Boris: My vision for Docklands' next chapter


The Wharf spoke to the Mayor of London Boris Johnson high in the Citigroup building, overlooking The O2, Royal Docks and the Thames.

GB: I'm just enjoying this magnificent view.

BJ: It's one of the great views in the city. We're looking at the future. This is going to be the area where London is going to take off. Someone said to me that in 500 years' time, downtown London will be in Barking.

Can we talk about the prospect of the Royal Docks becoming a hi-tech cluster because that is a fascinating project.

We can see the Siemens pavilion, we've played a role in getting that, you can see the cable car going across from the pavilion to The O2 and by the looks of it they're making great progress.

And we can see the brownfield sites as well.

You can see massive potential. You can see Silvertown, you can see the logic of people moving there and setting up business. And that is going to be transformational. And you know about the bidding process that's going on [for the Silvertown Quays] - the three bidders and where we are with that. We just need a bit more time to look at these proposals.

What can you do as mayor to make these things happen? What can you do to persuade private capital to join the project?

With Silvertown, in a short space of time we put the land together and we opened a bidding process and since then there's been feverish activity. It's now down to three - very serious and credible - bidders

There are some amazing schemes - very different schemes but each with its own selling point. It's going to be hard to make a decision but what it shows is the confidence in the area and the absolute conviction that developers have that this is going to be a place to invest in.

Just think what a difference there's been. We're looking at an area of this city's and this country's most tragic industrial demise.

This was once the heart of the empire, those docks were built by the Victorians, colossal sea trenches, because the original London docks became too small and then in the '60s those docks too became too small and London lost shipping and population as all the attendant industries died away.

You're now seeing a rebirth with different sorts of employment, with high technology, with the opportunity for green jobs and hotels, retail, all sorts of stuff and a real conviction on the part of business that it's going to be an attractive place to live.
My job is to create the environment where that can happen.

How much is grind and how much is vision?

It's a bit of both. You have to have the idea in the first place and then you have to engage with the process, which can be exhausting. I mean, we got £36million out of Emirates to fund the cable car and I think it's going to be good deal for London and a brilliant deal for Emirates, a massive visitor attraction on the London skyline and I think that is worth £36million.

It does link up the Royal Docks - which can be windswept and lonely - to The O2.

The biggest live music venue in the world. That's why the Jubilee line upgrade is so important, that connectivity is vital for this part of London. But there is more to be done.

Can I rundown a checklist of transport projects and where we are with them? Are we done with the DLR now?

No. I think the DLR has got massive potential. Could you take the DLR to Bromley? Why not? Hook up that part of London, give another feed in to the City, to east London from Bromley. I think it would be very popular if we could do that.

Look at the figures of revenue costs for various modes of transport. The DLR covers 150 per cent of its revenue cost. Once you've built it, it pays for its revenue costs.

I think the Croydon tramlink just about breaks even, the Tube is 85 per cent, buses are 60 per cent. In other words buses require huge amounts of subsidy, the Tube, though its getting better, still needs a lot of subsidy. Every DLR train that's full pays back to TfL. What's not to like?

Another area of interest is the Thames as a viable east-west route. The London Assembly was critical of the River Concordat and the progress on Thames saying no-one at TfL was taking ownership of it. Again, is that something you can make happen?

I think that's unfair. Since the River Concordat, we've had a big increase in passengers very substantially. And we put the Oyster on the Clippers and, particularly during the Olympics, we're going to see a big increase.

What I can't pretend to your readers is that I truthfully see it as a highway that is going to be as successful as a terrestrial highway.

The London Assembly is saying "Boris has thrown his weight behind Boris bikes, obviously, and they're a minor means of transport. The river is another minor means of transport so why hasn't he thrown his weight behind the river?"

Well I have. I have. There's been a big increase in river transport and we want to see a bigger increase over the next four years and we'll have an ambitious programme of increasing river use during my next term as mayor if I get back in.

River crossings? Where are you with that? Is there funding in place or is that still to be decided?

We're pressing ahead with the consultations on Silvertown - Blackwall Two. It will be a fantastic scheme.

It will relieve congestion at Blackwall. It's sensible because it hooks up with existing transport arteries and, again, you're plugged straight into that part of London. I think it will be popular and successful. And then we're introducing a crossing at Gallions Reach for ferry traffic and a new crossing at Dartford. A lot of progress.

Is it that you're putting in place these links in anticipation of the growth of this area?

These industries will be there. Look at what the Victorians did, always remember what people like Yerkes saw.

Yerkes went to the top of Hampstead Heath and he looked out and he saw this huge expanse of parkland and forest and he thought 'there can be houses here but there can only be houses here if I built an electric railway' and he did.

History shows that it generally is a private venture that starts and goes bust and the state has to step in but in the end it is the transport infrastructure going first that makes the difference. Without the transport, you're nowhere.

In 10 years' time Canary Wharf will be doubled in size, Wood Wharf would be thriving. Do you anticipate people being able to get here and home again using this mosaic of transport options?

Absolutely. The area is going to change. And the important thing is that the area is going to bring benefits to some of the local people who haven't seen them yet.

Four years ago one of the strongest complaints I heard was that Canary Wharf was an island of prosperity in a sea of deprivation and that can't be right. I think that is changing.

These things can take generations.

Look at what's happening to Hackney. It will happen here too. But you have got to do these things sensitively and mindfully.

When I look at some of these planning applications you have to do things in a way that takes account of the historic communities and the way of life as well.

There's a balance to be struck. All the way up the Lea there are sites being developed, from the Isle of Dogs through Canning Town to Stratford and we're putting in the transport that can make it happen.

London is moving east.


■ Philadelphian Quaker Charles Yerkes, born 1837, moved to Chicago in 1883 where he developed the tramway and surburban rail systems.

■ He came to London in 1900 and decided to become involved in the Underground after riding along the route of one proposed line and surveying the city from the summit of Hampstead Heath.

■ He established the Underground Electric Railways Company of London to take control of the Metropolitan District Railway and the part-built Baker Street and Waterloo Railway and a number of other private railway companies.