The Royal Docks Management Authority Limited holds a 225 year lease of the entire water areas of the Royal Docks, including bridges, locks, impounding equipment and some limited land areas. Owned and funded by the owners of the land surrounding the water, the Authority offers the certainty of sound long term water management, protecting permanent public access to quaysides and water areas, combining the interests of adjacent landowners and applying the responsibilities and resources for effective management.
The 250 acres of the Royal Docks are unique in their location and scale. Famous as the largest area of impounded water in the World, they comprise the main Royal Victoria, the King George V docks and the Royal Albert docks, the smaller Albert Basin and Pontoon Dock, and King George V and Gallions locks, these giving direct access to the River Thames.
RoDMA's core responsibility is to maintain the dock water areas, to impound and maintain water quality, dredge, maintain the marine infrastructure, including a large pumping station, the gates and the two locks, the Connaught road and footbridges and plaza area, the Bascule Bridge on the Woolwich Manor Way, the Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge, , the Royal Victoria Dock footbridge, to maintain necessary safety, security and emergency systems, enforce harbour regulations, and operate all equipment.
The Authority encourages the use of the water areas for leisure and events, issues licences for short and long term authorised use of the water, is responsible for making and upholding Byelaws, prohibiting unauthorised fishing and swimming, determining levels of behaviour around the docks, and offering regulations for the movement of vessels.
The water areas are used principally for recreational activities, including sailing, rowing, canoeing, jet-skiing and dragon boating. Water based events have included the Great London Swim and the London Triathlon swim section, and visiting vessels regularly attend various shows at the adjacent ExCeL London Exhibition Centre, including the World Travel Market and the London International Boat Show.
A marina operates in the Albert Basin and increasing use is being made of the Royal Docks as a location for television and wide screen films.
History of the Royal Docks
London's Royal Docks consist of the King George V dock, the Royal Albert dock and the Royal Victoria dock and all three are located in east London. In order to avoid confusion with the Royal Dockyards the more correct name for these docks is the Royal Group of Docks, with the Royal part pertaining to royal people. Together these three docks form an area of water equivalent to 250 acres, and a total area of water and land amounting to 1100 acres. Their collective size makes them the largest enclosed docks in the world. To put the size into perspective, it is the equivalent to that of central London.
Work on the docks began in 1855 and by 1921 all three had been completed. They were built on what is now Newham but was then called East and West Ham. London & St Katharine Docks Company constructed both the Albert and Victoria docks for the purpose of providing berths for larger vessels than could be catered to upriver. During the early to mid 20th century the docks became the main docks for the city of London and very commercially successful. The docks catered largely to the importing of foodstuffs, with cargos being unloaded into the large number of refrigerated warehouses and grain silos that were purpose-built adjacent to the quays.
With over 12 miles of quayside, the docks were able to handle several hundred passenger and cargo ships at any given time. When the Royal Albert Dock reached completion and was opened in 1880 the Royals gained access to Gallions Reach situated 11 miles downriver from London Bridge. The Royal Docks biggest rival East & West India Docks Company acted in response by building the Tilbury Docks further down river. The competition between the dock companies forced the Port of London Authority (PLA) to take over all the enclosed docks in 1909. It was the PLA that saw to the completion of the King George V dock in 1921. The PLA also set aside land further north with a plan to construct a fourth dock but it never came to fruition.
In 1926, as a result of the General Strike, the Royal Docks suffered great hardship, and at one point, when under threat of losing electrical supply to the docks, there were concerns that 750,000 frozen carcasses would spoil. The Royal Navy stepped in and averted disaster by powering the refrigerated warehouses via two submarines' generators.
When London was hit by German bombs during World War II the Royal Docks became severely damaged. The docks recovered once the war ended by began what was to become a steady decline from the early 60's onwards when containerization became increasingly popular. Despite the decline the Royal Docks managed to continue when other upstream docks were failing, but in 1981 were forced to close to commercial traffic only, which resulted in elevated levels of unemployment which in turn severely impacted the nearby Silvertown and North Woolwich communities.
The redevelopment of the Royal Docks has been hampered largely due to the challenges of transportation. Other former docks have redeveloped faster as they are not as remote from central London as the Royal Docks are. During the 80's and 90's the London Docklands Development Corporation were focused on local transportation improvements and were keen to attract new development to the area, both residential and commercial. The town of Beckton saw a huge upsurge in residential construction, with thousands of houses being built, raising a need for more direct railway links to the City of London which was met by the opening of the Docklands Light Railway extension in 1994.
Major projects have seen the Royal Docks area undergo significant development with many residential complexes springing up, as well as the new University of East London campus and the ExCel Exhibition Centre to name a few. Very little of the old infrastructure of the Royal Docks still exists, however great care has been taken to ensure that the docks themselves remain largely intact, along with preservation of some of the cranes and warehouses. The opening of the London City Airport on the quay (located between the Royal Albert dock and the King George V dock) in 1988 was a much welcomed development.
The docks are now closed for commercial shipping but remain accessible to water craft including ships of considerable size. The docks are predominantly used for recreational water sports but have been known to see both merchant and naval ships on occasion. Further development is in the works to improve the transport infrastructure for the Royal Docks, both for rail and road.
The Royal Docks water areas, including the three docks, bridges and locks, is managed by the Royal Docks Management Authority Limited (RoDMA) which holds a 225 year lease.