(Note: This Monograph has been reproduced
by kind permission of the Commission for the New Towns now known as English
Partnerships. It is published for general interest and research purposes
only and may not be reproduced for other purposes except with the permission
of English Partnerships who now hold the copyright of LDDC publications)
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One of the Corporation's most durable and visible achievements
has been, without doubt, the creation of a housing market leading to the
provision of a wide range of housing through the involvement of a variety
of house builders, throughout London Docklands.
The omens when the Corporation started its work in July
1981 were not good. The population of London Docklands had been declining,
for some considerable time, the housing stock was of generally poor quality
and in short supply. Some 9% of the stock was classified as overcrowded
and 20% as poor or uninhabitable. Private house building in the area had
been practically non-existent with owner occupation levels standing at
5%, and with only a handful of private sector dwellings having been built
in the area in the five years preceding July 1981.
This monograph, one in a series produced by the LDDC,
describes how the Corporation with its housing partners, including the
major volume house builders, transformed Docklands from a housing no-go
area to London's largest house building site. At one point in the mid-1980s,
some 2,000 homes were being built each year. The docks and their enclosed
waters, together with the River Thames, provided a unique setting for
new residential developments. Apart from the UK house builders, companies
from Holland and Denmark were attracted by the waterscape environment
and helped to contribute to the building of a total of over 24,000 new
homes in the 17 years between 1981-98.
Docklands today has a thriving housing market. It is
one of London's most attractive and desirable residential areas. For the
first time, London Docklands offers the home buyer choice from apartments
in converted riverside warehouses to family homes in new developments
that have been created by the Corporation.
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The London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC)
was set up in July 1981 to secure the regeneration of eight and a half
square miles of London's East End. While the word "regeneration"
was not defined in the legislation, the stated means included the creation
of an attractive environment and ensuring the availability of housing
and social facilities to encourage people to live and work in the area.
With dereliction and decay all too obvious, the existence
of isolated, physically and psychologically rundown local communities
and a hostile local political climate, the task was daunting. Nevertheless,
in 17 years, the LDDC created the confidence and transport infrastructure
which were essential to attract investment and people to transform the
wasting lands and economic decline into a normal but unique part of the
A new housing market was discovered in the inner city,
which encouraged similar developments in other cities. Nearly 17,800 houses
and flats will have been built for sale by March 1998, together with some
6,250 for rent or shared ownership by housing associations and the three
local authorities. 4,800 council homes in older properties have undergone
major refurbishment inside and out, with an environmental facelift, such
as landscaping, new play areas and lighting, carried out to a further
3,100 properties. In all, nearly 80 per cent of local authority homes
have received attention. During the 17 years, the number of houses and
flats in the Docklands' eight and a half square miles has more than doubled.
So has the population, which by 1998 was estimated at 83,000. And whereas
in 1981, Docklands housing was overwhelmingly council (83%), the balance
of tenure is now much nearer the norm, with 45% of homes in owner occupation
and the rest rented or under shared ownership. The process will continue
- more homes, more people, more jobs - as schemes are completed and the
potential of the area, including the Royal Docks, is even more fully realised.
Such change has, however, not been without problems.
The original inhabitants have had to live alongside the dirt, noise and
tension of constant construction and change. The LDDC, apart from the
challenge of renewal of such a vast stretch of existing city, had to cope
with continuing criticism, two recessions, a property boom and subsequent
crash, and the pressures of increasing polarisation between new and old.
In the early years, the LDDC concentrated on creating
a new market and a supply of affordable homes, designed to provide a housing
improvement ladder for local people as well as encourage new residents
to move into an area which had, for decades, seen too many young, bright
and able people move out. Its very success proved its undoing. As prices
rose, the so-called affordable houses and flats, despite substantial subsidies,
became unaffordable to many of the target groups at which they were aimed.
The incomes of too many of the original East Enders, even those who had
jobs, were simply too low. The LDDC had to adopt a different approach
if there was to be any real improvement in their quality of life. Even
when the docks flourished, life was hard and living conditions on many
council estates were grim.
The LDDC was not a housing authority and had no legal
powers to build, sell or manage developments on its own account. And during
the whole period government finance for new social housing was increasingly
restricted. Although the LDDC primarily focused its attention on the private
market, house builders were from the start encouraged to sell groups of
homes on to housing associations. Deals were also negotiated which led
to the refurbishment of council blocks. As public awareness and criticism
mounted, the provision of new social housing became a quid pro quo for
support from two of the local authorities, Newham and Tower Hamlets, for
essential new transport infrastructure and other developments. The LDDC
also launched a social housing strategy. At first, resources were concentrated
on the construction of new homes. However, increased pressure on public
resources resulted in a switch of priorities into a major programme of
Development and redevelopment is never easy. New Towns,
too, had their teething problems and the rebuilding of the inner city
on the scale of London's Docklands, across and around existing communities
and within a major capital city, was bound to create conflicts of interest,
political and social as well as land use.
Today although the number of new homes under construction
remains high, the period of hothouse growth is over. However building
and rebuilding will continue, as happens in any healthy city.
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Setting the Scene
Urban Development Corporations
The LDDC was the creature of the new Conservative Government,
which was elected in 1979 under the leadership of the country's first
woman Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Margaret Thatcher, MP. It was only
four years since Anthony Crosland, as Secretary of State for the Environment
under the previous Labour Government, had so memorably declared that the
public spending party was over. The new Government had every intention
of tightening budgets still further and increasingly switching the emphasis
from the public to the private sector. Enterprise was the buzz word for
individuals and companies, and Docklands was to benefit from one of the
first Enterprise Zones, a concept launched by the then Chancellor of the
Exchequer, the Rt. Hon. Sir Geoffrey Howe. Its purpose was to attract
economic regeneration and jobs to declining derelict areas through a mix
of planning and tax incentives.
far as housing was concerned, funds for new council house building were
already constrained. The Conservatives believed in home ownership, the
right to buy for council tenants, the encouragement of the private rented
sector and the development of housing associations as a counter-balance
to the local monopoly of council provision for people who could not afford
The inner city, with its concentration of multiple deprivation,
was already high on the political agenda in both parties. But slow progress
in the redevelopment and regeneration of London's dockland made Michael
Heseltine, the new Secretary of State for the Environment, doubly keen
to put the idea of Urban Development Corporations (UDCs) into practice.
The development of new and expanded towns was highly regarded both in
this country and abroad but had attracted the most vital elements of society
away from the older conurbations.
Manufacturing industry and services prospered on the
more accessible, less cramped green field sites. Younger, more skilled
people leapt at the chance of jobs and new homes in modern surroundings.
However, the problems of the areas they left became increasingly deep-rooted
- declining industries, loss of jobs, vacant decaying property, isolated
communities, too many of the reduced population out of or unable to work,
old, sick or simply poor. The East London dockland, with vast tracts of
derelict land, was the major candidate for a new approach to what was
seen as a real threat to society.
The 1980 Local Government, Planning and Land Act provided
the legal framework for the creation of Government financed UDCs and a
shadow corporation was set up inside the Department of the Environment.
Nigel Broackes, since knighted and at that time chairman of Trafalgar
House, a company with shipping and development interests, was acting Chairman.
Bob Mellish, MP, a former Labour Minister of Housing and Chief Whip, was
his deputy. In due course, they were joined by a Chief Executive designate,
Reg Ward. Sir Nigel was a respected businessman, Lord Mellish came from
one of the local dockland communities and Reg Ward had previously been
a local government chief executive with a London borough and most recently
Hereford and Worcester.
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Legal and Financial Framework
The legal object of a UDC was "to secure the regeneration
of its area". The means, as laid down by Parliament, included "bringing
land and buildings into effective use, encouraging the development of
existing and new industry and commerce, creating an attractive environment
and ensuring that housing and social facilities are available to encourage
people to live and work in the area".
The brevity of both ends and means and the lack of more
precise definition increasingly became a rod with which to beat the Government,
as critics specifically focused on the needs of the original Docklands
Legally the LDDC could acquire, hold, manage, reclaim
and sell land and other properties. It could ensure the provision of services
such as gas, electricity, water and sewerage. However a UDC was a different
animal from its New Town predecessors and had a different remit, powers
Although dependent on private investors for the creation
of jobs, the original New Towns had planning, development and housing
powers and were responsible for not simply the creation of basic infrastructure,
but the design, construction and renting of homes and business parks and
facilities such as parks and community centres. In the later years, as
the popularity of home ownership increased and public spending was cut,
private developers were encouraged to build housing for sale as well as
invest in the development of shopping centres. Local authorities and other
public bodies remained responsible for the construction and management
of schools, libraries, health centres and fire stations. Public funds
were raised through 60-year Treasury loans at going rates of interest
but, during the 1970s, the accumulation of capital debt and interest had,
in large part, to be written off because high interest rates had made
repayment increasingly improbable.
