Mainstream media on Battersea Power Station’s financial and social unsustainability

Battersea Power Station, since the end of 2014, has been standing wounded with only three chimneys left, and we have not yet seen any sign that the Battersea Power Station Development Company is starting the rebuilding work on the SW chimney.

View from Battersea Park Station, taken by Spectacle on 23/02/2015

Battersea Power Station from Battersea Park Station. Image taken by Spectacle on 23/02/2015

Meanwhile, some of our worries about the social impact and the financial viability of the whole project have been shared by a number of different analysts.

For instance, our concerns about the financial viability of Big Bang Development grow stronger as main-stream financial newspapers, such as Bloomberg, have highlighted that after the positive performances of recent years, London’s house prices have now started going down.  Bloomberg states, in a recent article, that “prices in emerging prime London fell 2 percent in the final quarter of 2014, according to Douglas & Gordon” and that “the area, which includes the Nine Elms neighborhood, was the worst performer in “emerging prime” London last year, broker Douglas & Gordon Ltd. said”. “Overseas demand for prime London homes is cooling, and some upscale projects being marketed “have gone over to Asia and probably haven’t done as well as they would have” in early 2014” quoting Jack Simmons, head of U.K. residential development and investment at broker Cushman & Wakefield Inc.

This alarming report, suggesting that the degrading value of houses might scare investors and threaten the financial plan of big projects such as the one by Battersea Power Station Development Company, was corroborated in an article by The Telegraph. The Telegraph reports that properties in the Nine Elms area are already flipped, thrown on the market to make some gains, before even a single brick of the flats has been put in place. This circumstance seem to confirm our impressions, sharing with The Telegraph’s journalist the “concern that homes built in the early phase of the huge project, were mainly reserved by investors – who have waited for the market to pick up before “flipping” them – and overseas buyers”. Instead of sounding an alarm in the heads of Battersea Power Station Development Company, the same article tells us that a spokeswoman for the company said: “We launched phase one at Battersea Power Station over two years ago and we are pleased to see that the early pioneer purchasers, who helped to get this project off the ground have experienced good levels of growth”.

If fluctuations of the property market could turn investors away, the new strength of British Sterling on the foreign exchange market could cause even more troubles to South Asian Buyers. The Star, one of the most popular Malaysian news sites, published a page explaining how to deal with loans in foreign currencies to prevent investments, such as a flat in Battersea Power Station, turning disastrous by weaker local currencies.

Rahim & Co consultant, marketing (London properties), Guy Major says “It is ‘dangerous’ to have a mismatch between your ability to pay based in ringgit and a pound-denominated loan,” he says.

If our concerns about the finances of the project are aimed at putting question marks over the narrative used by big bang developers to sell their projects, other media apparently started sharing our worries about the social impact of this monster development. The Guardian came out recently with a long and quite critical article about Battersea Power Station, “the biggest building site in London, and one of the largest regeneration projects in Europe”. Significantly titling the article “Battersea is part of a huge building project – but not for Londoners”, the Guardian highlights the tendency of new developments in London to get higher – “Hong Kongification” as Tony Travers, director of the Greater London group at the London School of Economics, puts it.

The Guardian quotes Ravi Govindia, the Conservative leader of Wandsworth council  “Yes, some of the buildings will be tall, but there will be a distinctly London flavour. It’s going to be a place that people [will] enjoy living in.” Govindia says, adding that the project “will bring 25,000 permanent jobs plus 20,000 construction and engineering jobs during the building phase”), the article warns that building luxury flats for wealthy foreign buyers is exacerbating the housing problem for thousands of Londoners in need of homes.

On the other hand, Will Martindale, Labour MP candidate for Battersea, in a blog posted on The Huffington Post, shared his concerns (and some of his neighbor’s) about the way Battersea is changing: property prizes going well beyond local people’s budgets, riverfront views are blocked by multi-story buildings and very few new flats will eventually house locals while oversea investors and developers will make a fortune. As Will Martindale says “This is our riverfront. It’s part of our shared heritage, not simply a strip of real estate. We would do well to remember Battersea Council’s old motto: Not for you, not for me, but for us.”

At the moment, our impression is that it’s becoming ever more theirs…

 

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Battersea Power Station: ghost flats worth £1.8bn!

Versione in Italiano

We learned from the pages of London Evening Standard that “More than £1.8 billion worth of homes have been sold at Battersea Power Station since they went on the market in January last year”. None on these flats have been built yet.

Apparently most of this £1.8 billion came from the fortunate global launch that Battersea Power Station Development Company organized last month.  As we already suspected, the search for overseas investors has not been affected by fear of the chinese property bubble bursting – the due date of which is still under discussion among financial analysts.  The threat of a Mansion Tax did not slow the rush of foreigners to use their deep pockets in order to get their piece of Battersea Power Station. Even if the London property market, as shown in Estate Agents Knight Frank’s report (see below), has appeared to slow down in the last few months, off-plan sales seem to work pretty well.Taking Battersea Power Station as reference for this trend, The Newstatesman  recently reported that:

“Off-plan profits hit the headlines last week with reports that a studio flat in Battersea power station, sold for close to £1m in the spring, is now due to go back on the market for up to £1.5m before it has even been built.”

