How east London's Lea Valley is rivalling America's Silicon Valley
PUBLISHED: 08:38 25 October 2012 | UPDATED: 12:39 25 October 2012
It was just a muddy, polluted tidal flow winding its way through the industrial wastelands of London's East End.
But today, the Lea River and the Lower Lea Valley could soon rival another valley for global technology supremacy.
It is now ripe to challenge America’s Silicon Valley, with the Olympic regeneration to its north, the booming Canary Wharf to its south and today’s news that the tide of Britain’s recession may be ebbing.
The Prime Minister, who hinted in the Commons yesterday that the economy was starting to recover, announced soon after the summer Olympics the importance of establishing a definitive technology centre in east London once the Games had ended.
It is already under way at Canary Wharf, where a million square feet of office space is now occupied by cutting edge technology and media enterprise in a ‘creative quarter’ alongside the 15m sq ft occupied by the big banks and the financial sector.
Added to this is Crossrail’s arrival by 2018 and the bustling techno hub around Shoreditch just three miles to the west.
“We don’t see ourselves as a rival to Shoreditch, but complimentary,” a Canary Wharf spokesman insists.
“New companies needing to grow are limited by the old buildings of Shoreditch. They have no room to expand.
“Here we have the space—acres of it—for a growing industry.”
The first part of Canary Wharf’s bid to challenge the US for techno supremacy was unveiled earlier this month with the announcement of Europe’s largest ‘accelerator’ space for up-and-coming firms.
The ‘Level 39’ accelerator is being created on the 39th floor of the iconic One Canada Square tower block, ready to take on the challenges of the global surge in financial and big data technologies.
Added to that are the 17 acres of Wood Wharf close by with a newly-revised master plan being drawn up with public consultation, ready for a planning application to Tower Hamlets council next spring.
At the other end of the Lower Lea Valley is Stratford and the Olympic Park which David Cameron sees as high tech’s ‘new Jerusalem,’ ready to compete in the global race for economic power.
One man sharing the Prime Minister’s vision is Dan Wagner, chairman of mPowa, a gadget-led mobile technology payments innovator, who tells the Advertiser: “The Olympic park would serve as the ideal location to kick-start a tech revolution in Britain.
“This is the sort of innovation that could turn the tide on our national debt.
“There really is no excuse today for any lack of innovation, considering that Britain is equipped with some of the brightest minds in technology.”
Quarterly figures out today from the Office for National Statistics are expected to show Britain emerging with growth buoyed by spending from the Olympics.
But the enterprise ship hasn’t arrived yet, Wagner warns.
“There is still a reluctance to invest in start-ups,” he claims. “We lack the infrastructure that is often needed to give new businesses the kick-start they need and a fighting chance of survival.
“What the business community wants is incentives to create jobs—this is what the economy needs now that the Olympic panacea is behind us.”
His solution is a Capital Gains “tax holiday” on investments in start-ups to send out the message that we need home-grown businesses.
The stage is now set for growth in east London’s high tech ‘triangle’ of Canary Wharf, Stratford and Shoreditch, where pride is returning to British entrepreneurship and invention—a pattern our Victorian forefathers started like Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Wapping and his SS Great Eastern steamship built at Millwall.
Today’s entrepreneurs like Dan Wagner see the economic tide turning and the Lower Lea Valley giving the UK “reason to be optimistic.”