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London Docklands is like our own

01 Aug 2010

London Docklands is like our own Image

By Shane Scanlan

Docklands News visited London Docklands last month and was struck by the many similarities.

For starters, it’s windy!

And the “fine grain” urban character that Lord Mayor Robert Doyle is seeking for Melbourne Docklands is not apparent, even 12 years after its completion.

Even more so than our Docklands, its redeveloped public spaces are large scale, uninviting and exposed.  

And speaking of scale, it’s huge – some ten times the size of Melbourne’s version.

Interestingly, the more inviting outdoor dining areas are away from the waterfront and take advantage of old tall warehouses which surround internal man-made waterways.

Like Melbourne’s Docklands, it was the containerisation of sea freight that caused the area to lose its economic viability in the 1960s and 70s.  But unlike Melbourne, London’s old docks had an entrenched resident working class population.

This human dimension is one of the stark differences between the two developments.

The development became a battleground for class warfare as the old communities were pushed out and the “yuppies” moved in.  This tension still exists where new apartments sit next to run-down public housing estates.

Like our Docklands, the London version is a major financial centre and now rivals the “City” for dominance in this sector.

But unlike Melbourne Docklands, the London version is quite a distance away from central London.  The old city can be seen in the distance upstream on the River Thames.

London Docklands was developed over 17 years by the London Docklands Development Corporation, a powerful government organisation which operated an “enterprise zone” offering various inducements to businesses, including tax breaks.

Despite this assistance, the largest commercial development, Canary Wharf had a difficult birth with bankruptcy in 1992 and another take over in 2004.

In 1998, the LDDC was wound up and control was handed back to three London borough councils.

The use of the term “Docklands” is more informal in London.  The area covers numerous suburbs and spans both sides of the river.

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