonPlanning Scenarios

These closures, together with the emergence of the Greater London Council (GLC) and the London boroughs, as planning authorities, had produced by the early 1970's a rash of planning scenarios. David Eversley, the GLC's Chief Strategic Planner at that time, writing in 1973 describes the period well:

"Then in 1970 schemes followed each other in rapid succession. One plan for London Docks was produced by the GLC and Tower Hamlets; the PLA countered with another. The riverside in Southwark, already under active development just east of Waterloo Bridge, became the subject of grandiose development plans based on many millions of square feet of offices, together with hotels and some housing. Outline schemes began to appear for Surrey Docks. Further down river one group had earlier conceived a notion of developing Rainham Marshes as another new town and world trade centre, and this plan was revived in 1970.

Another consortium wanted to put a Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) airport for London into Rotherhithe. As a healthy sign, a local conservation and residents' group sprang up to oppose the scheme and revealed an enclave of 'literati' just south of Tower Bridge. The completed East Cross route, north and south of the doubled Blackwall Tunnel, attracted schemes for developing disused industrial land.

Royal Docks 1950Plans for a new road system in and around Greenwich provoked another storm, and counter-plans which involved the redevelopment of some parts of Greenwich, and preservation of much that was good. A 'cri de coeur' from the Isle of Dogs, in the form of a half serious, half comic 'declaration of independence', drew attention both to the needs of the area, and to the possibilities. Within a few months of this demonstration, developers were bidding for potential building plots in Millwall, with views of Greenwich and St. Paul's."

Concerned with this piecemeal planning approach, the GLC, together with the riparian boroughs and the Counties of Essex and Kent, decided to set up in March 1970 the Tower Bridge to Tilbury conference, an ad hoc initiative incorporating a technical panel and permanent working group, to work out a strategy for the whole of the potentially useful Thames-side area.

By 1971, imagination was running riot. As Eversley again describes:

"Suddenly there was nothing that the Docklands could not take. An airport at Foulness? Let the access routes go along the Thames, and perhaps even site the London Terminal in the Docklands. A Channel Tunnel? An obvious terminal for this important traffic would be Surrey Docks rather than Victoria or White City. There was talk of Polytechnics, perhaps a new campus for some of the activities of London University. Exhibition centres, trade centres, convention centres, new wholesale markets, hotels, hostels for young travellers - they could all go East..."

This general enthusiasm for the renewal of Docklands as well as the magnitude of the problem and opportunity was recognised at the highest levels.

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Millwall Inner Dock 1982Redevelopment Scenarios

In April 1971 Peter Walker, then Secretary of State for the Environment, announced that his Department and the GLC were to commission jointly an urgent and comprehensive study, of the potential of London's Docklands (which was so named and defined for the first time). By the end of 1972, an inter-disciplinary team under Alfred Goldstein of R. Travers Morgan and Partners (with Robert Matthew, Johnson Marshall and Partners advising on planning and environmental aspects), would report on the possibilities for comprehensive redevelopment of an area of 5,000 acres stretching from London and Surrey Docks in the West, to Beckton in the East, and on the cost of the various options open.

In making the appointment Peter Walker indicated that:

"I hope that the study will be the start of a process that will help to transform the quality of the environment for a community that has, for far too long, been deprived of good housing, fine buildings and proper amenities, and I believe that it will lay the foundations for one of the most exciting developments of the century."

In looking back, one can see that the need for such a study had been in evidence ever since the PLA had announced in January 1970 their phased five year programme of closures and rationalisation of berths and the upstream enclosed docks. The object was to concentrate resources on the containerisation of conventional general cargo at Tilbury and the profitable bulk cargoes of the Lower Thames Estuary. Whilst the earlier individual dock groups had already been declared obsolete, the sweeping changes announced in 1970 had dramatically changed the whole scale of run-down in East London.

