Spectacular Plans to Transform the old Royal Albert Dock
I was fascinated to see coverage recently, of the spectacular plans to transform the old Royal Albert Dock area in East London. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson was present as ABP Chinese (Holding) announced a £1 billion investment agreement with the Greater London Authority to create a “business port” to attract Chinese and Asian companies to the UK, in effect creating another financial district within the City of London.
This project, which aims to be delivered within the next ten years and which claims to be the largest real estate project involving Chinese investment in the UK, is symbolic of the ties which China is keen to build with the UK and the wider European economy. It is forecast to create 20,000 new jobs and bring £6 billion into the British economy.These plans for further regeneration of the London Docklands, made me reflect on the startling transformation of the Docklands area since my first memories of it in 1960, when I joined my first vessel, Glen Line’s mv Cardiganshire in the Royal Docks loading for the Far East. Many of these famous dock areas including the Royal Albert Dock (which opened in 1880) were still bustling centres of international maritime trade at that time with ships of many famous shipping companies making the Thames a constantly busy river.
The decline and increasing dilapidation of these working docks and riverside areas in London and in many other British cities through the 1970s and 1980s was a source of great despair to local communities, whose identities had been forged through these maritime activities. However, since the late 1980s, we have seen an exciting rebirth of activity in these dock areas - but mainly through commercial, leisure and residential development, with the growth in containerisation favouring larger, more expansive deep water ports further out from city centres.
I think back to a brief spell at the beginning of the 1990s when I was working for the Clydeport Authority in Glasgow. The company’s real estate portfolio was one of the key factors behind its increasing success; similarly over in Leith (Edinburgh), the Forth Ports Authority was moving full steam ahead with its regeneration plans, the centrepiece of which was the Ocean Terminal commercial development where the former Royal Yacht Brittania visitor attraction is now sited.
I am sure many seafarers (myself included), dockers and many others who loved the old docks view all these changes with more than a tinge of sadness, but we should never let nostalgia get in the way of progress. It is, however, reassuring that even in modern times the great rivers and docks of our major cities, while founded initially on the history of bustling maritime trade, can still breathe fresh life into a city in a completely new and different way.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR