The Royal Docks remained London’s major docks until the 1960s. They began to decline due containerisation. Before containers, each ship was loaded and unloaded by large teams of men. Containers of a standard size could be handled by cranes, which made loading ships much faster - and cheaper with far fewer workers.
Meanwhile dockside rail transport was eclipsed by cheap lorry haulage. As other docks were better able to deal with the huge container shipping, in 1981 the Royal Docks closed.
In the same year the government formed the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) to regenerate 8½ miles of riverside and docks in East London, including the Royal Docks. The LDDC was given the dock land and powers to relax planning controls for market led development.
One of the first and most controversial projects that they supported was London City Airport. The airport’s development was fiercely resisted by many residents who came up with their own ‘people’s plan’ for the Royal Docks. Opponents argued that this was not an appropriate place for an airport and that the land should be used for housing, childcare, shopping facilities and recreation.
Despite opposition the airport opened in 1987. The runway was built on the space between King George V Dock and Royal Albert Dock. This had once been an area for loading, unloading and storing goods. The airport terminal and car park were built on parts of King George V Dock quayside.
London City Airport is a STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) runway, which means it is only suitable for smaller aircraft. Large jets, helicopters and private flights are not allowed to use it. The airport has its own DLR station, so passengers can step off a plane and in no time be on a train directly to Canary Wharf or the City.
In 2012 it welcomed a record three million passengers and there are plans to double capacity to six million in ten years. Most of the flights serve business people in Europe, many of whom return the same day. Destinations include Berlin and Frankfurt, Milan and Rome, Zurich and Geneva, Paris and Luxembourg. There are also some important domestic routes such as Edinburgh, Aberdeen, the Isle of Man and Channel Islands.
The airport means that North Woolwich is a gateway to the world once more. As you can hear, however, the sound of the planes can be deafening and there are still mixed feelings about its impact on local communities.