Industrial heritage “As important as our country homes and castles”

A new survey from English Heritage has found that listed industrial buildings are at the highest risk of severe neglect. Around 3% of standard grade I and II* listed buildings in England are considered to be at risk, while a staggering 11% of industrial grade I and II* listed buildings are in the same category.

Grade I and II* industrial listed buildings in England cover a variety of structures from across the industrial spectrum including Battersea Power Station.

According the English Heritage the problem is not a lack of appreciation from the public. A poll of public attitudes carried out on their behalf shows that 86% of the public agree that it is important we value and appreciate industrial heritage and 80% think it is just as important as our castles and country houses.

Despite English Heritage’s obvious concerns about the future of listed industrial heritage sites, it seems that they have some problems categorising the status of some of these sites.

Their 2011 Heritage At Risk Register lists both Battersea Power Station and the Victorian Battersea Pumping Station as “Priority D”. This means “Slow decay; solution agreed but not yet implemented”. Which is ambiguously incorrect on both fronts.

Battersea Pumping station:

The report does correctly state that this historic Victorian Pumping station is going to demolished, despite widespread and authoritative opposition, after a planning application was approved by Wandsworth Council in November 2010. So what English Heritage really mean is, it’s going to be knocked down but it hasn’t been done yet. The pump station is crucial, the only reason to demolish it  is it allows the power station owners REO,  to maximise profits. Apparently completely ignoring Malcolm Tucker of the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society  who previously made it clear “that it should be possible to incorporate the conserved building within the scheme.”

Battersea Power Station:

Again the report offers clarity by stating “fresh planning and listed building applications approved 2010 subject to legal agreement for restoration, extension and conversion of Power Station to provide retail, residential flats, business, cultural, hotel and conference facilities.”

There are two problems here: 1, “D” has been the status of the power station for decades now and little has changed. 2, the fact that legal agreement is required means that a solution has not been agreed.

Priority D is therefore the developers ideal status. Using the “big bang theory of redevelopment” implementation of the “solution” can be almost permanently postponed. Rather than phased conservation and restoration the heavily indebted REO insists their preposterous scheme to “save” the power station depends of a new tube line being dug, which of course will never happen.  They claim that their “solution” to restoration depends on the creation of a whole new urban area- a scheme that looked unlikely even in the height of the property boom.

Meanwhile the building falls into decay and eventually will require demolishing for safety reason giving the developer a clear conscience and nice clear piece of land to build on. Never mind that the nation loses one of its most iconic industrial buildings that are ‘as important as our castles and country homes”.

Of course the developers could “moth ball” both buildings until such time that a genuinely appropriate and viable solution comes along, but there is no need to speculate on why they won’t do that.

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Bulldozing Battersea Water Pumping station for profit

Listed but not protected

Battersea Water Pumping Station is Grade II listed but not protected.

The usual safeguards against demolition of a heritage building are under scrutiny as REO, “developers” of Battersea Power Station, seek to bypass the criteria for demolishing a listed building and bulldoze the Victorian Battersea Water Pumping Station. Under new policy guidelines, REO will no longer need to administer the test criteria before destruction of a heritage site. REO state they “are not seeking to justify demolition on the basis of Policy HE9.2(ii)” Conveniently, REO is not in violation of policy and in effect giving them the right to proceed without obstacle.

A summary of the criteria for demolition under Policy HE9.2(ii) of PPS5 are to prove they are unable to:

  1. find a “new use” for the building
  2. maintain existing building  use
  3. find a charity group interested in the building
  4. get a local group willing to take on the building
  5. market the building – someone could use it for alternative means

The community group Battersea Power Station Company has in fact offered to purchase the building for a nominal sum for a community centre, the building is described as “fairly robust and would be restorable if somebody wanted to.” However, under Policy HE9.2(i), REO claim they will not need to go through the test criteria listed. REO claim they can reject applications for the building arguing “the requirement to market the property is not engaged, since that only relates to Policy HE9.2(ii) and not to Policy HE9.2(i).”

Furthermore, under the new policy, REO “justifies the demolition of the water pumping station by reference to Policy HE9.2(i) of PPS5. Our position is that the demolition of the pumping station is justified by the delivery of the substantial public benefits inherent to the regeneration scheme [REO] are promoting, that outweigh the building’s loss, and that retention of the building would compromise the delivery of the comprehensive scheme.”