Following some eighteen months work, at the cost of approximately 300,000, Travers Morgan submitted their report Docklands: Redevelopment proposals for East London to the Secretary of State on 19th January 1973, and in presenting their conclusions, Alfred Goldstein wrote to the Secretary of the State in the following terms:London Docks 1966

"You required us to submit not a recommended plan but a number of separate options so as to provide data, information and various possibilities from which a decision can finally be made... we have endeavoured to address ourselves to real deficiencies in the area, and elsewhere, which could be remedied by developments in Docklands. We believe our alternative plans are different and present real choices. We have tried to test our proposals in terms of their financial feasibility and to assess their social worth by an evaluation which makes explicit the value judgements adopted for each problem. These value judgements transcend the state of art of any particular profession and cannot be offered as 'expert opinion'. We hope that the way we have carried out and reported our work will facilitate the making of final decisions in the implementation of the plan chosen."

Goldstein also took the opportunity to alert Government to some key issues:

"Implementation presents a real challenge. Whatever plan is chosen, large costs are involved - the total public and private costs will be between about 450m and 800m exclusive of land transactions. The time span of twenty years will require a high rate of execution. Many different parties are involved - yourselves, the five Dockland Boroughs, the PLA, statutory undertakers and private developers. The complexities facing anyone concerned with implementation will be profound. We believe that to revitalise this large part of our capital city very special methods will be required in organisation, in finance, in deployment of construction resources, and in policy."

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The report presented five short-listed options (from eighteen originally), each showing what Docklands would be like if a particular theme were followed in its redevelopment. The plans (not really plans, but a mixture of policy suggestions and overall land allocations) assumed that all the upper docks would close and become available for redevelopment. The five options were:

City New Town: This had the highest population with about half the new housing for sale; a major new shopping and office centre was shown on the Isle of Dogs and a smaller office centre in Surrey Docks - a population of 141,000 and 90,000 jobs.

East End Consolidated: This emphasised public rented housing, with some low priced private housing, and industrial jobs with some offices - a population of 126,000 and 61,000 jobs.

Europa: This emphasised private housing and office and service industry employment, with commercial centres at Millwall, Wapping, Surrey Docks, Silvertown and Beckton, all linked by a mini-tram rapid transit system - a population of 126.000 and 87,000 jobs.

Thames Park: This provided over 700 acres of wooded parks, with a relatively small increase in population and a mixture of office and industrial jobs - a population of 85,000 and 69,000 jobs.

Waterside: This option arranged housing around water parks based on reshaping the existing docks linked to the River Thames - a population of 108,000 and 45,000 jobs.

The value of the Travers Morgan report was that it significantly moved forward the debate about the future of Docklands. It was the first report to identify, from a private sector viewpoint, a full range of imaginative and strategic planning development perspectives; the first to realistically spell out the realities and order of financing that would be required to implement such visions; the first to suggest the need for special organisational arrangements that would need to be put in place for realisation purposes. These were the positive outcomes of their work, but there were also some negatives.

The consultants had virtually frozen all significant planning applications and proposals in the area during the course oi their work, with the agreement of the GLC, so as not to prejudice the outcome of their deliberations. This however, ensured that Docklands was bypassed by the development industry during the boom period experienced by that sector, which eventually expired in 1974. Apart from this deferment of any potential new development activity, existing companies were also thus hindered from investing in expansion or consolidation plans, which led some to leave the area.

The lack of certainty about the future of the area was not helped by the absence of an agreed strategic context, in that the draft Greater London Development Plan, published in 1969, still showed Docklands at that time as an industrial and commercial area, coloured in traditional mauve on the Metropolitan Structure Map. Neither did the long running public enquiry into the plan (1970 - 1972) provide clarity. References were however made to Docklands providing an opportunity to create a new structure for London as part of the solution to London's housing problem. This was then seen essentially as a land shortage issue in order to meet housing targets, and which had led to the indiscriminate filling of London and Surrey Docks at that time. However, what was perhaps the most unfortunate circumstance was that the Travers Morgan Report was completed and published in the period of the 1973 GLC election campaign. It soon became a key issue of political controversy. Accusations were made that the consultants had failed to consult properly and adequately with the relevant local authorities and communities; that insufficient regard had been made of the needs and hopes of local people.

