Once the capital’s lifeblood, London’s docks have long since faded to little more than a garnish of maritime nostalgia on riverside real estate. Where once burly dockers hauled crates of exotic cargo, now bankers engage in international trade of a less visible kind. The physical economy of heaving stuff to and fro has been replaced by the streamlined global flow of finance, conducted in anonymous glass towers.
Or so the story goes.
It might come as a surprise to learn, then, that London’s docks are back – on a bigger scale than ever before. Running almost 3km along the Thames estuary is a £1.5bn new megaport that has literally redrawn the coastline of Essex, and wants to make equally radical shifts to the UK’s consumer supply chain
Welcome to DP World London Gateway, the latest international trophy of the oil-rich emirate of Dubai, and one of the biggest privately funded infrastructure projects the UK has ever seen. It is a gargantuan undertaking (on the scale of Crossrail, Terminal 5 or HS2) that’s projected to have a bigger economic impact than the Olympics – but you might not even know it was happening. The port has been up and running for almost two years, with two of its six berths now complete and a third well on the way. But, unlike the daily controversy of runways and commuter trains, the cumbersome business of how 90% of our goods reach us from all over the world doesn’t tend to impinge on the public psyche.
When the port is fully up and running, DP World says it will save 65m HGV miles and take 2,000 trucks off the road per day – a compelling argument for environmental and economic efficiency.