Battersea Power Station – “London Only” sales claim is Bogus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALondon, in recent years, has seen a boom in foreign property investment. With various far Eastern economies generating a new class of super-rich, London’s property market bubble is seen as a safe cash haven for this elite. According to Savills, international premium property retailer, 50% of the capital’s prime central homeowners is now dominated by overseas investors, which is furiously contributing to property price inflation.

Naturally, with Battersea Power Station being such an historically renowned architectural and industrial, Grade II listed, British icon, many are wishing to get a slice of the 400ft riverside views. Malasyian developers, Sime Darby, aim to create 3,500 new homes in 15 years, and have already sold nearly all of the 866 luxury apartments of the initial Circus West (or Phase 1) project, generating $1 billion prior to even being built.

However, much contention surrounded the project when Sime Darby refused to release what percentage of their buyers were domestic or international. With property shows for the Battersea homes, which range from £365,000 per studio flat to £6million per penthouse, advertising in China, Russia and Malaysia it is now clear that around 55% of the homes, went to foreign money before even appearing in the pages of Property Week in Blighty.

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This flew in the face of London Mayor, Boris Johnson, who had previously pledged that all property developed within the Power Station would be offered to Londoners first. Slightly perversely, the lack of priortisation for local buyers has been marketed as an apparent strain on London’s unaffordable housing problems, despite some penthouse suites retailing for up to £30million. As a result, developers have recently made a big song and dance about the London Launch of the Phase 2 development. These properties are intended to be exclusively on offer to UK residents before they are made globally available. The Battersea Power Station website encourages visitors to “Register an Interest” and Rob Tincknell, CEO of Battersea Power Station Development Company (BPSDC), recently claimed that:

“There has been a lot of comment recently about London’s housing problems and we believe the only way to try and solve this is to build great homes and create a community that people actually want to live in”

However, this PR stunt has recently been unearthed with a simple phone call to Battersea Power Station Development Company sales team. Upon being deciphered as an authentic potential buyer, the mole was told categorically that while there is a strict London-only launch of the Phase 2 properties on 1st May 2014, overseas investors are more than welcome to purchase the prospective homes if they are in the country or through their UK based agents. Therefore demonstrating that the press have once again been romanced into believing that developments of one of the greatest icons in British industrial history will be more than a juicy, international investment for oligarchs and millionaires. They have let this charade by developers go unchallenged and have reported it verbatim, letting our beloved Battersea Power Station slip further and further into flipping international hands.

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Letter to Architects Journal on Battersea Power Station phase 3

Keith Garner‘s ( architect and member of the Battersea Power Station Community Group) non-edited letter to the Architects’ Journal.  A critical look at Foster and Gehry, the chosen designers for phase 3 of the Battersea Power Station:

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”Your report about the appointment of Foster and Gehry to the Battersea Power Station project hits the nail on the head.  (AJ web site 23rd October.)   New buildings on the Battersea Power Station site would certainly be highly visible “… from passing commuter trains”.  The one thing you won’t see of course will be Battersea Power Station itself,  which would be  obscured by thousands of new flats in blocks up to 18 storeys high, to be built as part of the Viñoly master plan.

This would be a very great shame given the evident pleasure that commuters and visitors to London derive from  seeing  Battersea Power Station from the train:  certainly  to judge by the number of people who take photographs as they go by and then post them on  Twitter and Instagram.

The truth is that the Viñoly master plan is fatally flawed.  This is because the quantum of development it foresees will destroy Battersea Power Station’s significance as an urban landmark.   It really doesn’t matter how distinguished the architects are who design individual buildings. No good will happen at Battersea until the master plan itself is ditched.

Indeed, rather than allowing new commercial buildings to proceed before Battersea Power Station  is repaired,  nothing should happen on the site until the future of the Grade II* listed building is itself secured.  In that regard, Foster & Gehry would be better employed working alongside Wilkinson Eyre on Battersea Power Station itself, rather than in designing new buildings adjacent.

Part of the reason why the current scheme for Battersea Power Station is so wildly off beam is that its underlying premise is to fund the repairs to the listed building from the proceeds of surrounding commercial development.  But if the resulting over-scaled buildings destroy the significance of Battersea Power Station as a urban landmark – as they surely will – then what’s the point?

It would be far better to transfer ownership of Battersea Power Station to a public interest trust and to repair the building with funds from the Lottery.   Rob Tincknell should agree to this: it relieves the consortium of the responsibility of looking after the listed building – something they are plainly not interested in – and lets them get on with the job of making a return for their investors.

The consortium would develop the surrounding site (in a manner that respects the monumentality of the listed building and preserves key views e.g. from the railway viaduct) and would have a lease from the trust for use of the unlisted parts of Battersea Power Station itself, i.e. most of it.   As a quid pro quo for the use of Lottery money, the public would have free access to the listed interiors which could be used for any number of educationally or culturally uplifting pursuits.

This seems like the basis of an equitable settlement to me. What is needed is an organisation to take it forward.  For too long, English Heritage has stood on the sidelines whilst the situation at Battersea Power Station has descended in to black farce.   As the government’s advisor on the historic environment, it should be their responsibility to rescue the building from the fate that currently awaits it and to pursue a civilised alternative based on trust ownership.

Incidentally, the AJ hasn’t – as far as I am aware – reported the news that the World Monuments Fund had just added Battersea Power Station to its list of world heritage in danger for 2014.  This is the second time Battersea Power Station has been added to the list – the first was in 2004 – and reflects the World Monuments Fund’s ongoing concerns about the situation at Battersea and the motivations of the current owners.”

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See Merlin Fulcher’s original article that provoked Keith’s comments.

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

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