REO’s superfluous argument that the water pump station must be demolish or it will jeopardize the entire regeneration project for this area remains unfounded.

In fact, there are approximately 20 hectares of land for redevelopment.  It is perplexing that the developers are not willing to revise their plans for redevelopment to include the heritage site. Alex Baldwin of the Victorian society confirms that the demolition of the site would be a “considerable loss and unnecessary waste of a valuable historic building.” She goes on to say that the Battersea Water Pumping station is “integral to the redevelopment and regeneration of the area.  Demolition would degrade the area of the site and call into question the listing process as a whole.  The developers have not fulfilled the testing criteria for demolition, nor have they gone through re-qualifying their scheme for regeneration.”

Examples of successful redevelopment of historical sites can be found in Nottingham, Crossness in East London, Abbey Mills, and Dean Clough Mills in Halifax. The rejuvenated historical sites have revitalized the community and the same could be done for Battersea. Governments should include historic sites in the redevelopment schemes and not deem them mutually exclusive to the social and economical regeneration linked to a community.

By proceeding with the redevelopment proposed by REO, a precedent is set forth in how to undergo regeneration schemes in London. It is not good practice to use this as a blank slate for developers to demolish historical sites for the profit of a selected few. It is imperative to uphold government policy regarding the demolition of these irreplaceable iconic symbols. Once they are gone, we will never be able to get them back.

Quit putting a goddamn dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet – Bill Hicks

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Save Battersea Pumping Station from demolition

Battersea Pumping Station

Developers REO want to demolish Battersea Pumping Station

Last week’s blog entry on Battersea Pumping Station focused on the frailty of the argument behind demolishing the building by current developers REO / Treasury Holdings. The pump house is a listed building at Grade II and pre-dates the power station by several decades as it was built in 1850. It has suffered from the same neglect that has befallen the power station, and like the sleeping giant that dwarfs it, it has been proclaimed as unrestorable by the developers and therefore fair game to be knocked down to make way for gated communities and a retail hub.

Yet much is being ignored here. The new Planning Policy Statement 5 declares that the council must take into account not only the possibility of sustaining and restoring a building of historical significance, but also weigh up the loss of heritage that would disappear along with the building against the desirability of any new development and the effects of both actions on the local community.

Kew Bridge Engines Trust, 20th Century Society, Battersea Society, SAVE, Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society, and also The Victorian Society (whose have posted a formal written objection and recorded an interview with Spectacle on their attitude towards the developers’ plans), are amongst many significant organisations to have questioned the planning application. And with good reason.

The developers are playing the practical usage card, and are shrewdly associating the building’s dereliction with inaction and obsolescence. However, Spectacle followed a team of architects who declared the pumping station structurally sound, and therefore transformation must subjugate destruction according to PPS5, but in what capacity?

Papplewick Pumping Station, above, is an illustration of a successful restoration on multiple levels. Built a few decades later, the water pumps are back in full working order and as a museum the station is an important focus of historical and engineering study. English Heritage, who have for the past few years failed to back any substantial arguments for preservation, have conversely put money into the ongoing restoration of Cross Ness Pumping Station, which includes plans for use in an educational context, and will be finished in 2011.

For Battersea, the local industrial heritage could play a huge role in the redevelopment of the power station site. Other suggestions include an exhibition space for artists and musicians, as well as a provision for housing archive materials indispensable for environmental, archaelogical and architectural study.

Beyond the functional potential for the site, it would reverse years of association with apathy and inertia, and could instead by synonymous with ingenuity, innovation and regeneration, perhaps even ultimately rousing support for a more public discussion on plans for the site’s regeneration.

A decision on the current application will be made by Wandsworth Council in July. It is not too late to register your comment or objection to its demolition.

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Scant evidence for destruction of Battersea Pumping Station

The future of Battersea Pumping Station, located next to the Battersea Power Station, is in serious doubt. If the current planning application to redevelop Battersea Power Station and the surrounding land by REO / Treasury Holdings is accepted without alteration by Wandsworth Council in July, the Grade II listed building would be demolished under assertions by the developers that the scheme would not be economically viable with its continued existence.