After that experience, the Government decided basically
to finance the new UDCs with grants. As with the New Towns, annual budgets
were agreed in broad terms and then individual projects of any size were
subject to Whitehall scrutiny and approval. However, whereas New Towns
were constantly aware of the long term effect of projects on outstanding
debt, the introduction of a grant system removed this psychological and
real constraint on spending. UDCs were also expected to lever the maximum
amount of private investment for the minimum amount of public money. Pump-priming
was the objective. The grant could be supplemented by profits on land
sales, which, if a corporation was successful in its regeneration remit,
might give it greater flexibility. The LDDC also had to work alongside,
not usurp local and other public authorities. As designated, Docklands
formed only a small part of each of the three London boroughs and, on
planning, there was a potentially uncomfortable split. Subject to the
Secretary of State for the Environment, the LDDC assumed development control
powers and could approve or turn down planning applications but had, with
the exception of the Enterprise Zone, to work within the framework of
the three borough local plans, which were at various stages in the planning
process when the Corporation began operations.
The LDDC could only assume housing powers by a special
Parliamentary order, which was never made. As a result, although many
people believed it to be an all powerful instrument for change within
the eight and a half square miles, it was, unlike new towns, not a housing
authority and could not build, improve, sell or manage new or existing
housing. It was similar to New Towns in that it had to work with the education
and health authorities to achieve new facilities or improvements and could
do nothing without their active co-operation.
Since all three local authorities and the Greater London
Council (GLC) were, in the early years, Labour-controlled and bitterly
opposed the designation order for Docklands in the House of Lords in 1980,
co-operation could not be taken for granted. The new Corporation, despite
the appointment of Bob Mellish as Deputy Chairman, was seen in some quarters
as a Tory manoeuvre to unseat deeply entrenched Labour housing and economic
policies and even perhaps, if owner occupation swamped the area, long-term
A further difference with New Towns related to land
ownership. Basically the LDDC acquired, mainly by vesting and agreement,
land in public ownership, particularly areas belonging to the local authorities,
the Port of London Authority, British Gas, British Rail, the Central Electricity
Generating Board and Thames Water.
In all, its land and water holdings amounted to some
2,173 acres (879 ha.) out of a total 5,500 acres (2,200 ha.) or less than
half of the total eight and a half square miles. The rest remained with
private and public owners, who might be encouraged to sell, improve or
redevelop buildings or land, if and when the Corporation succeeded in
halting the widespread decay.
A New Town corporation, faced mainly with green fields,
would have assembled virtually all the land it believed necessary for
its purpose and gradually benefited from rising land values on any sales.
For the LDDC operating in the middle of a city, such a move was politically,
financially and socially impossible. So the benefit of rising land values
accumulated to theCorporation only on the areas of previously publicly
owned land which passed through its hands. Private owners made their profits
(or losses, as occurred following the dramatic property crash of the early
1990s) and paid taxes, where relevant, into Treasury coffers.
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Recent Docklands History
The inevitable progressive but tragic closure of the
docks from 1967 resulting from the growth of massive container ships and
the switch of Port of London activities to Tilbury is well known. So also
is Government concern about the subsequent loss of jobs, emigration of
people from the area and widespread dereliction.
In 1973, the consultants Travers Morgan & Partners
produced alternative redevelopment proposals for an area which included
much of the area which in 1981 was designated as London Docklands. None
of the five options proved acceptable but, at the time of the report,
it was estimated that some 13,000 households were moving each year out
of the five boroughs, which included Greenwich and Lewisham, to other
parts of London or elsewhere. The report suggested subsidies to bring
owner occupation within the means of a wider range of people.
Although this plan was shelved, the following year the
then Conservative Government set up the Docklands Joint Committee (DJC),
which eventually consisted of the five boroughs (eight members), the GLC
(eight members) and eight co-opted members including four appointed by
the Environment Secretary and two by the Docklands Forum, a body which
at different times more or less spoke for the local community.
In its 20-year London Docklands Strategic Plan, published
in 1976, the DJC foresaw a population increase from the then 50,000 to
between 100,000 and 120,000 by 1997 and the construction of some 23,000
homes. Of these, 20% would be built for owner occupation, between 30 and
40% shared equity and the balance rented through councils or housing associations,
which would also act as partners in shared ownership properties.
By 1980, the executive arm of the DJC, known as the
Docklands Development Organisation, downscaled the population forecast
to some 95,000 and suggested that the proposed housing tenure mix was
no longer feasible or desirable and should be reassessed. The Docklands
Forum opposed the results of this review and the original plan remained
By 1981, when the House of Lords Select Committee considered
the area and constitution order for the LDDC in only the three boroughs
of Newham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets, about 1,300 new homes had been
built since 1976 (only a handful of which were for private owners). Nearly
900 more were under construction (60 private). This figure of 2,200 compared
with a target for 1982 of 6,000. All three local authorities were looking
to land in the proposed Docklands area to help rehouse tenants from other
parts of their boroughs in new houses with gardens for rent. If homes
were built for sale, they believed they would be occupied by people on
higher incomes and form an alien community. But because of cuts in the
housing investment programme, they effectively had no money for new building
and could only afford to tackle the very substantial problems involved
in the rehabilitation of existing estates.
On the other hand, the boroughs, to quote the Select
Committee's summary of the Government's case, tended "to look too
much to the past and too exclusively to the aspirations of the existing
population and too little to the possibility of regenerating docklands
by the introduction of new types of industry and new types of housing".
The proportion of public, as compared with private housing
in the area remained extremely high, with 83% of households then living
in council accommodation, compared to 31 % across Greater London and,
since there was no money for new social housing, the land, unless used
for building homes for sale or shared ownership, would remain empty.
As expected, but after the long bitterly fought hearing,
the Select Committee backed the Government on the grounds of the need
to arrest the decline of the area and the need for a change of approach
and priorities. "Private investors will not put money into docklands
on any large scale unless they are encouraged by the presence of an environment
attractive to them including the availability of some private housing,"
the House of Lords report stated. In addition, evidence suggested that
low-priced private housing might not be beyond the reach of some young
people in docklands and that its absence might be one cause of their leaving
The report confirmed that the Corporation's shadow chairman
had said he would return to the boroughs any housing land vested in the
new corporation for which a council had a scheme it was in a position
to implement. In addition to that promise, the Select Committee however
thought the proposed corporation ought also to plan for the probable future
needs of the boroughs for public housing in the area.
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The Immediate Challenge
The Task Ahead
The LDDC was faced with the hugely difficult task of
attracting private investment to an area which few Londoners knew and
which, if they visited, presented grimness an a scale to make inner city
architectural or social visionaries stop in their tracks. Tin sheds had
been cleared from the middle of the Isle of Dogs to leave vast acres barren
and windswept. Empty warehouses presented gaunt facades. Glass was smashed.
The great docks were deserted. Corrugated iron, often scrawled with graffiti,
theoretical y warded off intruders. Weeds, scrub, litter and rats prospered.
The silence of the waste lands was eerie,
Elsewhere, in and around the restricted dock areas,
life continued for the population of nearly 40,000 men, women and children.
Housing was mainly council owned in cottage estates, terraces, tower blocks
and tenements, and frequently rundown. The very separate communities had
withstood pro war unemployment, then the blitz and most recently the closure
of the docks and associated industries with its immediate impact on family
incomes, vitality and confidence. People were fed up with political promises
of a better future and lived as best they could in the present. Pubs were
plentiful but, while other parts of London were already well endowed with
supermarkets, shopping was confined to a few shabby parades. The lack
of under or overground trains and skimpiness of bus services effective
y isolated local people from most of London and the job markets of the
City and West End. There was a shortage of open space and the river, lined
by dead or dying industrial premises, was largely inaccessible.
Docklands was not an obviously profitable paradise for
property developers or indeed even a sensible option for Londoners looking
for somewhere reasonable to live. At its western end, the area flanked
north and south of the Thames the prosperous Square Mile of the City but
there the advantages stopped.
The mixed, privately financed development of St Katharine
by the Tower, initiated long before the advent of the LDDC, took more
than a decade to establish confidence, particularly in the face of continuing
Labour opposition to the creation of offices and white colIar jobs. When
the Conservatives came to power in 1979, developers still required office
development permits and there was a Location of Offices Bureau which helped
companies move away from the capital city.
