London's Royal Docks were once the centre of enterprise in the capital, a gateway to markets in the UK and beyond. Over the years many attempts have been made to kick-start a resurgence of the capital's waterways but while Canary Wharf boomed the Docklands remained stubbornly empty.
However, the recent announcement that the Royal Albert Dock site, owned by the Greater London Authority (GLA), is set to be transformed into London's 'third business district' by leading Chinese developer ABP, has changed all that and heralds the beginning of a new era for London's historic docks.
The deal is symptomatic of the major changes happening in China with more and more companies looking to expand into new markets overseas. It's also evidence that London remains one of the world's premier cities for business and is regarded as the gateway to Europe. ABP have been working with the GLA and its agencies for a number of years, to realise their vision for a new business destination that will act as a bridge between east and west; a port for goods and services in the modern era.
As a sign of the interest in this new business port, around 20 major investors from China joined the Mayor, Boris Johnson, who made regeneration of the Docklands one of his top regeneration priorities in 2008, and Chinese developer ABP, at a special signing ceremony at City Hall. When complete the port, sitting opposite City Airport, will hold over 3.4 million square feet of commercial space, create a staggering 20,000 jobs and be worth £6bn to the UK economy when complete. Even time will be no barrier to business as the port will operate 24/7 to accommodate Asian and European markets. And unlike most other developments, plots on the site will be leased for over 100 years to businesses, creating the opportunity for permanency.
But aside from the obvious economic impact, what makes this deal even more unique is the fact that it is the first direct investment by a Chinese developer in a scheme of this size in the capital. That instead of working through a fund, ABP are taking a risk on London and pumping their money directly in to the area creating jobs and growth where today there are only weeds. This is an important step forward in strengthening trade links with China and some of the fastest growing economies in the world across the Asia-Pacific.
These links will breathe new life into a part of London that has been desperately under used for nearly fifty years. It will catalyse further investment and development in the Royals and complement the existing connectivity and business infrastructure in the area, particularly London City Airport and ExCel London. This investment might be the first of its kind, but in returning the Royal Albert Dock to a new centre of commerce in London, it will enable history to repeat itself.