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West India Docks 1982The Docklands Joint Committee

During the course of 1973, it became obvious that the GLC and the Dockland boroughs were looking at other mechanisms to re-examine options for the future of the area. Following extensive discussions with Government, agreement was reached on the setting up of a statutory joint committee for the area, ensuring that the future of Docklands was firmly placed in their control.

The Docklands Joint Committee was established by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Geoffrey Rippon, in January 1974 under Section 102 of the Local Government Act 1972 with a remit to prepare a strategic plan for the redevelopment of the Docklands area and to co-ordinate the implementation of that plan. The Committee consisted of eight elected members of the GLC and eight elected members drawn from the five Dockland boroughs: one each from Greenwich and Lewisham and two each from Newham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets. There were also an additional eight co-opted members from broadly the world of business and finance, and these were drawn from names proposed by the Secretary of State. The Dockland boroughs and the GLC agreed to delegate to the Committee most of their development control functions, though the Committee was not intended to be an executive agent.

The Committee's prime task under its first Chairman, Sir Reg Goodwin, was to prepare a strategic plan for the area. Mindful of the adverse reaction to the Travers Morgan approach, a public consultation policy was first agreed and a small team set up under Nigel Beard as Director, formerly with the Ministry of Defence and previously the GLC's Chief Strategic Planner.

The Docklands Joint Committee took on responsibility for an area previously identified as part of the brief for Travers Morgan - some 5,500 acres of land and water, with the PLA still ensconced on the Isle of Dogs and in the Royals. With North Sea gas expected to play a major role in gas manufacturing, gas board land at Greenwich and Beckton was included in the expectation that these sites would be released for re-development.

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Altogether some 80% of all the land was in public ownership, much of it subject to an operational use designation, which was later to seriously frustrate all attempts at acquisition for new uses and development. Of the major landowners the PLA owned the lion's share, with some 2,037 acres (36.6%), the GLC owned 840 acres (15.1 %), the British Gas Corporation 689 acres (12.4%), the five Dockland boroughs 529 acres (9.5%) between them, British Rail 165 acres and the Central Electricity Generating Board 79 acres.

In all, some 55,000 people lived in the area at that time and some 40,000 were employed there - residents and employees were to be fully consulted at every stage in the drawing up of the chapters of the plan both at draft and final stages as part of the proposed and agreed consultation process. All views were reported to the Committee and taken into consideration before proceeding to the next stage of the process. With a recruited team in place, work on the plan started properly in September 1974. In April 1976 a draft of the plan was published by the Committee for public consultation purposes with a request for comments to be submitted by 30th June 1976. The plan was subsequently adopted by the Joint Committee and published as the London Docklands Strategic Plan in July 1976.

Percy Bell, the then Committee Chairman, in his preface to the draft plan, asked for lively debate on the issues presented but warned that:

"To rekindle confidence in the area, it is essential that the timetable or phasing presented is firm so that all who may be involved in the development can plan their future operation and investments within that framework. The timetables phasing depends critically upon the availability of public finance, which in turn, depends on Docklands development being given adequate priority by the Government and the Docklands Joint Committee's constituent authorities."

Upper Docks 1966The draft plan's basic approach was to review and examine the structural deficiencies of East London (broadly the five Dockland boroughs) as well as the social needs of the local inhabitants. The overall objective of the proposed strategy was:

"To use the opportunity provided by large areas of London Dockland becoming available for development, to redress the housing, social, environmental, employment/economic and communications deficiencies of the Docklands area and the parent boroughs and thereby to provide the freedom for similar improvements throughout East and Inner London."