Before anything has even been built, and while our concerns about the “Big Bang” business model of monstrous development projects are all to be proven erroneous, Battersea Power Station Development Company has actually done what all Battersea Power Station’s previous developers have already proven to be masters at: demolition!

Battersea Power Station: photograph taken by Spectacle on 08/12/2014

The first chimney of Battersea Power Station is gone. In the next weeks we will probably see it to come slowly back to a new life while the other three will start coming down all at once. We hope that the £1.8 billion will give Battersea Power Station Development Company enough energy to prove that, other than demolitions, they are good at building too.

 

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Battersea Power Station: appartamenti fantasma già venduti per £1.8 miliardi!

English version

Abbiamo appreso dalle pagine del London Evening Standard che “More than £1.8 billion worth of homes have been sold at Battersea Power Station since they went on the market in January last year”. Nessuno di questi appartamenti è stato ancora costruito.

A quanto pare la maggior parte di questi £1.8 miliardi proviene dalle vendite avvenute durante il fortunato lancio globale che la Battersea Power Station Development Company ha organizzato il mese scorso. Come sospettavamo, la ricerca di investitori stanieri non è stata resa difficoltosa dalle paure riguardanti l’esplosione della bolla immobiliare cinese – gli analisti finanziari stanno ancora discutendo su quando ciò avverrà. La minaccia di una Mansion Tax (tassa su immobili di lusso) non ha rallentato la corsa degli investitori stranieri per accaparrarsi il proprio costoso pezzo di Battersea Power Station. Nonostante il mercato immobiliare londinese, come mostrato dal report dell’agenzia immobiliare Knight Frank (vedi sotto), ha mostrato rallentamenti nel corso degli ultimi mesi, le vendite su progetto sembrano funzionare molto bene.Prendendo la Battersea Power Station come esempio di questa tendenza, recentemente The Newstatesman ha scritto:

“Off-plan profits hit the headlines last week with reports that a studio flat in Battersea power station, sold for close to £1m in the spring, is now due to go back on the market for up to £1.5m before it has even been built.”

Prima che sia stato costruito alcunché, e mentre le nostre preoccupazioni riguardanti il “Big Bang” dei modelli finanziari usati dai grandi progetti di sviluppo immobiliare aspettano di essere falsificate dai fatti,  Battersea Power Station Development Company ha già realizzato l’unica cosa che  tutti i precedenti costruttori impegnati nel progetto hanno mostrato di fare con maestria: demolire!

Battersea Power Station: fotografia scattata da  Spectacle il giorno 08/12/2014

Battersea Power Station: fotografia scattata da Spectacle il giorno 08/12/2014

La prima ciminiera della Battersea Power Station è andata. Nelle prossime settimane assisteremo con ogni probabilità al suo lento ritorno a nuova vita, mentre le altre tre ciminiere verranno smantellate contemporaneamente. Speriamo che i £1.8 miliardi daranno alla Battersea Power Station Development Company energia sufficiente per provare che, oltre a demolire, sono capaci anche a costruire.

 

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Selling Battersea Power Station over stormy seas

Versione in Italiano

 

Why has the demolition of the south west chimney at Battersea Power Station apparently come to a stop?

The chimneys as they appeared on September 27th

The chimneys as they appeared on September 27th

Chimneys on October 21th

Chimneys on October 21st

Maybe the project has hit a technical snag- the chimneys are far more robust than the Battersea Power Station Development Company have wanted to admit – but it could also be that it is a barometer of the global economy and an indication of how vulnerable their business model really is. The business model of the current owners, like the previous ones, is a precarious one based on an ever increasing UK property market.

However the current economic climate is not looking good. The property market, according to most informed opinion, has plateaued and, in London, is in danger of going down.

Simon Rubinsohn, Chief Economist at Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, in an article about the UK’s Property Market says:

“As a result of the rebalancing in demand and supply, house price growth across the UK appears to be moderating […] prices are still projected to rise nationally over the next year and expected to increase by 2.6% on a 12 month view (compared with around 4% at the start of the year)”
The pound is getting stronger against currencies like the Euro (Milan and Paris are targeted cities for the Battersea Power Station Development Company), making London a less attractive investment and interest rates are going up.

(www.xe.com)

(www.xe.com)

The Labour Party, if they win the election in May 2015, which if due only to the metronomic pendulum swing of UK politics between the two major parties, is a distinct possibility, are promising a “Mansion tax” on all properties worth more than £2m (here is the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ opinion about the Mansion Tax).

Then there is the UK housing crisis, caused in large part by the selling of London property to foreign investors who have no intention of living in the properties they buy. Whoever wins the next election they need to address this and no solution will leave the property market untouched.

The Financial Times seems to support our worries in a recent article:

“Uncertainty around new property taxes, the strength of the pound on global currency markets and the introduction last year of a tax on homes held through companies have all contributed to the slowdown, according to those involved in trading properties.”

The same article gives us a quite impressive picture of the property market situation.

Some data about English Property Market, as published by Financial Times on

Some data about English Property Market, as published by the Financial Times.

Perhaps the emphasis on selling off-plan to overseas investors is because while there are plenty of rich in the UK  they might be a harder sell being better informed. Overseas investors, basing their judgement on futuristic artists impressions are unlikely to be aware of the smelly and disruptive waste processing plant with its hundreds of daily truck deliveries of reeking rubbish.

