Building decent transport links was essential to attract business, reports Helena Russell.
Bringing transport to Docklands was rather like bringing it to a developing country, says LDDC director of transportation planning Cynthia Grant. When the development corporation took over in 1981, she recalls, the area had practically nothing in the way of transportation.
It was very hard to get anywhere, Grant says. The Isle of Dogs had a single road round its perimeter along the riverside, and smaller roads crossing bridges over the docks. But the lifting bridges often broke down and roads were often closed.
The area was so derelict that it was very difficult to raise any interest from investors, and the first thing that was needed to generate interest was a transport system, however limited.
But it was a Catch 22 situation. The development corporation had very little money to spend: Of course the corporation raises its money from selling land, Grant says, and we couldnt sell any without putting transport in place.
So the first schemes were necessarily small scale, but LDDC also wanted them to be high profile, to signal to potential investors that this was a special place.
Initial efforts were focused on the enterprise zone, the area around Canary Wharf and Canning Town, and the idea was to put in enough transport to help the zone take off. Schemes had to be visible, new, and capable of being upgraded.
One of the first new roads was built to enable Asda to open a new supermarket on the island it had been talking about doing so but would not sign up without some kind of infrastructure. So the first of the red brick roads was built Docklands signature brick-paved roads which are now being gradually replaced with asphalt before they are handed back to the local authority (see page 16).
The philosophy behind using this style was to convey an upbeat statement about the potential of the area and to keep traffic down to reasonable speeds; it also meant that services could be upgraded without continuous patching of asphalt.
In addition to building a road infrastructure, LDDC set up and subsidised the Docklands Clipper, a shuttle bus service from Mile End station to the Isle of Dogs. At its peak, the bus was running every five minutes, but it was phased out after the opening of the Docklands Light Railway.
Although we had discussed the idea of getting a tube line to the area, realistically we knew that we couldnt get the money, Grant says. But the light railway idea coincided with the development boom, so it worked and the scheme was approved as a cost-capped project.
Designing the DLR line to run above ground gave it the image of sailing into the area, Grant explains making it high profile and getting it noticed.
But the real step change came when the Canary Wharf developers signed up. This was the trigger which allowed LDDC to campaign for more money to upgrade transportation, so that it would be able to handle the increased capacity.
Things did not run smoothly. There were a lot of hitches with upgrading of the DLR, attracting really bad publicity and more problems, recalls Grant.
However, the boom in building was sufficient to spark off construction of the Limehouse Link and Aspen Way, creating more direct road links west to the City and east to the A13, and to put Canary Wharf on the route of the new Jubilee Line Extension.
Outside the enterprise zone, east to the Royal Docks, the sketchy lines which had been drawn in the form of spine roads were now being filled in as development spread slowly into the area. The DLR was extended to Beckton before any major development took place LDDC having proved in the Isle of Dogs that transport infrastructure would act as a trigger for development.
Grant is happy to be leaving Docklands with a well-developed transportation system, but she says the area still badly needs more cross-river links. We will get some with the opening of the JLE and the DLR link to Lewisham, she concedes, but says two more road links at the Blackwall tunnel and east of the Royal Docks and a rail connection to Woolwich are needed to access the south east more efficiently. They will also be essential to support lasting, post-millennium regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula.