London Docklands Urbanisation Case Study

Regeneration of the London Docklands

In the 1980s in an effort to reverse the process of inner city decline the UK government set up Urban Development Corporations (known as UDCs). The aim of these UDCs was to regenerate inner city areas with large amounts of derelict and unuse land by taking over planning responsibility from local councils. These UDCs had the power to acquire and reclaim land, convert old buildings and improve infrastructure through the investment of government money. These UDCs also attracted private sector investment through offering companies reduced taxes and other benefits and in doing so they promoted industrial, residential and community developments.

The London Docklands Development Corporation

During the 19th century, London's port was one of the busiest in the world, but by the end of the 1950s it was in signficant decline with many of the docks derelict and abandoned. In response to the resulting social, economic and environmental problems the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was set up in 1981.

Why did the London Docks go into decline?
1. An increase in ship size meant they found it difficult to come down the river as far as the Isle of Dogs where the river wasn't as deep. (the position of the docks moved further downstream to Tilbury);
2. Containerisation meant few dockers were needed with large cranes used to lift containers from ships;
3. The decline of portside industries and manufacturing

What were the problems in 1981 in the Isle of Dogs?
* population had declined
* employment was in decline (loss of jobs from decline of docklands
* access to the rest of London was poor with narrow roads which were heavily congested, and a lack of public transport (a single bus route and no rail or underground service)
* 95%+ of housing was rented and including high density terraced houses and large estates dominated by high rise blocks
* Shopping faciliities were limited
* Lack of open space and recreation facilities

Who was involved in helping with the regeneration process?
Whilst the LDDC was responsible for the planning and redevelopment of the Docklands areas, other organisation have also been involved in the redevelopment process, these included:
- National Government - they created an Isle of Dogs Enterprise Zone in April 1982 - offering incentives such as grants, reduced rates etc. to encourage private investment;
- Property Developers - responsible for building large office blocks (e.g. Canary Wharf)
- Local Housing Association - obtained home improvement grants
- Conservation Groups
- Newham Council

Changes to the area between 1981 - 1998

Environmental Regeneration
- network of pedestrian and cycle routes through the area with access to the river and dock edge through waterside walkways
- creation of pedestrian bridges
- creation of new open spaces (150ha)
- Water based Ecology Park and London's first bird sanctuary at East India Dock Basin - one of 17 conservation areas set up
- planting of 200,000 trees;
- the area has now received many awards for architecture, conservation and landscaping

Economic Regeneration
- unemployment had fallen from 14% to 7.4 with a doubling in employment and numbers of businesses;
- transport revolution - opening of the Docklands Light Railway in 1987 - now carrying 35,000 passengers a week;
- £7.7 billion in private secotr investment
- 2,700 businesses trading
- major new roads including link to the M11
- Building of the City Airport in the former Royal Docks (500,000+ passengers a year)
- attraction of financial and high-tech firms,
- TV studios and newspapers such as The Guardian now have offices in the prestigious Canary Wharf business complex.

Social Changes
- £10 million spent on improvement council and housing association homes
- a total of 22,000 new homes built (mainly private ownership with approx 19% for rent)
- conversion and gentrification of old warehouses to new homes
- New shopping centre built - including 4,600sq metres Asda Superstore and refurbishment of shopping parades - also included transformation of old dockland buildings into shopping outlets (e.g. Tobacco Dock)
- Large new shopping centre at Canary Wharf with over 30 shops
- many restaurants, pubs and cafes built
- Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre
- £100 million spent on health, education, job training etc.

How successful was the London Docklands Redevelopment?

- more trade for local shopkeers
- cheaper rents here for large companies yet still the benefit of only being 10 minutes from central London
- a wide range of economic, environmental and social benefits (see above) - including 22,000 news housing units and 1000s of new jobs.
- greatly improved accessibility in and out of docklands
- addressed the once failing land, housing and commercial property markets in the area.

