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It was an arduous prospect; full of the danger of over promising and under-delivering. I am not talking about the challenge of describing the most significant 10 year period in the Docklands history in this post but the enormous task faced by the London Docklands Development Corporation.


Founded in 1981 the LDDC's mission initially was to transform the Isle of Dogs and Royal Docks areas. Not just a lily-livered government quango, the LDDC had a massive mandate and the authority to match. Just one example of this is that even though the Isle of Dogs was designated an Enterprise Zone in 1981 and most development was free of planning consent, LDDC approval was still required.

Reg Ward, the then Chief Executive of the LDDC, gives an excellent insight into the enormity of the Docklands regeneration project. He said:

"In 1981 people perceived the Docklands as a total no-go area in housing terms. More than ninety per cent of its stock was public sector, less than five per cent owner occupied and only five houses had been built for private occupation in the previous five or six years".

The last statistic in his quote is almost unbelievable as I sit here in 2015 and think about the thousands of new apartments that have been built in the last 12 months alone!

Ward and his colleagues were instrumental in not only convincing four national home builders to commit to building but also came up with the idea for the DLR, which was eventually green lighted by the Government in July 1982. The inspiration for this service came from "the quantity of British Rail track which was lying all in the right place; either unused or seriously under-used".

As her regal predecessor is said to have used the area (in part) as a large kennel hundreds of years ago, it was perhaps fitting that the Queen should complete the official Royal opening of the Docklands Light Railway on July 30, 1987.

Thanks to Reg, 1987 was a golden year for transportation in the Docklands area. Not content with having installed this wondrous light railway, the LDDC breathed new life into the Royal Docks by overseeing the construction of City Airport, which opened in October of the same year.

Docklands was now no longer the back-end of nowhere, only served by minicab drivers and brave ones at that!

Against the backdrop of Thatchers capitalist Britain, the blank canvas and opportunities offered by the Docklands proved too much of a temptation for large, international developers. They recognised the prime locations and cost benefits of the Docklands' vast open areas and accepted the risks, happy to take a long-term view.

With a backbone of innovative and modern transportation links, commercial and residential development took of at a simply rapid pace.

Like a leviathan rising from the depths, one single deal crystalised the Docklands' transformation.

On 17 July 1987, Olympia,York Canary Wharf Investments and the LDDC signed the Master Building Agreement for a 12.2 million square feet, £3 billion, international financial centre. This agreement marked the birth of Canary Wharf in its current form.

In the next part of my research into the history of the area I call my second home, I will look at the 1990's. A decade where dreams were made and fortunes were lost...

Spencer Fortag

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