Magazine article Management Today

Dockland Transport Disaster

Magazine article Management Today

Dockland Transport Disaster

Article excerpt

When the French began the development of the giant La Defence complex in Paris, the need for good transport infrastructure was given priority. It needed no great planning brain to appreciate the implications of building a large office block without making provision for commuting workers. When La Defence was completed, so were the high speed metro links and it was a pleasure to travel to and from it. As the Canadian company, Olympia & York, began the development of Canary Wharf in London's Docklands, this same thought was uppermost. One important transport link was already reasonably well advanced in the shape of the Docklands light railway (DLR). But it only needed a brief inspection to appreciate how inadequate the DLR was. It was built cheaply on the cautious assumption that something like 20,000 people a day would use it. Olympia & York realised it would not be able to cope and suggested delaying the line's completion until it could be upgraded. The answer was that this was impossible: the date for the official opening by the Queen had already been set. There was no going back.

This decision proved disastrous. The DLR cannot cope. Commuters hate it and prospective tenants are wary of moving to Canary Wharf. And this is not the only thing to have gone wrong in Docklands. Years after its airport opened, jet operations have finally been approved, even though it should have been clear from the start that it would need to cater for the British Aerospace 146 commuter jet. The arguments over the Jubilee tube line from Docklands to Waterloo main line station are not yet resolved. A new road will link the top end of the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf with the City. But how will its users penetrate the dense traffic at the multiple junction at Tower Hill? Finally, in August, one of the transport ministers spent a week in Docklands: using what public transport there is including the DLR - which was out of action for most of the time - and came up with that great British remedy: something needed to be done. I suspect Paul Reichmann, the head of Olympia & York, wishes he had never had anything to do with Britain and its planners.

Having an effective, accessible capital city has a bearing on the development of the country as a whole. The bungling of the transport links to Docklands mirrors the wider failure to come to terms with Britain's transport needs. The endless jams on the country's still incomplete motorway network; the stop-go approach to British Rail investment; the disgraceful state of the London underground system; the still unresolved battle over the high speed rail link to the Channel Tunnel; the policy until very recently of focusing the development of international scheduled airline routes on London's airports at the expense of the regions; the failure to forecast traffic using the all-important M25, which accounts for 14% of the country's motorway traffic, by the sort of margin that would have got any private sector forecaster the sack - all of these reflect the effective breakdown of transport in this country.

Congestion adds millions to industry's costs. The CBI worries that inadequate investment in transport will make it harder for British industry, out on the periphery of Europe, to compete in the European Community market which buys over half our non-oil exports.

If money were the only issue, the answer would be relatively clear. But money is not the greatest problem. …

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