The strategic plan was not meant to be a statutory plan, indeed the hierarchy of plans within the planning system had no place for it. It was to occupy instead, a mezzanine position between the Greater London Development Plan, acting as the structure plan for Greater London, and local plans prepared by the boroughs for their particular areas.

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As Brian Buckle, Deputy to Nigel Beard, was to subsequently acknowledge, when describing the work of the Committee:

"It will be recognised that it (the plan) is essentially political in character expressing the community's view of how part of its resources should be used."

Given its socio- political objectives, it is of little surprise that the plan focused on largely maintaining the status quo of the area, in terms of extending its existing housing pattern, its employment structure and the Committee emphasising their wish:

"to see a flourishing and viable port in East London."

In terms of housing, the plan avoided being specific about future tenure mix patterns, instead providing only tentative guidelines which implied that:

"two thirds of the final stock would be for renting with a much larger proportion in the initial phases."

The constituent boroughs were however less coy and both Tower Hamlets and Southwark for example, in preparing their draft local plans of the day, proposed that 70-80% of all housing was to be council rented with owner occupation relegated to some 5%. This was in contrast to 37% owner occupation in Greater London as whole.

This caution about extending owner/occupation in the area, reflected itself in the Committee's attitude to the retention and conservation of the many fine warehouses lining the banks of the Thames. Many of these were vacant and fast becoming derelict with no further demand for their commercial use. Many, as was proved later, could have been successfully converted to other uses, including residential. This was however resisted ostensibly because of the high costs involved which would result in fairly expensive accommodation which:

"if this were done on a large scale it would not be relevant to tackling some of the housing problems in the Dockland Boroughs."

A similar reluctance existed to diversify the declining employment base of the area. Between 1961 and 1971 Greater London had lost some half a million jobs in manufacturing industry, distributive trades, transport, communications and public utilities. These were the very activities upon which the Dockland boroughs and the Docklands area in particular had been dependent in the past. In 1971 for example, manufacturing provided 46% of all jobs in Docklands while sea and port transport 25%. With the closure of the docks the picture in East London was one of general decline in these sectors either at rates exceeding or in contrast with those in Greater London and Great Britain. Despite this, the Committee were determined to slow down:

"the present exodus of industry so as to mitigate the social and economic consequences of these trends."

The plan therefore proposed a number of major new industrial zones which were to be linked to road, rail and river interchanges providing locational opportunities for manufacturing sectors with new accommodation to rent and centralised facilities. Much of the new development was to be attracted through policies of public rent guarantees and subsidies, as already practised by the PLA in terms of their own surplus accommodation.

In order however to translate such proposals to reality the Committee faced familiar problems in three key areas:

  • Obtaining the release of operational land, but with development potential, from other public authorities;
  • obtaining clarity from the PLA as to their intentions for the remaining upper docks;
  • and finally in obtaining finance on a scale adequate to underpin the proposals.

A number of assumptions had to be made in a very uncertain climate about the timing of release, and therefore, phasing of the development in relation to the key land holdings of both the British Gas Corporation and the PLA.

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The Gas Corporation argued that their land at Beckton and on the Greenwich peninsula contained equipment essential for the distribution of gas in the London region, and that in the short to medium term they needed storage facilities to provide for peak demands. They further argued that in the longer term they would need to resume the manufacture of gas and that these sites, large and with very good riverside access, would be particularly suitable for that purpose.

The future of those upper docks, still operating in 1976, was equally uncertain. In January of that year the PLA announced proposals for transferring all their existing general cargo handling activities in the West India and Millwall Docks to the Royal Docks. They proposed to retain only their bulk wine facilities and services they provided for tenants within the Isle of Dogs.

However, in the summer of 1976, this decision was reversed and the PLA proposed and carried out certain investment in improved facilities for the West India and Millwall Docks. Shortly following the release of the Dockland Joint Committee's Plan in the summer of 1976, the PLA published their proposals setting out various options for their future. The eventual outcome was an arrangement by which both the West India/Millwall and the Royal Docks would remain in operation. However, early in 1980, the PLA announced they would cease operations in the West India and Millwall Docks by the summer, transferring their own activities to the Royal group of Docks or to Tilbury.

In the end, the Committee adopted assumptions on the basis that the West India and Victoria Docks might close by 1985, and the Millwall Docks by 1990 and that the Royal Albert and King George V Dock would continue in operation indefinitely. If these were problems not serious enough, it was on the issue of financing that insurmountable difficulties began to emerge. The Strategic Plan published by the Committee in July 1976 envisaged four, five year phases of development, 20 years in all, underpinned by 1,138m of public expenditure, allied to an investment of 600m by the private sector - a total expenditure of some 1.7 billion at mid-1975 prices.

These sums were subsequently updated to February 1980 prices, which revealed that the public sector expenditure requirement had grown to 2,100m and the private sector contribution had increased to 1,500m - some 3.6 billion in all. All this was against a background of government's position on financing as previously revealed in their White Paper on Docklands, published in August 1975, (Cmnd 6193), which stated quite clearly:

"Developments in Docklands will be eligible for the normal forms of Government financial support to transport, housing and other purposes. The Government has no plans for special forms of support over and beyond these."

In preparing the Plan, the Committee had carefully reviewed the feasibility of expenditure on this scale in order to examine whether it could be borne at all. Also whether the development needed to be spread over a longer period than would otherwise be necessary so as to reduce the level of funding in particular years. They reached a conclusion, that given various conditions, namely continued support by central Government, through grant, and capital authorisations at levels then prevailing, the public sector expenditure required was within the capability of the GLC and the other local authorities. Furthermore they clarified that the private sector would also be capable of playing its part.

Despite such optimism, the reality was that publication of the Plan in July 1976 did not stimulate Government to provide any finance, let alone of an order to jump start redevelopment. Instead, in August 1976, two weeks after the Plan's publication, Peter Shore, the Secretary of State for the Environment, welcomed the Plan on behalf of the Government but with the following resource caveats:

"We must all acknowledge present financial stringencies, and the fact that any shift of resources must be offset against expenditure in other areas. But the Government recognises the need to revive the Docklands area. This strategy will provide a new sense of direction and purpose - a new starting point. The Government stands by the commitment it made last year and I gladly endorse it. Within the limits of the resources at our disposal we will help the redevelopment of Docklands to go forward with all speed. We cannot accept decay and decline so near the heart of our great capital city."

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From the outset therefore problems of land assembly and inadequate funding hindered an early and speedy implementation of the published proposals. The problems of land assembly a prerequisite to any initiation of new development - was a particular failure. The statutory bodies including the PLA, had neither the will nor the capital to initiate the extensive reclamation and servicing required of their vast surplus estates. The boroughs had land acquisition powers but these were never delegated to the Committee. The short lived Docklands Land Board established in 1977 under the Community Land Act did have such powers but it had only acquired 3.3 acres by the time of its demise in 1980 following repeal of the Act! There were also problems of an internal political - administrative nature inherent in a decision making body representing so many interests: - where should the first employment generating proposal of any significance be located? In Newham to stimulate an early start in what may have been perceived as the most inaccessible part of Docklands, or in Tower Hamlets, where, it was so claimed, unemployment was at it highest? In those circumstances it was not surprising that the very first commercial scheme (for industrial and warehouse units) submitted in September 1976 was deferred by the Committee for further individual caucus consideration, much to the deep disappointment of the developer, who sat agitated outside, in the corridors of County Hall.

Nevertheless, in spite of all these problems and operating within very tight financial constraints, eased somewhat by a 17m construction package announced by the Chancellor in his April 1977 budget, a start was made.