In 1981, the LDDC was given 10 to 15 years to effect
a physical and psychological transformation of the eight and a half square
miles for the benefit of London as well as the local people, who showed
courage, obduracy and nostalgia for an obsolete way of life and antipathy
towards change. Somehow the seeds of confidence had to be planted and
grow so that Docklands was seen, not as the back of beyond, but somewhere
investors could make money in creating a place in which Londoners as a
whole might choose to live and work. The situation was not auspicious.
Within the Docklands area, owner occupation was only 5%, ranging from
2% in Southwark to 3% n Tower Hamlets and 13% in Newham. This compared
with 27% in inner London and approaching 49% in Greater London as a whole.
In Southwark and Tower Hamlets, more than 85% of homes were rented from
the local council and nearly 75% in Newham. The balance of little more
than 10% was owned by housing associations or private landlords.
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A draft business plan prepared by Coopers & Lybrand
Associates in October 1980 emphasised the need to improve communications
and suggested a bow wave of development an a wide front. The Development
Corporation must start, it said, at a "very high level of programme
activity if it is to establish public credibility, gain
the support of the local authorities and convince the private investment
sector of London Docklands' potential".
The housing programme would contain three main thrusts:
owner occupation with a broad range of values, although most sites immediately
available carried negative land values; shared equity schemes with housing
associations to cater for first-time and low-income buyers; and key worker
and management housing.
The LDDC would concentrate on activities to ease constraints
which inhibited private housing development in the past. These included
environmental improvements, speedier planning procedures and upgrading
shopping, educational and other facilities. Activity in the public sector
would be selective. The Corporation would not build or manage housing
for rent except by funding deferred council schemes to release sites for
private housing development or by providing subsidised sites for housing
The main thrust was however aimed at the private sector
and the creation of a totally new market of ordinary housing for sale
within reach of many Londoners and hopefully a proportion of existing
residents in council property.
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The retention of the remaining docks was a crucial early
decision. The London and Surrey Docks were a ready partially filled in
but St Katharine by the Tower showed the potential for attractive mixed
waterside development. Derelict and depressing they might be for the time
being, but one day the West India and Millwall Docks, Greenland Dock,
the Royals, and Limehouse and Shadwell Basins could also hopefully provide
a framework for a new lifestyle and architecture. The decision was courageous
and imaginative, the sort of change in approach which might encourage
regeneration including a new economic base. However,it also had a downside.
Whereas the filling in of the docks in Wapping and Southwark buried all
hopes for a resurgence of the traditional industry, their retention on
the Isle of Dogs and the Royals prolonged hopes in some quarters that
history could be rolled back and ships, cargo and the old trades could
Secondly, although the DJC failed to fulfil its housing
targets, individual local authorities had begun to reclaim land and create
the necessary framework for subsequent development - such as sewerage,
gas, electricity and access - in Wapping on the site of the former London
Docks, in the Surrey Docks in Southwark and most important in the Beckton
marshlands of Newham.
As the LDDC began work on decontamination, reclamation
and the essential infrastructure, this earlier investment provided a potential
kickstart, if one or more private house builders could be persuaded to
take the risk.
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Testing the Market
Content with an assured market in suburbia and the commuter
belt, the volume house builders, as major companies which provide the
mass of new private housing development are known, looked on the inner
city at that time with extreme suspicion. While the occasional house had
been built in Docklands, particularly overlooking the river, theirs was
a mass market and there existed no proof of demand. Local people who could
afford to buy tended to move into London's eastern suburbs or further
afield. Just before the LDDC officially came into existence, Reg Ward,
the Chief Executive designate challenged the volume house builders to
look at opportunities in east as well as west London. The response was
chilly. However the seeds were sewn and, with informal but influential
pressure about their duty to the inner city, four major companies Barratts,
Broseley, Comben and Wimpey decided to share the risk and test the water
if the Corporation could make available a suitable site. Port of London
Authority land was prised out of ongoing negotiations and a deal struck
for the development of more than 600 homes in Beckton over a period of
Style and price were all important: style to set the
new Docklands image; price to ensure the new homes sold to as many local
people as possible. The plans, particularly the layout, were improved,
the prices fixed between £20,000 and £28,000 for two and three
bedroom houses with gardens.
Before contracts were signed, the developers had to
submit detailed estimates for their costs of site preparation, construction
and legal transactions together with profit and price levels. The value
of the land was then established by subtracting overall costs from the
selling price, which was fixed but linked to the building cost index.
Completion dates were inserted to prevent developers from amassing land
banks and then waiting for inflation to create a higher profit. In addition,
the land was retained in LDDC ownership until the house sale went through.
was given to local people living in council accommodation, on the waiting
list or in clearance areas and they had a month's start in terms of reserving
a property before the sales office opened to the general public. When
the houses came on the market in February 1982, little more than seven
months after the Corporation came into being, they sold like the proverbial
hot cakes and the building programme was advanced. More than 100 of the
first 245 sales or reservations went to Newham nominations. For the builders,
this phenomenal success was both a revelation and a spur, However uncertain
they might have been before, they had, in doing the right thing politically,
discovered a new profitable market. Surrey Docks in Southwark was the
next major development area with 480 homes on five sites. The former London
Docks in Wapping followed soon after.
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Affordable and Social Housing
Although the LDDC concentrated on the provision of affordable
homes for sale, even with the initial Beckton scheme it tried to ensure
a proportion of social housing and the builders were asked to sell on
120 units to two housing associations. Negotiations could not however
keep up with the pace of development and the public sector jibbed at the
idea of buying readymade houses off the private production line. In the
event, a smaller number were allocated for rent and shared ownership (a
system under which the housing association owns the lion's share of the
property while the owner-tenant takes out a mortgage or pays cash for
a percentage of the rest and rent
on the balance).
Throughout this period, the LDDC was always ready to
sell land back to local authorities if they had schemes they could immediately
build. But the local authorities did not have the resources. Nor frequently
did housing associations, which had to compete for finance from the Housing
Corporation and found it difficult to complete negotiations and build
in anything like the time span taken by private builders to get schemes
for sale off the ground.
Since the LDDC could not itself build, it encouraged
house builders negotiating for its land to sell a proportion of homes
to housing associations. It also helped one housing association to buy
one of the first private developments in Southwark to enable a rolling
programme of improvements and redevelopment of down-at-heel, partly boarded
up blocks in the Downtown area. Creating an attracting environment was
part of the remit and the LDDC, from an early stage, was prepared to fund
external improvements to council estates provided the local authority
simultaneously modernised the interior. Such changes - for example, new
children's playgrounds, planting, car parking - not only made life better
for tenants but also enhanced the overall appearance and investment opportunity
of the area as a whole.
However the main effort and public interest focused
on reclamation, parcelling and sale of and for the construction of affordable
homes to buy. The terms were stringent. Apart from negotiating the land
value on the basis of costs, profit and price to the house buyer (very
low, indeed negative, in the early stages), the LDDC received an overage,
in other words, most of any extra profit if market prices went up during
construction. After the first two schemes in Beckton and the first round
of sites in Surrey Docks, the system moved to a competitive tendering
process in which a number of builders were invited to submit proposals
for a specific number of homes, together with suggested design, layout,
selling price and financial bid for the site.
Land and final selling prices were rising, particularly
in Wapping, and in some cases, for example, at Shadwell Basin and the
Western Dock in Wapping and Greenland Dock in Southwark, the LDDC still
asked for a certain proportion of the properties, usually 40 per cent,
to be sold at an affordable price. In the early years, £20,000 was
considered affordable by general London income standards. This figure
increased to approximately £40,000 as property values rose. Obviously
this condition reduced the amount developers could afford to pay for the
land and was in effect a subsidy. An analysis of housing built on LDDC
owned land between 1981 and 1988 is set out in Table 7 on the Tables
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Urban v. Suburban
The presence of good modern architecture can demonstrate
a new mood in a city and confidence in the future. The injection of architectural
and environmental quality on sufficient scale was imperative if Docklands
was to change its image and attract investment and, above all, new residents.
People who buy their own homes have choice. They can always find an alternative
property somewhere else, in another part of London or further afield.
Excepting historic warehouses and churches, most buildings and virtually
the whole of the physical environment within the eight and a half square
miles were depressing. The LDDC had somehow to raise the sights of developers
beyond their normal building types and likely assessment of what would
do in East London.
One problem in the early days was that developers had
little knowledge of building in the centre of older cities, of urban as
opposed to suburban design. They also had no concept of the scale required
in developing beside the great tidal river of the Thames or alongside
the remaining docks.