However, evidence to support this claim is less than accurate. Neither in the private nor public domain have the developers or Wandsworth Council revealed the percentage split of affordable and luxury housing. Without knowing what percentage of the planned housing developments will be “luxury” or affordable apartments it is not possible for REO, let alone English Heritage, to know how much profit the developers will make, therefore arguments over the economic viability of the scheme are spurious. Assuming the developer calculated the minimum amount of “affordable” flats would be needed the issue is not the economic viability of the scheme but the size of REO/Treasury Holdings profit margin.

REO argue that the Pumping Station should be demolished for the “Community benefit” but what they mean is their profit. It is becoming depressingly common for developers to present their economic interests as a community benefit. In this case what is actually meant is that if the developer does not get its way and make a substantial profit then the scheme will not go ahead and the community will suffer decades more planning blight.

Despite formally submitting their application in November 2009 in which they declared that flattening the pumping station would be critical, in February the only definitive number of houses of the 3856 dwellings of the master plan given any ‘status’ whatsoever are the 245 build-to-let houses – classified as non-affordable. As recent as March this year, in a Q & A session with the Planning Director Jeremy Castle, the percentage of affordable housing against non-affordable had still yet to be decided.

English Heritage, an organisation whose official remit is to promote and protect Britain’s historical environment, have effectively given their blessing to REO by deferring any decision-making responsibility to the Local Planning Authority.

In a letter to the Local Planning Authority, Nick Collins stated that although the proposed plans “risk causing harm to the setting”, the decision ultimately rests on assessing whether or not the ‘substantial community benefit’ (community benefit in this case being  private gain) outweighs the loss of the building and whether or not the building could be bought up by another party and reused (you can see the new legislation PPS5 here).

Under this new legislation the council must establish no other organisations are interested in buying the building or that no alternative community use can be found. Battersea Power Station Community Group has registered its interest and is supported by  a number of  local and special interest groups.

The Victorian Society is one of a number of expert groups who are against demolishing  the Pumping Station, yet they have been ignored (see the interview with Alex Baldwin from The Victorian Society here).

Jeremy Castle plans to reveal the official percentage of affordable housing on June 15th – less than a month before Wandsworth Council make their final decision on the application. Aside from the absurdity of demanding a 150 year-old building be torn down because ‘it might be handy’, the relinquishing of accountability by organisations like English Heritage  demonstrates an alarming and depressing deference to private business when they are funded to enforce and support preservation.

The exhausting planning process and massive application documentation helps developers like REO / Treasury Holdings to wear down any resistance and bury the fact that they intend to destroy historically and culturally significant sites without open discussion. As English Heritage have in recent years funded the restoration of Cross Ness Pumping Station, their dereliction of duty and unfounded support for the vandalism of Battersea Pumping Station is curious.

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The Victorian Society Object to Power Station Plans

The Victorian Society are the latest organisation to speak out against REO / Treasury Holdings‘ current plans for the re-development of Battersea Power Station. The Conservation Advisor of the organisation, Alex Baldwin, spoke in depth to Spectacle about their rejection of the assertion that the older structures, particularly the old pumping station, need to be pulled down despite their Grade II* Listed status, and her ideas on how the site could be regenerated. You can watch the interview here at Spectacle’s Battersea archive.

Alex also contributed her thoughts to a Planning Resource webzine article about the mixed response to the situation. Her comments are the latest in a growing number of objections to the plans (about which you can also see a presentation by REO here), and evidence that there is likely to be considerable formal resistance to the application.

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Battersea Forum Q&A Available to Watch

On Wednesday 31s March the DRCA Community Centre hosted the presentation of REO / Treasury Holdings‘ planning application for Battersea Power Station.

As part of our ongoing Battersea Power Station project, we have edited together the charged question and answer session between the planning director, Jeremy Castle, and members of the local community which you can watch on our Battersea Power Station archive. Topics raised included affordable housing, schools, parking, fencing and the iconic chimneys.

The current plan, which you can read more about at our Battersea Power Station blog, includes the construction of 3,700 luxury flats, a riverside park, a hotel, and a new tube station surrounding the Grade II* listed Power Station which could itself become a retail centre. Wandsworth Council are set to make a decision in July.

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