This package was a precursor to the Government's new approach to the problem of the Inner Cities as set out in the White Paper Policy for the Inner Cities, published in June 1977, and the passing of the Inner Urban Areas Act of 1978. As a result Docklands became a partnership area and was provided with an allocation of 3.25m in 1978-79 and 15m per year for the next three years covering 1979-82.

These relatively small but nevertheless welcome amounts enabled work to commence on various fronts. By 1980, a major surface water and foul drainage scheme had been carried out in Beckton by Thames Water Authority, preparing the land for development. Work was also in progress on similar schemes in Wapping, Surrey Docks and Greenwich.

Sadly, the infrastructure programmes involved the filling of the many dock basins and their vast expanses of water. The Committee were totally oblivious to the enhanced value that water could create. The basins were not seen as assets or as opportunities to creating a new form of development but as a problem in safety and engineering terms. Filling also meant a small revenue stream for the financially beleaguered PLA. They did little to manage a process which soon had degenerated into indiscriminate filling and tipping adding to the general air of neglect and dereliction.

In part the Committee's attitude could perhaps be seen as an overreaction to what was perceived as a potential threat posed by marina type developments of the type recently opened at St Katharine's Dock. Instead only small fragments were considered suitable for retention for 'more popular forms of recreation', a policy much criticised at the time by the Sports Council.

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As a result, with the exception of some 7 acres of water at Shadwell Basin, work was well under way on filling the London Docks with their 120 acres of water at the cost of over 10m. The former Eastern Dock in Wapping was also being laid out as a major area of heavily landscaped open space to be named Wapping Wood.

A road programme had started in Beckton and on the Greenwich peninsula, to facilitate the creation of the new industrial development zones, part of the Committee's policy to stabilise the loss of manufacturing jobs.

With the help of GLC rent guarantee schemes, a programme of factory and warehouse construction commenced in Autumn 1976, and an estimated 1.3m sq.ft of space was built in the period up to 1980. A housing programme also commenced in 1976, and some 800 units had been completed by 1980.

These were however all small beginnings against a need for significant investment and substantial impact. Little progress had been made for example on the major transport proposals of three river crossings - the Northern/Southern Relief Roads, the East London River Crossing as well as the Jubilee Line Extension. These proposals, it has to be said, had always been controversial for reasons of cost and environmental impact, and therefore subject to delay, uncertainty and indecision.

It was apparent with the approach of the election year of 1979, that the Strategic Plan had not picked up momentum, and that it required reviewing if not amending. The Committee also came to the realisation that the organisational arrangements were inadequate for implementation purposes and required drastic change. In January 1979 the Officer level Team that had produced the Plan was disbanded and replaced by a new organisation with offices in the City, a Managing Director recruited from a new town, and staff with a private sector promotion marketing bias. The previous month the Committee itself, with political change on the horizon, had rapidly refined its own structures establishing a streamlined Executive Committee. This was composed of leaders of the five Dockland boroughs with powers to act on behalf of the Docklands Joint Committee on practically all matters other than major issues of key policy.

By mid 1979, both the Docklands Joint Committee and the Department of Transport had agreed that low cost options for transport in Docklands should be examined and in December 1979 the Docklands Joint Committee authorised the first stage of a comprehensive review of the Plan. This was to examine how far the assumptions in the Plan were still valid, how far had the trends identified followed their course, and how far had the phasing been matched by progress.

For despite the best endeavours of the Docklands Joint Committee, life and working conditions in Docklands had declined dramatically. By 1981, over 150,000 jobs in port and related activities had disappeared in East London since the closure of the first upper dock, the East India Dock in 1967. The residential population of the area had also declined from some 55,000 residents in 1976, to just over 39,000 in 1981. Moreover, over 50% of the land was in a vacant or derelict state and most of it was still in public sector ownership, ostensibly retained for, and protected by its 'operational use' designation, despite such uses having long ceased and with little evidence that they would return. it was also difficult to state with any precision what had been achieved by the Committee.