In preparing for bids for sites around the Greenland
Dock, Corporation staff managed to begin to demonstrate its size by surrounding
the vast expanse of water with a number of famous buildings drawn to scale.
This one dock alone, it was shown, could provide a setting for the Greenwich
Royal Naval College, St. Paul s Cathedral, Bedford Square, Carlton House
Terrace, Park Crescent and Park Square, East and West. Traditional two
storey housing would quite simply have been overwhelmed.
was difficult to involve better known architects, partly because of their
initial distaste and distrust of what were then called speculative house
builders. Equally the house builders had little experience, if any, of
working with good architects and were concerned that their participation
would result, not simply in more expensive house designs, but also designs
which would not easily sell. Few architects had much experience of private
housing. It was one thing to design in the 1970s and earlier for the captive
market of council tenants, which had resulted in so many unpopular tower
blocks. It was quite another to please the builder and the paying punter.
Even the Department of the Environment had to be convinced
of the case for quality. Because individual landscaping projects at that
time needed specific grant approval, civil servants could and did question
as unnecessarily expensive the need for stone paving and granite or even
the width of a waterside path. In making its case for quality, the LDDC
pointed out that homes would not sell in a concrete jungle and emphasised
that an attractive environmental framework would help attract better development
and eventually increase and values, that quality would pay off in hard
The LDDC commissioned architects with growing reputations
to undertake feasibility studies, which became the basis of site planning
briefs. Bids for sites were considered on the basis of designs as well
as price. Corporation staff held briefing meetings for interested developers
to show standards of development in other parts of the world. And they
quickly learnt that there really was a trade off between quality and price.
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An architect/developer competition was held in 1983
for a site on the Southwark riverside known as Elephant Lane, which attracted
new names and resulted in a successful scheme. However a second competition
nearby at Cherry Gardens ran into a political impasse as community fury
erupted with threats of arson if the houses on what they saw as their
riverside went to the wealthy. The eventual compromise resulted in the
site being split by a new park with council homes on one side and homes
built for sale on the other.
The campaign for architectural quality in housing (and
other building) was helped by the fact that the LDDC usually had an architect
or architect planner on the board and, particularly important, in its
early years, a committed chief executive backed by an equally committed
architect planner, Edward (Ted) Hollamby. In later years the Corporation
set up a design advisory panel (The Urban Design Advisory Group) which
tapped outside design expertise to comment on and try to raise the quality
of individual schemes.
While this philosophy applied to all planning applications
for building within the development area, over which it had normal development
control powers, the LDDC was in a stronger position to exert influence
where it was land owner as well. Even so, it was frequently an uphill
struggle with sceptical volume house builders who were convinced of the
virtues of their traditional design approach. But a number of highly respected
architects did design housing In Docklands including Jeremy Dixon, Richard
MacCormac and Piers Gough. Award-winning schemes included Burrell's Wharf,
Clippers Quay and Felstead Wharf on the Isle of Dogs, Prusoms Island in
Wapping and the Redriff Estate, Brandram s Wharf and the Amos Estate in
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Boom, Bubble and Bust
Rising Tide of Success
Overnight queues for the early private housing schemes
provided proof of pent-up local demand for owner occupation as well as
highlighting a new inner city market to help offset longstanding migration
from the conurbations. Docklands might still have been in public transport
limbo, but the tide was turning. The Government s decision to back new
light railway from Tower Hill to Poplar and Island Gardens in the Isle
of Dogs and north to Stratford confirmed for many people the change in
people's perceptions. Docklands had a future. Essential shopping appeared
with supermarkets on the Isle of Dogs and Beckton and a third planned
for Surrey Quays in Southwark.
a New Town corporation, the LDDC only owned a proportion of the land and
therefore could only actively promote a proportion of the development.
For the regeneration of other sites, it had to rely on market confidence
and action by private land owners. Although the need for improving the
older estates was obvious, the local authorities were not noticeably keen
to play their part. Docklands was, after all, only a small part of all
three boroughs and the local authorities had more than enough trouble
tackling the problems of some of the most deprived wards in the country
without concentrating their efforts in the Urban Development Area specifically.
Political antagonism grew from 1982 and only moved towards more pragmatic
co-operation after 1987, when the Conservatives were returned to power
for a third term.
However, house builders began to realise they need not
simply wait for the LDDC to release land. Barratts was one of the first
companies to seize opportunities to acquire property including impressive
warehouses in Wapping and a former industrial site opposite the Royal
Naval College on the Isle of Dogs. At that time, the term "loft living"
was confined to Manhattan and the market for shell flats in converted
industrial buildings was only just emerging and for a limited sector of
the market. Developers, who owned or bought sites outside Corporation
owner ship, concentrated at first on Wapping and Limehouse on the north
side of the river, Butlers Wharf and St Saviour's to the south. Proposals
needed planning permission but that was the extent of LDDC influence.
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Spotlight on YUPPIES
Riverside living downstream of the Tower of London widened
its attractions beyond the socially adventurous, who had originally moved
into a handful of converted warehouses regardless of surrounding dereliction.
Developers congregated in the area for example McInerney, Wates, Jacobs
Island, Roger Malcolm, Regalian and Kentish Homes. Londoners followed
suit. Such was the success that the Corporation's original housing targets
were raised from 9,000 to 16,000 on its own land and from 4,000 to 9,000
on land in private ownership.
Publicity snowballed. In economic jargon, the regeneration
multiplier effect was working. However, the popularity of specific areas
with the young and upwardly mobile, or YUPPIES, also had its downside
as Docklands as a whole increasingly became associated in people's minds
with a few high profile extremely expensive penthouses for City magnates.
The many hundreds (and subsequently thousands) of ordinary and relatively
accessible homes going up in the Surrey Docks and Beckton for sale to
people on normal London incomes - including those purchased by local residents
- were taken for granted and forgotten.
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Failure of Controls
The success of the new East London forced up land values,
particularly in Wapping. On the plus side, higher and prices demonstrated
confidence in the future, provided an opportunity further to improve quality
and also began to create for the LDDC an income stream to supplement Government
grant, which could only be to the good. On the other hand, as land became
more expensive, the more difficult it became for builders working in harness
with the LDDC on Corporation owned land to produce homes which at least
some local people could afford. Even so, during the first seven years,
of more than 4,600 homes built and sold on LDDC owned land, 45 per cent
had been bought by local residents, or the children of local tenants.
The LDDC could not ringfence these sites and hold down
their prices in the general upwards surge. They had to be pitched at market
levels, the Corporation's 1983/84 annual report commented, so that "small
numbers of individuals are not tempted to make swift windfall capital
gains at public expense". But some people did. Few individuals are
averse to a good bargain and a number with priority rights seized the
opportunity to reserve homes in the restricted booking period and then
sold on at higher prices without moving in. A market developed in rent
books which were sold to outsiders by council tenants who had no wish
or ability to buy.
The LDDC countered by introducing greater controls including
proof that landlords had received notices to quit and financial clawbacks
if the new homes were sold within a specific period. It also tried to
offset the impact of rising prices through the introduction of cheaper
mortgages and interest free loans of up to £10,000 on the basis
that the LDDC would share in any future capital gain on a pro rata basis
when the owner decided to sell.
Like Canute, the LDDC could not stem the penalties of
success. This balancing act became increasingly difficult and finally
impossible as enthusiasm for a good bargain was slowly swamped by the
fever of speculation and the souring experience of greed.
House values became the talk of the town and, in Docklands,
where so many new properties were coming on stream, speculation was rife,
with down payments for purchases off plan followed, before completion,
by resale at a handsome profit. This new London futures market, with its
seemingly guaranteed rewards, attracted all walks of society, people who
were only too pleased to take what appeared to be no or low risk to make
a quick and very substantial return.
As ever the buck had to stop somewhere. While the Stock
Exchange collapse on Black Monday in October 1987 caused a hiccup, the
bubble burst following the announcement by the then Chancellor of tne
Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, of the end of double mortgage tax relief in July
1988. A final surge to beat the deadline left the market totally dead
once the new less generous regime came into operation. Developers with
good antennae smelled danger. Barratts, for example, took cover and withdrew
from all contracts still in negotiation. This company survived. Others
did not. Individual property gamblers came to grief. So did many ordinary
home buyers - and not just in Docklands - who thought the market would
go on rising for ever and found themselves imprisoned by negative equity
and, in 1990, a mortgage interest rate of almost 15%.
Builders on Corporation land found they had to complete
developments as a result of legal agreements written into land contracts.
There was no question of firms starting new schemes and in 1990 the LDDC
decided not even to attempt to sell any more land for housing for sale.