Our two faced Mayor of London Boris Johnson, ever the populist, plays it both ways, touring China promoting the London property market as an investment and for a local audience blaming that very market on the chronic housing shortage.

Boris Johnson at the launch of London City Island in Ballymore group sales event in Hong Kong, 18/10/2013) (from http://www.ballymoregroup.com/en-GB/news/41)

Boris Johnson at the launch of London City Island in Ballymore group sales event in Hong Kong, 18/10/2013) (from www.ballymoregroup.com)

It might be coincidence but in the week the Chimney demolition halted it was reported that the Chinese property bubble would burst soon, probably 2015, with catastrophic ripple effect on the global economy and international banking- possibly triggering a global crash.

As Bloomberg reported recently:

“The Chinese crash might make 2008 look like a garden party. As the risks of one increase, it’s worth exploring how it might look. After all, China is now the world’s biggest trading nation, the second-biggest economy and holder of some $4 trillion of foreign-currency reserves. If China does experience a true credit crisis, it would be felt around the world.
[…]
The potential for things careening out of control in China are real. What worries bears such as Patrick Chovanec of Silvercrest Asset Management in New York, is China’s unaltered obsession with building the equivalent of new “Manhattans” almost overnight even as the nation’s financial system shows signs of buckling. As policy makers in Beijing generate even more credit to keep bubbles from bursting, the shadow banking system continues to grow.”

This week the Battersea Power Station Development Company launched their overseas selling campaign of luxury apartments. Three of the cities targeted are Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong- all especially vulnerable to the vagaries of the Chinese economy.

The new owners are no different to all the previous owners – they are just better at PR and have better access to overseas markets. As before, despite the excellent PR hype suggesting that “at last work has started”, bolstered shamelessly by a “purse whipped” English Heritage, the only thing the current owners have actually done is demolish – they are taking down the chimneys, demolishing the precious, Grade II listed Victorian pumping station and removing the iconic listed cranes.

In other words the new owners are just flipping the Battersea Power Station. Selling today artists impressions of what MIGHT be built in the future.

We wonder what guarantees prospective buyers have that the off-plan flats they are buying will actually materialise. But then, having more money than sense, they probably do not care.

 

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Battersea Power Station in vendita per mari perigliosi

English Version

 

Come mai i lavori di demolizione della ciminiera sudovest di Battersea Power Station sembrano essersi fermati?

The chimneys as they appeared on September 27th

Come apparivano le ciminiere di Battersea Power Station il 27 settembre scorso

Chimneys on October 21th

Le ciminiere di Battersea Power Station il 21 ottobre

Il progetto si è forse incagliato su qualche scoglio tecnico – le ciminiere sono molto più resistenti di quanto la Battersea Power Station Development Company sia disposta ad ammettere – o dipende dall’andamento dell’economia globale e si tratta, quindi, di un indicatore sulla vulnerabilità del piano finanziario del progetto? Il modello economico seguito dagli attuali proprietari, così come dai precedenti, è alquanto precario basandosi in gran parte sull’idea di un mercato immobiliare britannico in continua crescita.

Guarda caso le previsioni economiche attuali non guardano al bello. Il mercato immobiliare, secondo le opinioni degli esperti, è in stagnazione e, a Londra, corre il rischio di deflazione.

Simon Rubinsohn, Chief Economist del Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, in un articolo mercato immobiliare nel Regno Unito afferma:

“As a result of the rebalancing in demand and supply, house price growth across the UK appears to be moderating […] prices are still projected to rise nationally over the next year and expected to increase by 2.6% on a 12 month view (compared with around 4% at the start of the year)”

La sterlina sta diventando sempre più forte nei confronti dell’Euro (Milano e Parigi sono obbiettivi per il mercato della Battersea Power Station Development Company), rendendo Londra una città meno attrente in cui investire, con tassi di interesse in crescita.

(www.xe.com)

(www.xe.com)

Il partito laburista, in caso di successo alle elezioni generali di Maggio 2015 – possibilità dovuta al fatto che l’alternaza tra i due maggiori partiti della politica britannica è inevitabile come il movimento di un metronomo – ha promesso la cosiddetta “Mansion Tax”, una tassazione aggiuntiva su tutti gli immobili di valore superiore a 2 milioni di sterline (qui è possibile leggere l’opinione del Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors sulla Mansion Tax).

Poi c’è la crisi abitativa, causata in gran parte dalla vendita di immobili londinesi a investitori stranieri, i quali non hanno nessuna intenzione di vivere nelle case che comprano. Chiunque vinca le prossime elezioni dovrà mettere mano a questo problema, e qualuque possibile soluzione avrà inevitabili ricadute sul mercato immobiliare.

The Financial Times, in un recente articolo, sembra supportare le nostre preoccupazioni:

“Uncertainty around new property taxes, the strength of the pound on global currency markets and the introduction last year of a tax on homes held through companies have all contributed to the slowdown, according to those involved in trading properties.”

Lo stesso articolo è corredato da una fotografia impressionante della situazione che sta attraversando il mercato immobiliare.

Some data about English Property Market, as published by Financial Times on

Dati riguardanti il mercato immobiliare britannico, pubblicati su The Financial Times.

