From Thatcher to Qatar: a turbulent Docklands history


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The Independent Online

They took the name from the old dock. Canary Wharf was where produce from the Canary Islands was unloaded by stevedores in the Victorian era. But by the late 1970s it was a ghost town, prompting Margaret Thatcher’s environment secretary, Michael Heseltine, to establish the London Docklands Development Corporation in 1981.

The goal was to regenerate the area and encourage investment with tax breaks and the lifting of planning restrictions.

The Canadian property tycoon, Paul Reichmann, took up the idea of creating a financial services office complex there. The Canary Wharf skyscraper went up in 1990, becoming Britain’s tallest building (at the time). The first tenants moved in shortly after. A succession of City banks followed.

A large chunk of Fleet Street also moved east in the 1990s with The Telegraph, The Mirror and The Independent all residents of the tower at one point.

But the early 1990s recession sent the complex’s developers into administration. Mr Reichmann, backed by Saudi Arabia’s Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal and the US media mogul Larry Tisch, bought it back from the banks in 1995 for £800m and the group floated in 1999.

But going public made Canary Wharf a takeover target and Mr Reichmann lost control in 2004 after a corporate struggle. Songbird estates, a consortium led by Morgan Stanley and America’s Glick family, took control.

But Songbird itself almost collapsed under the weight of its debts in the 2009 credit crisis and was rescued by the Qatari Investment Authority and China’s sovereign wealth fund. Now the Qataris, with some help from Canada, look set to take full control of Canary Wharf.