When interest reawakened, there had been a four-year gap in Corporation
land deals for private housing. The economic climate deteriorated generally
but the national recession hit London and the South East particularly
hard. For the first time thousands of white collar jobs in the South East
were at risk.
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Housing Policy Review
Shift of Focus
In 1985 the LDDC took stock of the impact of its housing
policies. While the initial emphasis placed on creating a private housing
market had met with undreamt of success, the LDDC's affordable housing
programme was proving less effective in providing original residents with
a step up the housing ladder.
his evidence to the 1980 House of Lords Select Committee, Sir Nigel Broackes
had suggested new build targets of 50% owner occupation, 25% housing association
and 25% shared equity, subject to availability of public funding.
Four years on, housing for sale was providing about
75% of all new property built, with housing for rent at 22%. Interest
in shared ownership was however minuscule, as were attempts, if successful
for the participants, to encourage self build.
The LDDC undertook a housing policy review in 1986.
"Obviously there is a very substantial number of local tenants who
cannot afford to purchase and for whom very little opportunity currently
exists to move out of older and deteriorating council housing," it
said. "Land for council building for rent has been allocated with
generous proportions in each area but is being developed very slowly and
there is patently a lack of finance to sustain a regular and satisfactory
future supply. Existing housing for rent is generally either old an/or
of a poor quality and there are no clearly established council programmes
in Docklands for sustained refurbishment. Provision for shared ownership
and equity sharing is well below that envisaged and although there are
a number of proposals in hand which will improve performance, there is
insufficient and sporadic housing association involvement in regeneration.
Almost everywhere in Docklands there is a marked contrast between bustling
house building on Corporation land and languishing inactivity in existing
housing areas and on land earmarked for public sector housing building.
"The areas for housing policy adjustment have become
self-evident," the report continued "They are for new council
house building, refurbishment of existing council housing and for housing
association provision for rent and shared ownership. Essentially, each
is constrained by a lack of public sector funds but suffers also from
a lack of concerted and co-ordinated programmes by the authorities and
agencies concerned. The Corporation needs to address how best it can assist
in remedying these problems and establish to what extent it can create
new initiatives with the local authorities, the Housing Corporation and
local community organisations."
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As the LDDC was not allowed to fund the local councils,
it decided to look at alternatives. One example involved the exchange
of a council-owned potential office site in Wapping for a number of new
homes and cheaper Corporation housing sites elsewhere. Reclaimed land
was sold to councils at cost rather than open market value. The LDDC had
already bought decaying council blocks - for example in Acorn Walk in
Rotherhithe - for resale to the private sector to modernise for sale to
individuals. The homes sold cheaply, the council received cash which it
could then use for improving other needy blocks.
The LDDC also then looked at the potential for encouraging
housing associations to rehouse tenants to free up more property for renovation
and create a rolling programme or updating council flats. It also discussed
the need to win agreement from the Department of the Environment and the
Housing Corporation for a strategic new housing programme for Docklands.
Since the Government had set a time limit on the work of the Corporation,
speed was of the essence. The LDDC could not just let land allocated for
housing association developments to be left undeveloped waiting for uncertain
The LDDC decided it must radically alter its role and
tackle areas of responsibility which until then had been primarily seen
as those of the local housing authority. "Housing is a highly charged
political issue," the report concluded. "Undeniably the Corporation
will be drawn into a more exposed and more public arena." However
the changes took time to implement.
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Deals with Newham and Tower Hamlets
Memorandum of Agreement
Major agreements with two of the local Dock ands councils,
Newham and Tower Hamlets, marked a turning point and led to improvements
in the quality of life for many local people including the provision of
new social housing.
The first with Newham was signed in the heady days of
1987, when it seemed there was nothing to stop the glittering regeneration
of Docklands. London City Airport was already open and development around
the three Royal Docks was set to follow in the wake of Canary Wharf to
create London's new water city, complete with homes for sale and rent,
a large shopping centre at Gallions Reach, business park, exhibition centre
and marina. This mixed development included a stronger commercial element
than Newham had been planning for the area. It also required first class
access by rail and road.
To win the Council's support and enable the speedy construction
of the new infrastructure without prolonged wrangling over the principle
and subsequent acquisition of a multiplicity of land holdings, the LDDC
and Newham negotiated a deal with substantial benefits on both sides.
In exchange for Borough co-operation to smooth the process of delivery,
the LDDC agreed to help the Borough achieve a major new social housing
programme, provide relevant training facilities so that local people could
secure a proportion of the new jobs and pay for or support a substantial
range of projects to improve life for existing and new residents with
a target spend of £3 million per year.
Both organisations agreed on the magnitude of the Borough
s housing problems and the need to consider the use of LDDC subsidised
land over and above sites already on offer to the council. Both parties
agreed to an objective of 1,500 units to let at fair rents subject to
financial circumstance and review.
However Newham and the LDDC defined social housing differently.
The LDDC continued to include low-cost housing for sale whereas Newham
did not. Its definition specified only housing for rent, shared ownership,
self build and co-operatives.
In the mid 1990's, this policy was reviewed and both
parties accepted that it was no longer beneficial or practical to build
more social housing in the south of the Borough. Nevertheless the Memorandum
of Agreement marked a turning point in relations between the LDDC and
Newham. The two organisations might not at that time approve of each other's
policies and practice and Newham's politicians might have felt it necessary
to continue to criticise the LDDC in public, but they had at last found
common ground for co-operation and action. The LDDC could get on with
the construction of transport infrastructure and encourage development,
which could create a new economic base to serve the immediate area and
London more generally. The Council was assured that the Royals would also
provide homes for those in need in a community with reasonable facilities.
The two organisations had found a way to work together and tackle regeneration
in the round.
Proposals for the first housing scheme were drawn up
with developers and a consortium of housing associations. These would
have created a mixed community of some 700 homes at Winsor Park in Beckton
with a cross-section of homes for sale and for rent at different levels.
But, as so often happens, planning was upset by events. The scheme was
caught up in the property collapse, the chief private promoters had to
withdraw, all private development ceased and although the social housing
went ahead, the proposed balance was lost. The Memorandum with its promises
of additional social housing and community provision, for which activists
had so long campaigned, remained firmly on the books.
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Tower Hamlets Accord
Meanwhile, a similar agreement was under negotiation
with Tower Hamlets to enable the construction of the Limehouse Link and
associated highways. Once again the LDDC needed co-operation. As well
as essential land acquisition, the proposed cut and cover
road tunnel affected a swathe of housing owned by the local council, some
of which would have to be demolished, some of which formed part of proposed
Under the Accord, which was agreed in principle in 1988
and signed one year later, Tower Hamlets supported the improvement of
public transport and highways infrastructure and the LDDC agreed to fund
new or refurbished housing for local families living in a defined area
plus £35 million expenditure on social, economic and community regeneration
projects to be individually agreed by both parties.
As a result, the housing of 556 families was transformed
over a relatively short time. Tenants were offered a choice - to move
into new property bought by the LDDC and managed by a housing association,
to remain council tenants but move elsewhere on a temporary or permanent
basis or to receive a transferable discount on the right to buy. All tenants
received disturbance allowances, including payments to tenants on the
rundown St Vincent's Estate for new white goods and upholstered chairs
and sofas in order to avoid the possible transfer of cockroaches to their
The treatment of tenants of Barley Mow, an estate which
was transformed by refurbishment, was equally generous and humane. These
blocks had to be vacated but, as many families wished to return once the
work was finished, they were moved temporarily as a group to nearby Roy
Square, which had been built for sale but had been caught by the collapse
in the property market. These households received allowances for their
old electrical goods and carpets which had to be left behind and the LDDC
also paid for carpets and curtains in the flats which were to become their
homes for three years.
In 1988, this major rehousing exercise was expected
to cost £47.5 million net allowing for the sale of surplus land
and homes. In the event, the total net cost, according to a subsequent
National Audit Office report, was more than £100 million.
One major factor was the discovery of 90 hidden households,
that is, second families who, unknown to the Council, shared homes with
those on the official records.
A second factor was the need for a very tight timetable.
Of the options available, the existence nearby of Timber Wharves, a large
private housing scheme on the Isle of Dogs with 300 homes under construction,
provided the best immediate means of rehousing such a large number of
families and keeping much of the community together.
Two other smaller schemes were built at Lukin Street
in Shadwell and Devon's Road in Bow.
