London’s growth is moving East – but more must be done to unlock the potential of the Royal Docks and London City Airport

Declan Collier
Royal Albert Docks
Connectivity is the common factor for the Royal Docks's history and present (Source: Getty)

Connectivity is one of the key challenges facing London’s businesses and communities. The ability of visitors to access the city from overseas, the ability to access other countries from London, and the ability to move around within the capital are all key to growth.

London is moving east: more housing is being built and more businesses are starting up in East London than anywhere else in the city. To support this growth, high on the agenda should be improving connectivity, and specifically for London’s Royal Docks.

Tens of thousands of jobs are being created in London’s Royal Docks, the capital’s next business district. Alongside its rich history, it is one of 30 “opportunity areas” identified in the London Plan, sitting just 15 minutes away from Canary Wharf, 22 minutes from Bank, and 25 minutes from Westminster by public transport.

Connectivity put the docks on the map in the late 1800s. The largest enclosed docks in the world, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they handled a full range of cargoes including timber, rum and sugar, and provided work for 3,000 labourers per day.

Closed to commercial traffic in 1981, the renaissance of the area began with the opening of London City Airport in 1987, leading to the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) link to Canary Wharf in 1994, Jubilee line extension in 1999 and ExCeL opening its doors in 2000.

Today, it maintains a unique appeal. It is home to the airport with by far the highest proportion of business travellers in the UK; to ExCeL, one of Europe’s leading conference and exhibition centres; to the world-class University of East London; and to one of the world’s most sustainable buildings, the Siemens Crystal.

The area continues to attract significant domestic and international investment, with ABP building an Asian business park at Royal Albert Dock, the Silvertown Partnership creating a brand showcase destination and commercial district, and developer Ballymore building new homes across two sites. These investments will create 20,000 new jobs and more than 5,000 new homes in the next 10 years.

Connectivity remains at the heart of the area’s rebirth, now facilitating trade and tourism by air rather than by water, through London City Airport, which handled 4.3m passengers last year and flew them to over 46 destinations across Europe and the US.

Now it’s time for the capital to recognise the value of this often-overlooked jewel in its crown and to help unlock the potential of London’s Royal Docks.

London City Airport needs permission to develop its existing infrastructure to reach an already-permitted number of flights per year, to welcome new “next generation” aircraft that can fly further, and to boost connectivity by offering more frequent flights to existing destinations and new flights to destinations not currently served.

This development will create more than 2,000 jobs, bring 6.5m passengers per year to the airport by 2025, and attract increased investment to the area.

Public transport improvements are crucial for the revival of the docks too, and plans should be brought forward for a new Crossrail station on the site of the old Silvertown station to serve London City Airport, the Silvertown Partnership and the communities of North Woolwich. Capacity should also be increased on the DLR, the main public transport link for many in East London.

Other much-needed transport improvements include new river crossings and investment in major road links. In addition, digital connectivity is vital for residents and business, and investment in digital infrastructure across East London is essential.

Those tasked with promoting our great city must embrace London’s Royal Docks and all they have to offer as an area for inward investment, historical interest, tourism and as a place to visit, work and live.

Connectivity is the common factor for London’s Royal Docks between history and the present day. It’s the common factor between the major businesses currently operating in the docks, and it’s crucial for the ongoing growth and regeneration of the area, bringing jobs and investment, supporting businesses located in East London, and providing opportunities for local communities.

Sitting alongside the likes of Canary Wharf, Shoreditch and Stratford, major businesses are investing in London’s Royal Docks as the next big opportunity. It’s time the rest of the city caught up and realised that, to find the future of growth in London, the stars are rising in the east.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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