Battersea Power Station: Out of the frying pan into the fire

The horror story continues…

Nightmare on Nine Elm Street

The abysmal Vinoly plans for Battersea Power Station that we had all hoped were finally dead and buried with the collapse of previous owners REO has come back to haunt all who care about the beautiful building and the quality of life for all those living in its shadow and the surrounding area.

Just when you thought it was safe Architect Viñoly has been hired as “creative brain” behind developer Mike Hussey’s plan for a new stadium for Chelsea football club. AAAHHHHHHGGGGG……

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REO collapses into administration

Real Estate Opportunities has been put into administration by a UK judge after its owners failed to repay debts of £501m owed to Lloyds Banking Group and Ireland’s National Management Asset Agency (NAMA).

Administrators Ernst & Young have taken control of the Grade II listed red-brick building and will now either sell the site or the debt to recover the amount owed. The creditors initially called in the loans on 29 November and REO was inviting offers for its controlling stake in the site soon after.

Lloyds told the Guardian: “From the outset we have been determined to secure a buyer who will kickstart the regeneration of Battersea Power Station and we have done everything possible to give the owners both the time and financial support to achieve this.”


“However, after several months of discussions and still no acceptable offers on the table, administration is the only means we have to ensure that a sales process is put back on track. Without a financially stable owner, the site’s future remains unclear and that’s a situation we want to avoid.”

Keith Garner of the Battersea Power Station Community Group, which opposed the Irish company’s plans, called for the power station to be returned to the public sector, with repairs to be funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The group said on its blog: “For the Battersea Power Station Community Group it is just another ‘new beginning’ as the fourth developer limps off stage to boos and jeers.”

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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

Click Battersea Power Station for more blogs
Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.
See our Battersea Power Station project pages for more information and videos.

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