Not all of the properties acquired at Timber Wharves
were subsequently needed as some families chose to leave the area altogether
or to move into the private sector. Approximately 120 properties were
eventually surplus to requirement and sold to housing associations operating
in the area. However, because of the intervening slump in the property
market, there was a substantial loss on the original purchase price. During
this time, as part of the intricate deal for Canary Wharf, the completion
of the Limehouse Link was all important. Providing access from central
to the new East London, its construction was running over budget.
It was a testing, tense time. Receipts from land sales
slumped almost simultaneously with the launch by the Corporation of major
new social housing and community strategies. Something had to give.
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New Housing Strategies
Critical House of Commons Reports
The Corporation was succeeding in terms of attracting
newcomers who it was hoped would broaden the area's social and economic
spectrum. It had also provided housing choice so that for the first time
original residents and their children could stay in the area if they wanted
and could also afford to buy a house or flat.
However, there was from the mid 1980s increasing public
concern about the lack of improvements for the original dockland communities,
a situation which became increasingly obvious as bright new houses and
flats emerged almost cheek by jowl with council estates, which provided
living conditions as harsh as any in London. Local people tended to regard
the former docklands as their rightful heritage, land which would be directly
used for their benefit. The fact that large scale public housing projects
were no longer financially possible, had no meaning locally. Nor did the
fact that the local authorities, not the LDDC, were still responsible
for housing provision and management. It was widely felt that the Corporation,
which was set up by the Conservative Government, obviously had plenty
of money and should be doing something for the real local people.
Contrary to the findings of the LDDC's 1990 Household
Survey which suggested that 58% of all people moving in the area had previously
lived in Docklands or one of the three local Boroughs, the belief that
outsiders were buying into the area and reaping all the benefits prevailed.
Political activists built on the growing discontent
and made the most of the contrast in Parliament and the media.
However, with the re examination of housing policy internally
and the commitment to major social housing projects in two of the three
Boroughs through the agreements drawn up in 1987 and 1988, LDDC policy
was already moving in a more socially and community conscious direction.
It moved even faster as a result of two critical House
of Commons reports the Employment Committee on the Employment Effects
of Urban Development Corporations, published in 1988, and the Public Accounts
Committee on Urban Development Corporations, published in 1989. Although
they covered development areas in other parts of the country, both concentrated
in large part on the LDDC and Docklands.
London Docklands was always bound to become a political
football The scale of redevelopment combined with its location so near
to the heart of the capital city and the media were bound to keep it in
the spotlight. In addition, there was an inbuilt conflict between Conservative
intentions to inject private capital, attitudes and practice into the
area and its historic continuing connections with the Labour Party, the
unions and its nostalgia for the past in a world which had moved on.
With so many pressures, so much activity and the need
for speed to retain the impetus of change, the LDDC had little hope of
keeping everyone alongside. The concept of partnership had yet to seem
obvious and activists consistently did their best to undermine the LDDC.
Docklands was the largest redevelopment area in Europe and attracted world-wide
admiration. Yet stiff the criticism mounted locally. To the Government
it also seemed extraordinary to be spending so much money and getting
so little, if any, credit.
While the House of Commons Employment Committee accepted
the significant impact of the LDDC in terms of the built environment,
the report said: "it is not good for the health of a community for
the original inhabitants of an area to see others benefiting, as they
see it, at their expense while they suffer from increased road traffic
congestion, higher house prices and associated ills. Nor is it just."
The following year, the Public Accounts Committee, after
subjecting the Corporation and the Department of the Environment to a
barrage of detailed questions, homed in on the need for greater attention
to housing and social facilities.
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But even before these two reports were published, the
Government, now settling into its third term, and the Corporation Board
were shifting towards a more interventionist housing strategy. The first
Chief Executive left at the end of 1987. His successor was the Chief Executiye
of a London borough, Michael Honey, with a remit inter alia to control
the rising costs of the new infrastructure and to pay more attention to
community needs. By the end of the year he had appointed Elizabeth Filkin,
formerly Chief Executive of the National Association of Citizens Advice
Bureaux, to the new post of Director of Community Services, which included
The then Secretary of State for the Environment, Nicholas
Ridley, had already approved the increase of overall housing targets for
Docklands from 25,000 to 32,000 to ease development pressure on other
parts of the South East. These pressures were bearing on him directly
as he strove to balance the demands for land for new housing in the Home
Counties against the need to conserve the rural environment and contain
Urban sprawl. Government ministers cannot easily ignore criticism from
House of Commons committees and it was obviously important that Docklands
met with local as well as international approval. The need for greater
co-operation was obvious. Housing and community improvements were both
areas where greater emphasis and spending should help to knit new and
existing development together and create a better political and media
By the Summer of 1989, the Corporation, with approval
from the Department of the Environment, published a new housing strategy.
The Government had made clear that the LDDC must deliver housing for local
people at prices they could afford within a balanced housing programme.
The LDDC had been paying an average subsidy of £16,000 per home,
but by then the housing market was dead and financial support for affordable
homes, even for priority categories of potential home owners, was virtually
abandoned. Apart from shared ownership, which had never proved popular,
emphasis was switched in the immediate future from owner occupation to
social housing. it was proposed that the Corporation should, in effect,
become a social housing development agency within the area. Acting as
a financial catalyst it would help fund the local authorities and housing
associations to build new homes for rent and contribute towards the costs
of modernising existing estates internally instead of simply improving
the external environment. In terms of resources, new build should take
priority over refurbishment, which, according to one calculation, needed
an investment of about £220 million to catch up with the enormous
"Housing choice should be available to persons
of different income levels", the strategy paper said. "if the
sole objective is physical regeneration, refurbishment should have priority.
If the objective is also a social one, LDDC needs to demonstrate that
it has been able to promote access to housing for local people and new
provision should have priority." The strategy did not just see housing
need in terms of Docklands but widened the area to the three Boroughs
as a whole, setting out their problems in terms of overcrowding, homelessness,
loss of stock, unfit properties and incomes. in an area of acute housing
need with increasing homelessness, the first priority must be, it added,
to increase numbers of available dwellings, however poor the living conditions
of those already housed.
The suggested budget over three years was £50
million - £30 million towards subsidies for new housing including
a proportion of shared ownership and £20 million for refurbishment.
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During this middle period (1988-1991) the LDDC dramatically
increased its investment in new and refurbished housing. Development of
social housing on LDDC land was stimulated by substantial direct subsidies
to housing associations, in many cases equalling or exceeding the grant
made by the Housing Corporation, which was normally the main source of
The most significant scheme was at Winsor Park, Beckton.
Originally conceived as a mixed tenure scheme, the Corporation went ahead
with the social housing when the private market collapsed, in order to
honour commitments within the Memorandum of Agreement with Newham. As
well as undertaking a massive decontamination scheme the LDDC made a grant
of £20 million towards 403 new homes for rent. The Housing Corporation
Grant was £13 million. This was one of the largest housing association
schemes in the country, undertaken by a consortium of seven associations
led by East Thames Housing Group. A wide variety of housing was provided
but the emphasis was on family homes with gardens.
Another substantial scheme at this time was the regeneration
of the Downtown Estates on the Surrey Docks peninsula. In 1988 a deal
was struck with Southwark Council and a consortium of six housing associations,
led by South London Family Association, to refurbish 229 dwellings on
the Redriff Estate for rent and shared ownership, and to develop 270 new
homes for rent on adjoining LDDC owned sites. This scheme attracted the
largest ever Housing Corporation grant made to that date in South London
of £22 million. The LDDC provided £5.4 million over and above
the transfer of its sites.
Masthouse Terrace on the Isle of Dogs involved 187 new
homes on a riverside site owned jointly by the LDDC and Tower Hamlets
Council. For this scheme the LDDC provided £7.1 million to add to
the Housing Corporation grant of £8.7 million. The scheme was part
of a wider land swap with Tower Hamlets Council under which the LDDC acquired
land at Hermitage Riverside in Wapping. As part of this deal, the LDDC
undertook to fund social housing at Hermitage Wall where 52 new homes
Other new social housing schemes were funded by the
LDDC in Beckton, Limehouse and the Isle of Dogs during this period resulting
in a dramatic increase in the number of new housing association homes
built for rent and shared ownership in the area. A full schedule of LDDC
funded schemes is set out in the Appendix.
During the 1980s, LDDC support for the improvement of
existing rented housing had focused upon external environmental improvements
to play areas, parking areas, landscaping, boundaries and lighting. The
LDDC now pressed for approval to become involved in more fundamental improvements
as an important aspect of regeneration, not just lifting the appearance
of the area but improving the living conditions of the traditional communities.
Clearly, given the scale of the problem, and the statutory
responsibility of the Councils, the LDDC s involvement was focused upon
their priorities and was conditional upon joint funding. By now, the local
authorities were more prepared to work with the LDDC. They realised that
they should make the most of opportunities offered by additional funding
to their areas while they could.