Può darsi che l’enfasi riposta sui piani di vendita a investitori stranieri, quando c’è abbondanza di ricchi anche nel Regno Unito, sia dovuta al fatto che gli investitori locali siano più difficili da convincere visto che sono meglio informati. Gli investitori stranieri, che fondano i loro giudizi su impressioni artistiche e futuristiche, sono probabilmente inconsapevoli dell’olezzo disgustoso proveniente dall’impianto di smaltimento dei rifiuti presente nell’area, con le centinaia di camion che quotidianamente vi riversano fatiscenti carichi d’immondizia.

L’eclettico Sindaco di Londra Boris Johnson, anche nella sua versione più populista, fa il doppio gioco: va in tour in Cina per promuovere investimenti nel mercato immobiliare londinese, mentre al pubblico londinese indica proprio questo modello di mercato come causa della cronica mancanza di abitazioni.

Boris Johnson at the launch of London City Island in Ballymore group sales event in Hong Kong, 18/10/2013) (from http://www.ballymoregroup.com/en-GB/news/41)

Boris Johnson interviene al lancio delle vendite del London City Island, in un evento organizzato dall’impresa Ballymore il 18 ottobre ad Hong Kong. (Fonte: www.ballymoregroup.com)

Può darsi che si tratti di una coincidenza, ma nella stessa settimana in cui la demolizione della ciminiera si è fermata sono stati pubblicati resoconti che indicano come la bolla immobiliare cinese stia per esplodere presto, forse già nel 2015, con catastrofiche ricadute sull’economia globale e sulla finanza internazionale – con la possibilità di innescare una crisi globale.

Come riportato recentemente da Bloomberg:

“The Chinese crash might make 2008 look like a garden party. As the risks of one increase, it’s worth exploring how it might look. After all, China is now the world’s biggest trading nation, the second-biggest economy and holder of some $4 trillion of foreign-currency reserves. If China does experience a true credit crisis, it would be felt around the world.
[…]
The potential for things careening out of control in China are real. What worries bears such as Patrick Chovanec of Silvercrest Asset Management in New York, is China’s unaltered obsession with building the equivalent of new “Manhattans” almost overnight even as the nation’s financial system shows signs of buckling. As policy makers in Beijing generate even more credit to keep bubbles from bursting, the shadow banking system continues to grow.”

Questa settimana la Battersea Power Station Development Company ha portato i suoi appartamenti di lusso in una campagna di vendite in giro per il mondo. Tre città raggiunte dalla campagna sono Pechino, Shangai e Hong Kong, tutte particolarmente esposte agli alti e bassi dell’economia cinese.

I nuovi proprietari non sono molto diversi da quelli precedentivi – sono solo più bravi in PR e hanno un migliore accesso ai mercati internazionali. Come in passato, nonostante gli eccellente battage pubblicitario sostenga che “finalmente i lavori sono iniziati”, sotenuto senza pudore dall’English Heritage, l’unica cosa che i nuovi proprietari hanno fatto in realtà è stato demolire – stanno abbattendo le ciminiere, demolendo la deliziosa e protetta Victorian pumping station e rimuovendo le iconiche (e protette) gru.

In altre parole i nuovi proprietari stanno facendo il loro gioco con la Battersea Power Station. Vendono oggi immagini fantastiche di ciò che POTREBBE essere costruito in futuro.

Ci chiediamo che tipo di garanzie vengano fornite agli eventuali acquirenti stranieri circa il fatto che gli apparatamenti che stanno comprando sulla carta vengano effettivamente realizzati. Alla fine, avendo costoro più soldi che giudizio, forse gli non importa più di tanto.

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Battersea Power Station: da icona rock a speculazione

In questi giorni Battersea Power Station andrà in giro per il mondo a vendersi. Un tour pubblicitario globale per lanciare, probabilmente, il più grande progetto di sviluppo immobiliare del momento a Londra e, certamente, tra i più controversi. La pubblicità è iniziata con un articolo di Enrico Francechini su Repubblica, che presenta il megaprogetto per i suoi aspetti avveniristici. Tuttavia non coglie gli aspetti critici della speculazione edilizia, il contesto di housing crisis e il rischio di cancellare l’icona del passato industriale Londinese (in bello stile art deco) lungamente denunciato dal Battersea Power Station Community Group. Un recente articolo del Financial Times, dando spazio al World Monument Fund e alle sue preoccupazioni, ci sembra che tenti di contestualizzare il lavoro dell’impresa immobiliare (Battersea Power Station Development Company).

Il brand usato dalla Battersea Power Station Developing Company

Il brand usato dalla Battersea Power Station Development Company

Probabilmente per un italiano medio Battersea Power Station non significa granché, ma se aggiungi la copertina di Animals dei Pink Floyd allora dalla memoria qualcosa affiora.

Copertina del celebre album  Animals dei Pink Floyd

Copertina del celebre album
Animals dei Pink Floyd

Per i londinesi Battersea Power Station rappresenta molto di più: un’icona del passato industriale e un punto interrogativo sul futuro dello sviluppo immobiliare della capitale britannica. Costruita a partire dagli anni ’30, questa cattedrale industriale fino all’inizio degli anni ’80 ha fornito elettricità alla metropoli, calore nelle sue case e ha dato un decisivo contributo alle affascinanti e nebbiose atmosfere stile “fumo di londra”.

