Cash Secured for Dock Heritage

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As any good Wapping resident knows, our ward is imbued with the memory of its past as a working dock area processing cargo into London. That rich docking history manifests itself in old warehouses now converted into flats, docks long since transformed into leisure spaces (whether St Katharine Docks or the Ornamental Canal), evocative street and pub names, riverside steps to former wharves and the remains of heavy brick walls that used to protect cargo from thieves.

It has long been my view that this docking heritage is a great asset which we should seek not only to protect but to showcase, and I saw an opportunity for this when an application came forward to Strategic Development Committee a couple of months ago.

The application was for a private members’ club to be floated on one of the quays in Canary Wharf. The club was designed to replace a former industrial building – further details below:

Evening Standard

I was unconvinced that the benefits of granting permission for the club were worth the loss of dock space for two reasons. First, while there was an obligation on the developer via section 106 to put money into the general Tower Hamlets pot (£600k in this instance), I made clear in committee that I thought that any financial contribution should more specifically be directed into the preservation of dock heritage across the borough. In other words, if we are losing dock space, it should be offset by a much more targeted benefit that enhances the borough’s historical fabric in other ways. Secondly, I had concerns about the club’s exclusivity. While I have no objection to the principle of private members’ clubs, if we are losing semi-public space then I believe that the public should have at least some access to what comes in its place. 

As a result, I decided to vote against the application.

On Thursday, a modified application came back to committee which has upped the financial contribution from £600k to £800k and inserted a specific clause to say that the money will be directed towards the preservation of dock heritage in the local area. I sought clarification on the definition of ‘local area’ – in other words, does it include Wapping? The planning officers said it didn’t but I have received subsequent confirmation that it does include our ward!

Furthermore, the developer has agreed to open the club to the P1070018public for exhibitions. The stated, obliged hours are limited but again, I have received subsequent confirmation that the intention is for the space to be opened well beyond those stated hours.

I was much more satisfied by this and the committee has now granted permission. I am absolutely delighted to have secured an additional £200k in public benefit but also to see that benefit directed much more directly to the preservation of the heritage that is so precious to us here in Wapping. I shall now be speaking to the developer and council about this in the hope that we can restore and improve the physical memories left by our docking past such as the riverside stairs, bascule bridges (I was promised a repaint which never came) and dock walls.

P1070120This does, however, bring me to another issue in Tower Hamlets – the council’s ability to deliver improvements to our green spaces, heritage and leisure facilities. I have spoken to the Mayor about various projects that I would like to see in our ward, making the point that the material benefit to Wapping residents of the London Dock development cannot be seen in any way at the moment, and where on earth have those London Dock s106 monies gone.

The Mayor has said he supports some of my ideas about how to revamp public spaces in Wapping but that there is not the organisational capacity to deliver within the council. Having spoken about this issue at length to my Conservative colleague, Cllr Andrew Wood, who represents Canary Wharf ward, we have serious concerns that the council is so poor at delivering these kinds of small upgrades in public space that we face losing money from the very large pot of s106 money that the council has built up from all the developments in the borough. We understand that there is something like £60m of unspent s106 and after a set period (I think something like seven years) the council has to return to a developer any unspent money. We do not want to see that happen. Is it now time for the Mayor consider contracting out some of this work so that residents can finally see benefits from the many, many developments going up across the borough? We shall be making this case in the forthcoming debates on the council’s budget.P1070172





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