As a result a significant number of estates were totally
upgraded inside and out, in Southwark and Tower Hamlets where the older
Council housing blocks were concentrated. The LDDC took the lead in many
of these schemes.
At the Roche Estate in Limehouse, an estate of 156 dwellings,
for example, comprehensive refurbishment was undertaken in 1990 with the
benefit of a £3.2 million grant. Similarly Swan and Osprey Estates
in the Surrey Docks with 273 homes were improved with the benefit of grants
totalling £5.5 million. The Barleymow Estate in Limehouse (184 homes)
was dramatically transformed by an Estates Action programme to which the
LDDC contributed £5,8 million. (See Appendix for a full schedule
of refurbishment schemes supported by the LDDC).
The Government was keen to link these improvements to
changes from Council renting to housing association, co-operative or even
private occupation. However the Corporation did not in practice press
for such conditions because of the potential effect on working relationships
with the Boroughs.
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The strategy was however too ambitious and mistook the
extent of the Government's commitment to expensive new building programmes
as opposed to refurbishment. Ministers at the Department of the Environment
had changed in the meantime and with those changes had come a shift in
policy emphasis which was to be implied rather than spelled out directly.
The strategy also emerged at a time when the economic
climate had changed. Boom times were over and the LDDC was forced almost
immediately to cut its social cloth to fit its budget. Prior to the collapse
of the housing market, land sales for house-building substantially boosted
Corporation receipts. The LDDC could scarcely be blamed for the sudden
drop in land sales in 1989190 from a predicted £130 million to £10
million. But the unexpected shortfall combined with the rising costs of
the Limehouse Link forced the Department of the Environment to find an
additional £70 million from other departmental budgets simply to
keep the Docklands ship afloat. Within the LDDC, most programmes were
kept below their original estimates except housing, which leapt by 46%
from an estimated £46 million to £67 million. The Corporation,
it was explained, had brought forward social housing projects to take
advantage of market opportunities and had taken into account expenditure
on relocation housing associated with the Limehouse Link to meet tenants'
The situation was delicate. Ministers and civil servants
become distinctly unhappy when budgets come to grief and, while the LDDC
could not be blamed for the recession, they undoubtedly felt it should
treat its partner and paymaster with respect in drawing up its budget
for the following year. However, the Corporation stuck to its new housing
and community remit. The draft corporate plan did not simply set out a
programme of some £350 million, the majority of which related to
the construction of the Limehouse Link and the Docklands Light Railway
extension to Beckton, It also pressed the case for further expenditure
including a £60 million increase over three years on housing.
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Realignment of Priorities
Even with the benefit of hindsight, it is difficult
to know how the LDDC managed to get so far out of line. The feeling in
Whitehall was that housing had been given too high a priority when, particularly
at a time of budgetary constraint, there were other more fundamental issues
to address. The Minister of State, by then Michael Portillo, and the Department
rocked the LDDC by formally throwing out its 1990 Corporate Plan and issuing
their own precise indication of future priorities under the shorthand
labels of the Transport Action Plan and the Narrow Focus [of activities].
The completion of transport infrastructure topped the
list. Housing was to concentrate on refurbishment and new schemes already
committed, particularly under the Tower Hamlets Accord and Newham Memorandum.
The new slim line Corporate Plan for 1990/91 said, when published the
following year, "The LDDC recognises the present constraints on public
expenditure and further improvements in the management structure will
make best use of the resources available by securing value for money and
concentrating resources on the transport programme and other projects
that will have the maximum impact on economic, physical and social regeneration.
This includes building confidence in London Docklands, attracting inward
investment, business support and housing refurbishment, as well as training
and other schemes that will allow local people to take advantage of the
opportunities provided by regeneration of the London Docklands economy."
The plan added: "The pressures brought about by
the slow down in the property market and the large expansion in the Corporation's
expenditure on transport infrastructure have caused the LDDC to refocus
the corporate aims it has adopted to achieve the corporate goal."
That goal was "to secure the lasting physical, economic and social
regeneration of the urban development area". The Royals were seen
as a major economic opportunity for London and the scale of proposed housing
was substantially cut back.
Michael Honey left by the end of 1990 to become Chief
Executive of Gloucestershire County Council. His successor, Eric Sorensen,
arrived from the Department of the Environment in the Spring of 1991.
The reassessment of LDDC policy and priorities led to a period of internal
restructuring and redundancies, overlapping with the dead housing market,
the recession and administration for Canary Wharf, by then a potent symbol
of Docklands. Change was in the air but the road back to departmental
trust and the winning of public appoval and local acceptance was uphill.
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The Final Years
A Balanced Programme
Whilst the most ambitious aspirations of the social
housing strategy gave way to refurbishment, nevertheless the LDDC continued
funding new homes in its final years supporting new housing association
development and generally improving conditions for existing residents.
Relationships had been forged with the Boroughs and
expectations heightened. However, the emphasis was now much more on partnership.
New build subsidy was generally restricted to the equivalent of land value,
This put Docklands upon a level playing field with adjoining areas so
that LDDC sites could compete effectively for Housing Corporation money
but thrust the primary responsibility back to the Housing Corporation
to fund new social housing. This meant that sites might take longer to
secure funding or that creative new funding packages had to be explored.
However all LDDC sites earmarked for social housing during this period
Similarly on the refurbishment front many further schemes
were delivered but the proportion of LDDC funding was lower and focused
on enhancing the Councils' immediate priorities (See Tables 4-6 on the
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Southwark and Beckton
There was pressure to do as much as possible in Southwark
and Beckton because they were earmarked for early LDDC completion of remit.
Significant new housing schemes were backed but at much lower subsidy
levels than before. A package of 208 homes on four sites in Beckton was
secured with LDDC grant of only £1.75 million (compared with for
example the earlier £20 million grant for 403 homes at Winsor Park).
A major initiative in the Surrey Docks was 185 homes for shared ownership
by Crystal Palace Housing Association with an LDDC grant of £2.6
The last significant estate in the Surrey Docks to be
improved - Tunnel Estates - was refurbished with an LDDC grant of £1.4
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Isle of Dogs
For a crucial period, politics in Tower Hamlets were
complicated by the delegation of powers to seven local mini town halls
or neighbourhood committees and the fact that, although the Liberal Democrats
were in power centrally, Labour still controlled the local town halls
on the Isle of Dogs and in Wapping and Limehouse. Continuing local opposition
to the LDDC led to delays in local refurbishment, while rigid adherence
to allocation policies when new social housing finally materialised upset
the traditional community.
The LDDC did not have large land holdings for residential
development on the Isle of Dogs as it did for example in the Surrey Docks
or Wapping and Beckton. When the central area on the Island around the
docks became an Enterprise Zone for a period of 10 years from 1982, tax
and other benefits were confined to commercial and industrial development
not housing. Those sites which the Corporation did own outside the Enterprise
Zone were marketed for private development in the early years. Apart from
two self-build schemes, the first new major grant aided social housing
on LDDC land was built at Masthouse Terrace in 1991.
The allocation of these homes was carried out by local
housing officers at neighbourhood level and a number of large Bengali
families were transferred in from other parts of the borough. Many believe
that this was an important factor in bringing about the short-lived election
in 1993 of a British National Party candidate to the Council in a by-election.
The shock of racism in a Borough with an ethnic population of about 35%
had immediate reverberations and spurred the Corporation and the Local
Authority to greater collaboration in meeting the housing needs of the
traditional local communities. Considerable refurbishment activity also
continued with some 1,000 homes improved across the Isle of Dogs, Poplar
and Wapping. Major schemes included John Scurr House in Limehouse, which
was transformed from short life housing, and the Wapping Estate.
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In the Royal Docks, at West Silvertown, the LDDC launched
London's first urban village, a mixed development concept blessed by Prince
Charles. Basically the proposals were designed to produce a new community
of about 5,000 people with homes, jobs and local facilities all within
easy reach. The Royals particularly suffered from the recession which
sucked all wind out of the development sails in the early 1990s and left
this most eastern part of Docklands still in search of a solid new economic
base to add to the new airport and shopping facilities. The first stage
of the village, with over 1,000 homes (75% owner occupied, 25% social/rented),
proved popular. The initiative was launched with a 'planning for real'
exercise designed to tap local knowledge and opinion and one indirect
result was the decision to demolish two existing neighbouring tower blocks
and include their site and subsequent new housing association homes as
part of the village.
Social housing in West Silvertown has formed part of
the LDDC s contribution to the 1987 Memorandum of Agreement with Newham.
