London Docklands

How have The London Docklands changed East London in the past 40 years?

Not long ago Canary Wharf celebrated its 30th anniversary, marking a period of incredible change for this part of London. In the last four decades The London Docklands has completely transformed East London, bringing development and opportunities to the area that simply didn’t exist before. It has also created challenges, many of which still persist in 2019. This part of the Capital has always been crucial to the economy but simply wouldn’t be what it is today without The London Docklands influence.

A brief history of the area

The East End docks have historically had a key role to play in the British economy and provided resources and employed large workforces during the years in which the UK established a global trading empire. However, as shipping technology changed, many businesses began to favour deep water ports and the East End docks fell out of favour so that all of London’s docks were closed by 1981. In the 1980s hundreds of thousands of people left the Docklands and 60% of the area was derelict. And then Canary Wharf arrived.

The impact of Canary Wharf on East London

Although Canary Wharf today is thriving this was not always the case and there have been many challenges along the way for developers. When it was first announced in 1986 there were protests and the Isle of Dogs development subsequently went through a long period of being viewed as a disaster. However, when it celebrated its 30 year anniversary in 2017 the area was back on top and providing jobs and infrastructure to East London that simply wouldn’t be there without it.

The influence of The London Docklands on East London


Canary Wharf now employs the same number of people as the original docks. The work is very different today but the enormous drain of human talent from the area in the 1980s has been replenished as a result of London Docklands development.

Inequality persists

One of the major challenges that this part of London faces is the inequality that has been created by development in an area that has gone through such troubled times. Tower Hamlets comes out as one of the worst areas in London in terms of unemployment and poverty despite it also being the location of incredible wealth creation as a result of Canary Wharf.

Social mobility is rising

Even in areas where there are serious issues with poverty there is evidence of the potential for change – for example, the Social Mobility Commission found that Tower Hamlets is one of the best locations in the country for social mobility.

Infrastructure is expanding

The Docklands Light Railway has brought some of the biggest change to East London and the incoming addition of Crossrail will continue to boost the potential of the area.

Ongoing development

As a result of The London Docklands East London has been transformed in recent years, from the facilities at the Olympic Park in Stratford to tens of thousands of new homes that are planned for the area over the next few years.

As an example of urban regeneration, the influence of The London Docklands on East London shows just what can be achieved, despite the obstacles. It will be interesting to see how the area continues to change in the years to come.

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