- there were criticisms that despite the improvements many of these didn't benefit the original 'eastenders' - click on the photo opposite to see some of the 'anti-LDDC' graffitti
- many locals were unable to afford the high costs of the new expensive houses / flats (still a lack of low-cost housing in the area)
- despite an increase in jobs with new businesses coming in, most required skills that the old dockers did not have;
- reduction in community spirit that the old Docklands had - with the 'yuppie' newcomers not mixing with the eastenders

Follow Up links:
Virtual Tour of the London Docklands(excellent site from Wycombe High School - well worth looking at!)
London Docklands Quiz
LDDC - Isle of Dogs - excellent overview of what has been done in terms of regeneration
About LDDC (Royal Docks Trust)- good overview looking at what the LDDC was, the task, what its achievements were and how successful it was
London Docklands Development Corporation (Wikipedia)
London Docklands Overview (Wikipedia)
London Docklands Case Study (Internet Geography)

Photos credit and sources:
1. I Murray from 2. JP Raud Dugal from
3. A Stacey from 4. I Murray from
5. IMurray from


  • Brownfield site - previously used industrial land that is redeveloped
  • Renovation - restoring something back into good condition
  • Prestigious - impressive, having status or influence
  • Residential - areas where people live (reside)
  • Enterprise zone - an area given financial incentives and help to redevelop
  • Incentives - something encouraging or motivating
  • Amenities - useful facilities or services
  • Derelict land - land that is damaged or abandoned and cannot be put to use until damage is repaired
  • Reclaiming derelict land: to recover land that has lost its productivity and to make it usable again
  • Conservation area. Areas of particular special social, architectural or historic interest.
  • Urban Development Corporation: Organisation set up by governments to spend billions of pounds stimulating property developments such as London Docklands. Critics said they focused too heavily on physical change while disregarding social regeneration.

SELF STUDY TASK: Create case study to answer sections below

• History + location of docks

• Why in decline?

• When did it start to change?

• What is comprehensive redevelopment?

• Who were the LDDC and what is an ENTERPRIZE ZONE? – relate to definition of an urban development corporation

• What transport infrastructure was installed in to change the area?

• How did redevelopment effect the ECONOMY / ENVIRONMENT / SOCIETY. Consider positive and negative effects

• How has housing changed in the last 30 years?

• Why is there a rising demand for urban living spaces / housing in Docklands?

• What is this demand doing to house prices in the region

• Are there any conservation areas within the redevelopment?

• How have the people in Docklands changed?

• Who is moving in, who is moving out – how is society changing?

Example Data Response Question

30 years ago the words urban redevelopment usually meant bulldozing large areas of run-down inner city areas to build new industrial and residential areas. City councils often bid for money from the UK government or the European Union. "Enterprise Zones" were set up, giving tax and rate-free incentives. Almost 30 inner city areas in the UK were redeveloped, including London's Docklands.

James Wilkinson, a representative from the London Docklands Development Corporation asserted:

"There may have been a few problems because of the recession in the early 1990's, but the development has been a success. Derelict areas have been transformed with new developments. Many newspaper companies have moved out from crowded parts of Central London. New housing and jobs have been created. Transport links have been greatly improved with the new City Airport, Docklands Light Railway and new roads."

But today these multi-million pound schemes are less popular - why should this be? Ann Seacombe, a resident from the Isle of Dogs commented:

"Almost nothing has happened for us, the local people. We were told that there would be new homes and jobs, but not for us. Less than 1,000 new council homes have been built - but there are over 25,000 new private flats and houses. Most of the jobs are for skilled people working for big companies - other jobs are low paid, working in restaurants or shops. Our needs should have been considered more."

Today money is more likely to be spent in improving and modernising buildings in cities. Birmingham is a good example of this new type of urban renewal. Money has been given to renovate whole streets - over 10,000 houses so far. Smaller developments have included creating an 'urban village' to the east of the city centre with 500 new and renovated homes, parks and amenities. Bollards and other traffic calming measures enable children to play safely once more.


Question 1. What is urban renewal?

Question 1 is checking that you understand the term urban renewal and can give a clear definition of what it means.


Question 2. How has urban renewal changed over the past 30 years?

Question 2 involves writing a short summary of how an area has changed over the past 30 years - what differences have occurred?


Question 3. Why were local people in London's Docklands dissatisfied with the changes?

Questions 3 and 4 look at actual examples of urban renewal, asking you to explain different reactions to the changes.


Question 4. Why might people living in Birmingham be more pleased with the changes there?

When answering questions like these, read the article very carefully, perhaps 2 or 3 times before you begin writing. Make sure you are prepared for vocabulary linked to cities and urban renewal such as: residential, prestigious and renovate.


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