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In June 1981 a House of Commons Committee appointed to consider petitions laid against the order proposing to designate Docklands as an urban development area reported:

"From the mass of evidence given before the Committee it is not easy to extract absolute facts."

West India Export Docks 1987However, tables were prepared and agreed between Government and the petitioners which provided a factual picture of housing and industry between 1976 and 1981. The picture disclosed was that in housing only 1,300 new dwellings had been completed since 1976 with a further 900 under construction. This compared with the Plan's target for 1982 of approximately 6,000 new dwellings. On employment, over 8,500 jobs had been lost in the last five years and less than 800 new jobs created. This compared with the Plan's target of between 10 and 12,000 new jobs by 1982.

Such were the realities which reinforced the determination of Michael Heseltine, the new Secretary of State for the Environment, to obtain powers from Parliament to establish urban development corporations, with the specific aim of creating one to take responsibility for the future of London Docklands.

Whilst his decision was a major blow to the GLC and the Dockland boroughs, the concept of a single minded development corporation as a more appropriate instrument to effect change was not entirely new, having already been hinted at by Travers Morgan and others even before them. As long ago as August 1971, the well respected Journal For The Built Environment (OAP) in its special issue on 'Changing Docklands', clearly set out in a covering editorial the realities of life for Docklands:

"The redevelopment of the Docklands presents a unique opportunity for positive and massive renewal close to the heart of London. But the decisions that will transform a neglected and run down area into an attractive and viable community, will not be those of the planner. The switches in investment priorities, the subsidies, the employment incentives - all are areas of political decision, which alone can give reality to the planners' ultimate proposals. Apart from East London's claims for a slice of the national cake, there will be hotly disputed questions of priority among the London Boroughs, not to mention difficulties over the decision making and implementation procedures within the local Government structure. The PLA, possessor of vast land holdings in the study area, has its own priorities. The solution could be a special Dockland Corporation, armed with the powers and resources for acquisition and investment similar to those of a New Town Development Corporation."

The editorial also pointed out two basic preconditions that would be required to ensure success:

"The key to any successful redevelopment of the area is improvement of transport facilities in all directions. Transport investment has been the poorest in the whole of London, a situation aggravated by a low car ownership in the area. It is here that some of the earliest "crunch" decisions must be made... Basic to any rehabilitation of the area is the question of the huge expenditure needed in land acquisition, infrastructure improvements and an environmental treatment, before private developers will consider investing in its future. Since the local authorities affected are amongst the poorest in London, either the GLC will have to rethink its priorities or special assistance will be needed from the Government."

Many others agreed with the proposition that East London's problems should be tackled through a development corporation. Again, as long ago as 19th January 1972 the Architects Journal in a long review of Docklands issues said:

"Is there any reason why the imbalance resulting from the creation of new towns and the new industry to move into them should not be rectified by the creation of East London itself as a new town? By designating the area in this way with all the responsibilities and powers that implies we could surely halt the flight of new industries and young people..."

Such were the circumstances which dictated the birth of an urban development corporation, as an instrument of a new policy approach by Central Government to urban planning of UK. cities.

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The London Docklands Development Corporation

The London Docklands Development Corporation was designated the managing body of the Docklands Urban Development Area on 2nd July, 1981, by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Heseltine, under provisions of the Local Government Planning and Land Act 1980.

Canary Wharf 1982To enable it to set about its task, Government provided the Urban Development Corporation with unprecedented powers, unprecedented in that they were previously only exercised by local authorities acting as elected bodies. The Board of the Corporation, some 12 members in all, was made directly responsible to, and appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment. Each member was personally appointed by the Secretary of State for a period of three years or so, normally from the private sector but with three places retained for borough nominations.