Contributo della Battersea Power Station all'inquinamento di Londra e alle sue atmosfere fumose (getty images)

Contributo della Battersea Power Station all’inquinamento di Londra e alle sue atmosfere fumose (getty images)

Battersea Power Station fa parte dell’immaginario di milioni di frequentatori della capitale, stagliandosi nei finestrini dei pendolari che ogni giorno transitano dalle stazioni ferroviarie di Vauxall, Clapham e Victoria Station.  La bellezza dell’edificio e delle enormi ciminiere bianche, il condensato di storia industriale che incarnano hanno fatto sì che la Battersea Power Station entrasse già nel 1980 nella lista degli edifici storici.  A partire dal 2004 il prestigioso World Monument Fund ha incluso Battersea Power Station e le sue ciminiere nella lunga lista di edifici patrimonio dell’umanità che necessitano di essere protetti per i posteri. Ma da cosa bisogna proteggere Battersea Power Station?

Chiusi i battenti, l’enorme area industriale attorno alla centrale elettrica e lo stesso edificio sono a lungo rimasti abbandonati a se stessi, passando di mano in mano tra diversi investitori che hanno tentato di proporre i più disparati progetti di sviluppo, mai andati oltre annunci o parziali demolizioni dell’esistente (come il tetto, per esempio, da parte di precedenti proprietari)

STORIA DELLA BATTERSEA POWER STATION

Primi Piani: 1980-90

Nuovi Piani: 1993

GIORNI NOSTRI

Ma questa volta la Battersea Power Station Development Company, braccio operativo di una cordata di società e istituti finanziari della Malesia, sembra fare sul serio: archistars (Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, Rafael Vinoly), budget faraonico (8 miliardi di sterline, circa 10 miliardi di euro) e la benedizione di sindaco e primi ministri dovrebbero permettere di creare, la’ dove ora c’e’ una cadente centrale elettrica, il centro di una nuova città nella città.

Da sinistra: il sindaco di Londra (Boris Johnson) il primo ministro inglese (David Cameron) e il primo ministro della Malesia Datuk Seri Najib Razak alla cerimonia d'inizio lavori alla Battersea Power Station (4 luglio 2013). Source: Daily Telegraph

Da sinistra: il sindaco di Londra (Boris Johnson) il primo ministro inglese (David Cameron) e il primo ministro della Malesia (Datuk Seri Najib Razak) alla cerimonia d’inizio lavori alla Battersea Power Station (4 luglio 2013). Source: Daily Telegraph

In questi giorni la Battersea Power Station Development Company porta in un tour globale i suoi progetti, in cerca di investitori stranieri pronti ad acquistare un posto nel nuovo nel centro che hanno intenzine di costruire. Anche gli Italiani avranno modo di esserne parte: la campagna pubblicitaria passerà da Milano dal 5 al 9 novembre. Per chi si fosse perso la notizia, il lancio del tour, almeno per il pubblico italiano, è avvenuto grazie a un lungo articolo di Repubblica che porta la prestigiosa firma di Enrico Franceschini, suo inviato a Londra.

Invitato dalla Battersea Power Station Development Company a “dare un’occhiata da vicino e a fare due chiacchiere”, l’inviato restituisce un entusiastico affresco delle infinite capacità di una città capace di guardare al futuro per reinventarsi attraverso progetti da sogno. Tra le righe Franceschini sembra quasi suggerire di prendere esempio e evidenziare ciò che manca a noi poveri italiani, impelagati nel presente e appesantiti da un passato di cui non sappiamo bene cosa fare. Chi si prenderebbe la briga di reinventare quartieri interi, investire miliardi per il futuro di Roma o Milano?
A Londra invece si può e la Battersea Power Station Development Company pensa a tutto: giardini d’inverno sul tetto della centrale, negozi e spazi espositivi, oltre che spazi abitativi per 100.000 persone e una deviazione della metro fino nel cuore del nuovo e straordinario “villaggio”.

Allora benvenuto sviluppo e capacita’ di fare: benvenuta “Città Futura!”

Veduta aerea del progetto come dovrà essere a conclusione lavori. In mezzo ai grattacieli si intravede la centrale elettrica.

Veduta aerea del progetto come dovrà essere a conclusione lavori. In mezzo ai grattacieli si intravede la centrale elettrica.

Peccato che dal simpatico affresco del nostro caro Franceschini manchino un po’ di fatti e alcuni altri vengono presentati in maniera tanto semplicistica da apparirci sbagliati, o perlomeno fuorvianti. Per chi non abbia ancora avuto la possibilità di saperne di più, ecco i principali.

Londra è probabilmente al picco del suo mercato immobiliare e, contemporaneamente, della sua capacità di attrarre migranti d’ogni sorta dal resto del mondo. Con il venir meno di piani e finanziamenti per abitazioni sociali e un mercato pompato da enormi liquidità provenienti dai gruppi finanziari e magnati di mezzo mondo, la gente “normale” si trova coinvolta in una paurosa crisi abitativa. Il fenomeno va avanti da almeno trent’anni ma gli effetti, in un contesto di crisi, austerità e con un mercato degli affitti alle stelle, sono devastanti e raggiungono fasce sempre più ampie della popolazione. Mentre si investono miliardi in edifici avveniristici, a Londra non ci sono nuovi appartamenti, non dico per i poveracci immigrati da mezzo mondo, ma nemmeno per la middle class locale.

