Through the early morning gray hanging over the waterfront, it looks a bit spooky: rows of abandoned docks, some with giant yet motionless cranes poking skyward at what for years was considered one of the world's greatest ports, London.
Use of jumbo container ships has shifted the major shipping activity 15 miles eastward to Tilbury, leaving the once flourishing London dock area along the River Thames largely vacant. But rejuvenation is in the mill. Plans are moving ahead to replace the former bustle at the historic port (which had its beginnings 2,000 years ago) with a mixture of business, industry, housing, and commercial developments, following the creation last July of the London Docklands Development Corporation.
LDDC, formed and funded by the central government, has the task of redeveloping the so-called Docklands area, which covers about eight square miles on both sides of the Thames eastward from the famous London Bridge. The area is not completely dormant. Within its 5,120 acres, 35,000 people still work, and it is home for 50,000. But LDDC is seeking to pump in renewed vigor to the inner city - similar to what is being attempted in many United States communities - through attracting resident and nonresident investors. Initial emphasis is on housing, industry, and commerce, Peter Hadley, LDDC's commercial director, explains.
It comes at a time when United Kingdom unemployment, passing the 3 million mark, or 11.7 percent of the work force, is bringing calls to create more jobs.
Mr. Hadley, at LDDC offices on the Isle of Dogs within the Docklands area, points to the inroads made in attracting activity. Three publishing firms plan moves to the less congested Docklands, although their editorial offices will remain on Fleet Street. News International, publisher of the Sun and News of the World, is locating a printing and office development there. The Daily Telegraph plans to erect a large plant. Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail , also has a project in the works.
Already shifted to a new location in Docklands is the famous Billingsgate Fish Market. A retail group is building a 90,000-square-foot superstore. And the first phase of 600 homes is being readied for sale this spring. LDDC projects that 7,000 homes will be built in the Docklands, with a sales pace eventually reaching 2,000 units a year.
Also in the area is London Industrial Park, with 40 units totaling almost 300 ,000 square feet. Its developers have an additional 104,000 square feet on the drawing boards or under construction. Under development are shopping centers, waterfront cafes, a 50-berth marina, and picnic areas.
Among projects planned within five years are an exhibition and conference center and at least two hotels.
To accommodate the expected influx of new residents and workers, plans are being made to improve access by better roads and public transport. An existing underground service connects with rail terminals. Being considered is an overhead light rail system and the establishment of a heliport, perhaps along with a small landing strip. (Heathrow, 15 miles away, is the largest cargo airport in Europe, while Gatwick, the other international airport, is 30 miles away.) River passenger services and freight handling are also being explored.
In efforts to restore long-term prosperity to Docklands, LDDC is engaged in a land acpuisition program. It stands ready to act as a one-stop planning service to both large and small developers and businesses wishing to locate there. To encourage investment, favorable loans and grants are being offered and several major banks are supporting the rejuvenation program.
Within the Docklands boundary is the London Enterprise Zone, covering 476 acres, including 126 acres of water. It provides additional allowances and tax incentives along with probably the biggest universal appeal to any business--a promise of fewer government forms to fill out.