At least 1,200 of the proposed 1,500 have been built with the Corporation
claiming, under its definition in the original agreement, that the contract
was fulfilled by the inclusion of low cost owner-occupied housing. But
that difference assumed less importance after Spring 1997, when Newham
set out a new vision for the area and adopted policies which aim to transform
the borough into a place of opportunity rather than poverty and neglect,
to increase local property values and the income profile and to avoid
a continued flow of people from other boroughs who require sustained support.
In his scenario, traditional housing for rent no longer has its former
The creation of a new community of some 500 new homes
at Winsor Terrace in Beckton, was one of the largest projects built under
the Memorandum. The scheme did however highlight the difficulties inherent
in large estates with concentrations of people who are out of work and
in receipt of housing benefit. As a result the Corporation worked with
the housing associations and local estate residents to provide new community
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Achievements on the Ground
With council housing in 1981 providing 83% of homes
in the area, the construction of more of the same was not going to change
the general public view of Docklands. The area needed new transport links
and a new economic base, not, however great the continuing housing need,
the obvious reinforcement of the status quo. The attraction of private
housing for sale in turn attracted new people who helped introduce different
attitudes and aspirations and injected additional spending into the local
As the number of developments grew and became increasing
y expensive and beyond the means of a poorer than average community, the
contrast between old and new became increasingly apparent. Although the
Corporation was not the housing authority, concern led to more direct
intervention in the provision of new and improved social housing for local
In all, more than 6,250 new council and housing association
homes were built between 1981 and 1998. New social housing eventually
formed 26% of the more than 24,000 new homes built over the 17 years.
In the early years, LDDC help came mainly through insistence
on a fixed proportion of housing association units to be built by private
house builders bidding for its land. Subsidy was given in terms of lost
income - the land would have sold at a higher price without this condition.
In later years, the Corporation contributed directly to social housing
costs, more than £51 million to more than 2,000 of the 6,250 homes
built and managed by housing associations and a small proportion of those
built by the local authorities - 936 at the end of March 1998. About 640
units in the housing association schemes were shared ownership.
In local terms, nearly 2,900 of the housing association
and local authority new houses and flats were located in the Royal Docks,
about 2,000 in the Surrey Docks, 633 in Wapping and over 800 in the Isle
The Corporation also helped finance major refurbishment
of nearly 5,000 flats in local authority estates and paid for environmental
improvements affecting more than 3,000 other council owned properties.
While nearly 50% of these properties were in Tower Hamlets, in all about
50 council estates across the whole of London Docklands benefited from
LDDC investment totalling £42.7 million.
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In the private market, nearly 17,800 homes were built
for sale. Over 6,100 were located in the Surrey Docks, more than 4,000
in the Isle of Dogs, nearly 4,000 in Wapping and more than 3,500 in Beckton
and the Royals.
During the 17 years the population more than doubled
from just under 40,000 to an estimated 83,000 people. While there was
no dwellings count in the 1981 census, there were nearly 15,000 households
living in the Docklands area at that time. Today there are an estimated
38,000 houses and flats. The populations of Wapping and Limehouse, the
Surrey Docks and the Royals have all more than doubled and that of the
Isle of Dogs has increased by about 50%.
When the LDDC was created, the traditional Labour-controlled
local authorities were anxious that increased numbers of home owners moving
in from elsewhere might overwhelm the area and their power base. In the
event, their fears proved groundless. The net growth of some 40,000 people
form such a small proportion of each of the boroughs as a whole that new
corners can only have a marginal impact, whatever their political allegiance.
As time has passed, local views about the quality and
choice of housing has become increasingly positive. According to opinion
polls carried out by MORI, 57% of those interviewed in 1996 thought the
situation had improved compared with only 27% in 1990. The verdict varies
in different parts of Docklands with as many as three in four of these
interviewed in the Surrey Docks reacting favourably compared with less
than 50% in Limehouse and the Isle of Dogs. On the whole, people who have
bought their own homes or are tenants with a housing association were
more contented than council tenants. Nevertheless by 1996 65% of residents
considered the LDDC had done a good job, 61 % thought the area had changed
for the better and 66% considered overall prospects for the area to be
The success of house building in Docklands and the creation
of areas which now form part of the London housing market as desirable
places to live have achieved major Corporation and Government goals. Since
1981, Docklands has provided 10% of all new private and social housing
building across Greater London. Today the split in tenure is more balanced.
However despite the scale of private sector house building, owner occupation
is estimated at 45% compared with 57% in the capital at large.
More, as always, could have been done. Theoretically,
for example, there might have been better co ordination with the Housing
Corporation to secure Docklands' regeneration as a priority in allocating
its resources but only at the expense of other areas. The LDDC could perhaps
have steered resources into major refurbishment sooner. But since the
properties belonged to the local councils, programmes required full local
authority co-operation and only time made such co-operative working arrangements
possible for the former antagonists. As it is, the significant attack
on refurbishment leaves the area with the majority of its housing in much
The LDDC has been an effective, crude, tool for housing
change and improvement and for injecting a new mixed population into the
area. It created a new market in inner-city private housing, largely within
range of people on average incomes, and contributed substantially to the
improvement of existing local housing conditions.
Without the Corporation and given public spending restrictions,
much of this would never have occurred. The three Boroughs have now taken
over responsibility for the future and the continued need to raise standards
and to create London communities which match the expectations of the twenty-first
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Tables One to Nine - on continuation page
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Docklands Redevelopment Proposals for East London
- R. Travers Morgan &Partners, 1973
London Docklands Strategic Plan - Docklands
Joint Committee, 1976
Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980
Docklands Urban Development Corporation, Draft
Business Plan 1991/1982 - Vol 1 - Coopers & Lybrand Associates
1980 London Docklands Development Corporation
(Area and Constitution Order 1980) - Select Committee of the House
of Lords, HMSO, 1981
The Problems of Management of Urban Renewal
(Inner Cities Policies-Partnerships, Programmes) - House of Commons
Environment Committee, Minutes of Evidence, 8 March 1983
Docklands Consultative Committee - House Price Increases
in Docklands, 1986
Social Housing - R. Baker, 1987
The Employment Effects of Urban Development
Corporations - House of Commons Employment Committee Third Report;
House of Commons Paper 327-1, HMSO, 1988
Urban Development Corporations - Committee
of Public Accounts, Twentieth Report, HMSO, 1989
The Economic Development of LDDC - KPMG
Peat Marwick McLintock, 1990
Ten Years of Docklands: How the Cake was Cut
- Association of London Authorites and the Docklands Consultative Committee
1991 London Docklands Development Corporation:
The Limehouse Link - Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General,
National Audit Office, HMSO, 1995
Housing and the Regeneration of Docklands -
Churches Standing Committee for London Docklands, 1995
Focus on London 97 - The Stationery Office,
Annual Reports, Corporate Plans, briefing and internal
papers of the London Docklands Development Corporation
Docklands News - monthly newspaper of
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This monograph is a collaboration by past and present staff of the London
Docklands Development Corporation assessing the LDDC's impact on housing
and its broad political context.
Because of the area's scale and complexity and personal roles, passion
and politics, no two individuals, even those most closely involved, ever
see Docklands' development from the same viewpoint.
The LDDC would like to thank the many people, not all named here, who
have been extremely helpful and given generously of their time and interest,
in trying to draw out the main threads of housing policy and implementation:
Gareth Bendon, LDDC Head
of Executive Office
Sunny Crouch, LDDC Director Marketing
and Public Affairs
Julia Heynat, LDDC Corporate Information
John Johnson, LDDC Economic and Social
Helen Kenney, LDDC Community Development
David Morgan, former LDDC Director of
Eddie Oliver, former LDDC Deputy Chief
Richard Reynolds, Managing Director, Barratt
Barry Shaw, former LDDC Head of Urban
Stephen Shaw, LDDC Housing, Amenities
and Services Manager
Howard Sheppard, LDDC Director, City Design
Eric Sorensen, former LDDC Chief Executive
Peter Turlik, LDDC Head of Strategic Affairs
Frank Vickery, Assistant Chief Executive,
East Thames Housing Group
Peter Wade, Canary Wharf, Community Liaison
Reg Ward, former LDDC Chief Executive
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in this series, all published in
1997/98, are as follows
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Annual Reports and Accounts
As with most organisations the Annual Reports and Accounts of the LDDDC are a good source of chronological information about the work of the Corporation and how it spent its money. Altogether these reports contain more than 1000 pages of information. These have been scanned and reproduced as zip files on our Annual Reports and Accounts page
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