Il Financial Times, invitato a scrivere sul progetto più o meno come Repubblica, riporta l’opinione di Peter Rees, un famoso urbanista, esperto di pianificazione e docente al prestigioso University College London.

“Peter Rees  […] has described the proliferation of new, largely residential, towers along the south bank between Battersea and London Bridge as “a disaster” that is “ruining London”.”

Questo parere tombale introduce un rapido excursus dei problemi relazionati al mercato immobiliare londinese e ai megaprogetti di sviluppo, come quello di Battersea. Non che il Financial Times sia la bibbia, o che le preoccupazioni del pubblico britannico siano le stesse di quello italiano, ma forse contestualizzare un po’ questo progetto sarebbe stato interessante anche per i lettori di Repubblica. Soprattutto coloro che si apprestano a valutare da vicino, come suggerito dall’articolo, la possibilità di acquistare un appartamento nel complesso della Battersea Power Station.

Per Franceschini a Battersea “…se c’è un difetto è quello che la Città Futura sulla riva sud del Tamigi sembra un set cinematografico […] Ma lo stesso si può dire di Canary Wharf, la nuova City degli affari più a est sempre affacciata al fiume, o dell’Olympic Park, il quartiere dell’East Side rigenerato dalle Olimpiadi del 2012. Con un po’ d’immaginazione si può intravedere come sarà la Londra del 2020 o del 2030, un po’ New York, un po’ Las Vegas, un po’ Old London, un po’ Luna Park.”

Secondo noi di difetti (e rischi) ce ne sono, e sono ben altri.

Ciò che ha reso Battersea Power Station l’icona gotico industriale che attualmente rappresenta sono le ciminiere bianche. In passato Spectacle ha supportato e documentato su questo blog le campagne in difesa della centrale e, in particolare, delle sue ciminiere. La proprietà sostiene che le ciminiere siano un pericolo, in quanto danneggiate dal tempo e rese pericolanti dalla mancanza di manutenzione degli ultimi 30 anni almeno. A tale scopo Battersea Power Station Development Company ha in mente di demolirle per sostituirle con copie nuove di zecca che ne garantiscano la solidità per gli anni a venire.
Franceschini affronta l’argomento con un simpatico, quanto sibillino, inciso che potrebbe apparire di poco conto:

“Non c’è pericolo che i comignoli bianchi cadano in testa ai nuovi inquilini: quelli verranno abbattuti delicatamente e rifatti uguali ai vecchi ma nuovi, per ragioni di sicurezza, mentre il resto dell’antica struttura, ben rinforzato, rimarrà dov’è.”

In realtà questa è precisamente la posizione dell’impresa, il cui CEO è arrivato a paventare rischi imminenti di crolli, anche in caso di folate di vento più forti del solito.
Diversi elementi fanno dubitare sul fatto che le ciminiere rappresentino un pericolo concreto. Se le nostre inchieste e le interviste realizzate con i membri del Battersea Power Station Community Group, promotori delle campagne di difesa della centrale da speculazioni e distruzioni, possono sembrare parziali, torniamo al Financial Times e a come affronta lo stesso argomento.
La scelta, in questo caso, è stata quella di affidare al World Monument Fund uno spazio in calce all’articolo per presentare la propria posizione nei confronti del progetto. Dalle righe a firma Jonathan Foyle, chief executive del World Monuments Fund Britain, si scopre che questa pericolosità è contestata da tre autorevoli studi:

“In 2005, three engineers concluded the existing chimneys could be repaired in-situ. Instead, they are to be razed and rebuilt as smoke stacks that never smoked, reducing long-term maintenance.”

Fatto sta che le ciminiere stanno venendo giù, e anche rapidamente, in barba a tutti i tentativi operati dagli attivisti del Battersea Power Station Community Group di far valutare a impresa e municipio piani alternativi di restauro. Inoltre le garanzie predisposte affinché l’impresa effettivamente proceda alla ricostruzione delle ciminiere sembrano essere state aggirate. Se in un primo momento il municipio aveva imposto alla compagnia di procedere alla demolizione e immediata ricostruzione di una ciminiera per volta, nuovi accordi hanno stabilito che dopo aver abbattuto e cominciato a ricostruire la prima ciminiera, le altre tre potranno essere smantellate tutte insieme.

Inoltre è stato chiesto all’impresa di depositare in un conto vincolato fondi sufficienti a garantire la ricostruzione, anche in caso di fallimento improvviso o vendita a terzi del progetto (le dinamiche del passato fanno credere che non siano ipotesi tanto remote…). Il fondo depositato è di 11 milioni di sterline (14 milioni in euro, un po’ pochino a detta di un ingegnere della stessa Battersea Power Station Development Company) e il deposito è stato effettuato in una banca malese. Secondo gli attivisti in caso di effettivo fallimento della Battersea Power Station Development Company, sarebbe quasi impossibile riscuotere i soldi di garanzia.

