We took the current round of Future London Leaders on a trip around the Royal Docks. The buffeting winds and relentless rain, accentuated by the riverside location, were less than favourable conditions for viewing an area still very much in transition – for most people, the Docks are that strange part of London one travels through en route to the airport or the Excel centre. But there were enough clues – and a few near completions – to get a good impression of the future vitality of the area.
Clive Dutton, Exec. Director of Regeneration at Newham, showed us the masterplan of the area, which demonstrated both the level of ambition and the physical scale of regeneration involved – the Royals are thirteen miles of river and dock water frontage. As of 1 April, the area became an Enterprise Zone, and it is hoped that the high speed broadband functionality of the area will attract a host of sustainable businesses. The area is also benefiting from Crossrail – going east from Canary Wharf, there will be three new stations in the area at Victoria Dock, Custom House and Connaught Tunnel.
We started the tour at Connaught Bridge, which gives good views over the dock, a good way to put the masterplan we had perused into reality. From this vantage point, we could see the Cable Car, the new crossing between Newham and Greenwich that is set to open in the summer. We also caught a glimpse of the Siemens Crystal, a landmark building that will house a public sustainable technologies exhibition and conference centre.
From there we headed south to Pontoon Dock, due to be the heart of the Enterprise Zone. The Thames Barrier Park can be found here, as well as a Barratt housing development from 2001 with a surprisingly vintage seaside feel. Another Barratt development promising 780 new homes, of which 35% will be affordable, is currently under construction.
This is also the vicinity of the London Pleasure Gardens, one of four Meanwhile Use sites that will animate the area before the businesses move in. The Pleasure Gardens will be a multi-faceted leisure and entertainments complex with a programme of events beginning in June. The 24-hour licence alone is sure to attract a new crowd to the area, as will its proximity to the Olympic Park.
There are still a few questions around walkability – an enormous challenge for an area built for cargo. But there are enough elements of this project to attract all kinds of new people, whether for business, residence or entertainment. Hopefully many of them will be attracted to its geographical peculiarities, and remain long enough to create a vibrant new part of east London.