The powers that Government provided the Corporation with were as follows:

  1. Financial resources, provided by the Treasury, through the Department of Environment - initially an amount between 60-70 million per annum.
  2. Powers as a single development control Planning Authority (in place of the three boroughs), enabling the Corporation to provide a 'one stop service' for investors and developers seeking advice and planning permission (but with no plan making powers, responsibility for which remained with the local authorities).
  3. Land acquisition powers, with the ability to acquire land quickly from public sector authorities, through special Parliamentary vesting procedures to achieve 'regeneration';
  4. Powers as an Enterprise Zone Authority responsible for the Isle of Dogs Enterprise Zone, which was designated in April 1982 with a 10 year life;
  5. Finally, powers for marketing and promoting the Docklands area.

Significantly, the Corporation was not provided with plan making powers.Following so closely after the debacle of the London Docklands Strategic Plan, master planning especially was considered discredited by Government. It was seen as a time consuming activity which would not necessarily guarantee success but which would instead inhibit rather than encourage early development, and also discourage the Corporation from adopting an early entrepreneurial approach to initial development activity.

In the light of the Secretary of State's remit to the Corporation, and the LDDC's own analysis of the problems and opportunities, the Corporation Board set itself the following initial and overall objectives:Canary Wharf 1996

  • To rapidly improve the image of Docklands, not only by undertaking programmes of physical works throughout the area, but also by creating confidence in the continuing improvements to come;
  • To use its financial resources primarily as a lever to attract private investment, given that the amount of public money available to the Corporation was small in relation to the size of the task the leverage principle;
  • To acquire as much public sector land as resources permitted, in order to undertake the necessary reclamation, servicing and site assembly, followed by remarketing to the private sector wherever such sites were not the subject of suitable active redevelopment plans by their current owners;
  • To bring the roads and public transport network up to the standard enjoyed in other parts of London;
  • To bring about significant improvements in a choice and quality of housing and community amenities without undertaking such work directly.
  • From the outset it was recognised that reviving the Docklands economy was central to the overall regeneration task.

How the Corporation set about its task of regenerating London Docklands, will be the subject of subsequent monographs in this series.

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Greater London Development Plan Statement & Report of Studies
Greater London Council September 1969

Changing Docklands
Journal for the Built Environment (Theme Feature) August 1971

Docklands: Redevelopment proposals for East London (2 volumes)
London Docklands Study Team R. Travers Morgan & Partners January 1973

The Docklands - An exercise in Geopolitics
D.E.C. Eversley, East London Papers Volume 15 Summer 1973

Redevelopment of London Docklands (White Paper)
Government observations on fifth report of the Expenditure Committee Cmnd 6193 HMSO August 1975

Docklands is dying in squabbles and squalor
Sunday Times 15th February 1976

London Docklands: A Strategic Plan - a draft for public consultation
Docklands Joint Committee Docks 112 March 1976

London Docklands Strategic Plan
Docklands Joint Committee - Docks 150 July 1976

Policy for the Inner Cities (White Paper)
Cmnd 6485 HMSO June 1977

London Docklands - Operational Programme 1978-1982
Docklands Joint Committee - Docks 282 July 1978

London Docklands - The Years of Growth - Operational Programme 1979-1983
Docklands Joint Committee Docks 383 and 383a December 1979

London Docklands - Past, Present and Future
B.Buckle, Docklands Joint Committee March 1981

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The idea of writing a series of monographs on the work of the LDDC, and the circumstances leading to its creation was initiated by Eric Sorensen, whilst Chief Executive of the Corporation.

This monograph has been written by Peter Turlik, former Director of Strategic Affiars at the LDDC who offers particular thanks to Eric Sorensen, Gareth Bendon and Vicki Blyth for their invaluable help and support.

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Other Monographs in this series, all published in 1997/98, are as follows

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Completion Booklets

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Annual Reports and Accounts

As with most organisations the Annual Reports and Accounts of the LDDDC are a good source of chronological information about the work of the Corporation and how it spent its money. Altogether these reports contain more than 1000 pages of information. These have been scanned and reproduced as zip files on our Annual Reports and Accounts page

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