Battersea Power Station è solo uno dei centinaia di progetti di development finanziati da gruppi immobiliari a capitale britannico o internazionale, tutti extralusso. Questi progetti spesso creano bellissimi e avveniristici quartieri, ma spettrali: i primi acquirenti sono, normalmente, gruppi immobiliari e affaristi di mezzo mondo che comprano e vendono appartamenti come titoli azionari. Questi proprietari, che Battersea Power Station Development Company apparentemente sta cercando di raggiungere nel suo tour globale, sono normalmente in cerca di curve di mercato che garantiscano utili, più che di esperienze urbanistiche e vedute mozzafiato. Lo scarso interesse verso la reale esperienza abitativa degli investitori rende più che sospettosi circa l’attenzione che la Battersea Power Station Development Company riporrà nella salvaguardia architettonica del sito.

 

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Spectacle interviews Tideway Village co-founder David Waterhouse

tideway

Tideway Village: now in a construction site

`We recently interviewed David Waterhouse, resident and co-founder of Tideway Village. Tideway is a small community of houseboats (which includes the award-winning Battersea Barge venue) moored in and around a disused colliers dock that once served Battersea Power Station. David established Tideway in 2001 with Rainer Cole, who applied for a mooring in the previously empty dock at the same time by sheer coincidence.

David’s boats and two others are moored at the end of Nine Elms Lane, which runs through an industrial area that is now being turned into real estate by the Berkeley Group as part of the vast Nine Elms development. Since 2008, when it first came to light that the area would become a residential development, Tideway Village has been under threat.

Although the Tideway boats all have 15 year mooring rights – renewable with the Port of London Authority (PLA) –  they need permission to access the boats too, from whoever owns the land which borders the dock. Tideway is ostensibly bordered by the Thames Path – public land, controlled by the council – however a three foot wall between the path and the river is owned by the Berkeley Group.

Initially, the developers tried to deny residents access to their homes, in order to remove the boats. They intended to put a floating garden in their place, which David said would have killed all the aquatic life underneath. Tideway residents were not consulted or even notified about this. When they found out they launched a campaign to save their homes, including holding an open day and protesting outside a Wandsworth Council and Berkeley Group meeting. An e-petition gained 2000 signatures, including many people who had performed at or attended the Battersea Barge venue. If this hadn’t worked, David would have tried to invoke residents’ right to use the historic slipway at Nine Elms Pier which the boats are currently moored beside – this  has never been officially closed up.

Thankfully it never got to this, by campaigning and by challenging the common misconception of houseboat communities as people who just turn up (Tideway residents pay council tax and have a license to be there), David was able to persuade the Berkeley group that the community is serious and responsible and negotiate continued access to the boats. As a result, he believes they will be able to stay – he said he is currently tentatively optimistic about the future.

Having convinced the Berkeley Group that his community can fit into their vision of the waterfront, David now has a ‘relationship of a sort’ and a ‘good understanding’ with the developers, but before establishing this he suffered a lot of stress. Tragically, Rainer committed suicide in 2012, David believes the uncertainty of their situation was a factor in this.

David also acknowledges that the character of Tideway Village will change dramatically now. At first it was ‘very much a backwater’, an extraordinary, forgotten area, given how central it is. Having the space to themselves allowed the Tideway community to throw parties and hold open days, which won’t be possible anymore with blocks of flats overhanging the boats. In addition to this, David currently lives with near constant construction noise and access to the boats is restricted by the building work, which has closed part of the Thames Path .

Although David is happy that Tideway has a future, he lamented the fact that the Port of London Authority has never positively incorporated houseboat owners and moorings into the way it coordinates the river. He explained that it is extremely difficult to get moorings in London and believes that other places in Europe have all done more with their waterfronts in this respect. For this reason, he described the PLA as having “presided over the death of the Thames”. It has become a feature of the river, he said, that boats are frequently removed.

However David believes houseboats can be successfully incorporated into communities and is excited that Tideway now has the opportunity to prove this. David thinks Tideway could become to the Thames what Little Venice is to Regents Canal – it is a very special space, he explained, central London’s last functioning tidal dock in a landscape that was once full of tidal docks.

Tideway Village will be a stop, and David a speaker, on a walking tour organised by the Battersea Power Station Community Group and sponsored by the World Monument Fund on the 27th September.

David has also agreed to participate in one of our 4 day training courses, so Tideway Village may serve as a ‘real life project’ for future Spectacle trainees.

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Health and safety gone mad?… Events held at Battersea Power Station despite ‘big chunks falling off’ chimneys

The first of Battersea Power Station’s emblematic cream chimneys is likely to be demolished this month by its current owners, the Battersea Power Station Development Company (BPSDC), which is part of the Sime Darby consortium. The company claims its intention is to replace the chimneys – which it says are beyond repair (despite evidence to the contrary) – with identical replicas. However both John Broome’s precedent and discrepancies between the company’s reasoning and its actions suggest this might never happen, as, of course, does the commercial potential of the site, without the power station sitting awkwardly in the centre of it.

