It had taken years to reach this stage of development. Years of planning, rejected schemes, redesigned buildings, fresh financial projections, exhibitions of drawings, work with the local authority and local interest groups. While all this was happening, the building cycle was moving on. In 1817, 1825, and on through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there had been boom and bust. Builders had over-stretched themselves, the market slumped and bankruptcies followed.
In the 1990s the building world was as unpredictable as ever. Trafalgar House, the engineering and construction group planning to develop Paddington Basin, owned the Queen Elizabeth 2 Cruise Liner and the Ritz Hotel. By 1990 building developments had begun to falter. Property prices fell. Trafalgar House asked the market for another £310 million and sold shares to raise capital, but in 1991 dividends had to be cut. In 1993 the company asked for a further £205 million and wrote off another £100 million. In October 1993 they had to ask for another £400 million.1 In this state of crisis, with its profits and assets plunging in value, any thoughts of redeveloping Paddington Basin faded away. The Basin settled back to sleep again.
How other Canal Basins along the Canal were Developed
City Road Wharf
City Road Wharf, between The Angel and Old Street, for example, was derelict until Islington Borough Council built some magical flats there. As a quiet island of flats beside shallow water, completely cut off from the world outside. These were the last council flats Islington was allowed to build, but they are in the great tradition of the fine buildings put up by that council from 1900 on. They are very well worth seeing.
Camden Town Basin
Camden Town canal basin rebuilt itself in a completely different way. In the 1960s it was derelict. Canal and railway transport had died and industry had moved to the New Towns, or overseas. Local people rejected the grandiose plans put forward by developers. The area decayed.
In this situation, a handful of market stalls and a group of art students making furniture, jewelry and music, in an acre of old stable workshops, turned the area into the holiday centre it is today.2 In the year 2001 the big chains are following the crowds into Camden Town. It will be interesting to see how this affects the atmosphere and the flow of tourists.
Paddington could not have been regenerated by a few market stalls. It would require massive, creative investment from the start. Paddington missed the 1970-80 trade cycle and mouldered for years.