Footage shows Robert Tincknell, Chief Executive Officer of Battersea Power Station Development Company, insisting that the chimneys have “structurally failed” and that “big chunks are falling off”. However the company continues to lease the site for public events, including Everyman Cinema film screenings and ‘Street Feasts’, held in the shadow of the chimneys Tincknell says are disintegrating. Event-goers have not been told to wear hard hats or other protective gear, but perhaps this is because these things would be useless in the event that an entire chimney is brought down by high wind, as Richard Barrett, an Irish property investor who co-owned Battersea Power Station before it was bought by the Sime Darby consortium, has previously suggested may happen at any time.

The Sime Darby consortium – which has been accused of exploiting the local community at their oil palm plantation in Liberia – have so far put up only £11 million of bond money to guarantee the replacement of the chimneys, a woefully small sum, and one suggested by their own employee, Philip Gullet, Chief Operating Officer at Battersea Power Station Development Company. In addition to this the bond money has been deposited into an account with Malaysian bank CIMB, making it more difficult for Wandsworth Council and English Heritage to access it in the event that Battersea Power Station Development Company default. According to campaigners, it is imperative to its retrieval that the bond money is moved to a British bank account.

In response to these criticisms, Battersea Power Station Development Company have agreed to a meagre compromise; they will demolish one chimney to begin with and must partially rebuild this before they can demolish the other three. This is still flouting the Council’s original rules, which said that the chimneys must be demolished one at a time.
Campaigners believe that partially rebuilding one tower is not enough to guarantee the completion of four new chimneys. They suggest that Battersea Power Station Development Company are clearing the site little by little and point to the fact that, despite owning a vast swathe of riverfront, Battersea Power Station Development Company have removed the power station’s listed cranes purportedly to allow the chimney rubble to be removed by boat. There are concerns that the cranes won’t be brought back, and some consider their removal to be further evidence that Sime Darby have no intention of actually renovating the power station.

However, in an unusually considerate move,Battersea Power Station Development Company have at least set up a helpline number, for those traumatised by the sight of the maimed power station scarring the skyline, perhaps during their daily commute.

Our short video comments on the discrepancy between the developer’s claim that the chimneys are rapidly disintegrating, and their actions in allowing public events to take place on site, directly below the “structurally failed” chimneys. It also includes the helpline number, in case you feel personally disturbed by the destruction of Battersea Power Station.

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Battersea Power Station Chimneys demolition- History repeating

URGENT NEWS ON BATTERSEA POWER STATION CHIMNEY DEMOLITION

Thursday 12th June representatives of the BPSCG (Battersea Power Station Community Group) met with Paul Landsberg of Wandsworth Borough Council Planning Department to discuss their concerns regarding the legal and financial protections in place ahead of the imminent demolition of the chimneys, in particular whether the bond is in force and whether it is large enough to cover the cost of rebuilding the chimneys should the developer fail to replace them.  What they discovered was deeply disturbing:

The bond money is held in a Malaysian bank, CIMB
The value of the bond for the reconstruction of three and a half chimneys is only £11million.
The value of the bond is based on an estimate supplied by Philip Gullet of the Battersea Power Station Development Company.
This estimate has not been independently checked by cost consultants employed by Wandsworth Council or English Heritage.
The contract sum for the demolition and rebuilding of the chimneys was redacted from the copy of the contract sent to Wandsworth. So it is not possible to compare demolition costs against rebuilding.
The Council does not know if the bond is signed and in force, although the reconstruction contract starts next Monday.

HISTORY REPEATING…

This is all the more alarming in light of what happened when John Broome, the first failed developer of the site, took down but never replaced the west wall and roof, as it remains to this day. The council’s own report in 1989 criticised the woeful lack of safeguards and- some would say- gullibility of the planning officers.

According to Battersea Power Station Community Group the bond money should be held in a British bank if Wandsworth and English Heritage are to have any chance of getting at it in the event of a default.  The total value of the bond also needs to be increased substantially if it is to be able to cover the reconstruction of three and a half chimneys, if a default occurs.

With the chimneys reconstruction contract about to start, it is clear that Wandsworth Council and English Heritage are not protecting our cultural heritage -either in checking the proposed value of the bond or making sure the contract is signed and enforceable before the demolition and reconstruction project starts.

With interest rates about to rise, the possibility of the project failing yet again is increasing by the day.  If this happens when the chimneys are down, and it turns out the bond money isn’t there (as was the case in 1989 after Broome went bust)  the chimneys will never be rebuilt.

We need to rescue Battersea Power Station from these shameless, grey, dozing men who will sell our industrial heritage for peanuts and the enrichment of foreign “investors”. Keep an eye on the revolving door!

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URGENT-Save Battersea Water Pumping Station from demolition

We, the undersigned, ask Wandsworth Council to refuse listed building consent application 2014/1236 for the demolition of Battersea Water Pumping Station.

Battersea Water Pumping Station is the oldest surviving water pumping station in London.

It was built in 1840 for the Southwark Water Company and extended in 1856.  It housed a series of Cornish engines used for pumping water from the Thames.  At one time the pumping station housed the largest Cornish engine ever built, with a 112″ diameter cylinder.

The building was listed Grade II in 1994.

The pumping station commemorates the rich industrial heritage of the Nine Elms and North Battersea.  It has great potential to encouraging young people to think of science, technology and engineering as important skills worth acquiring.

Retaining and preserving the pumping station would attract visitors to the site and therefore increase footfall for the new facilities that will be open to the public.  It is in everybody’s interest that it is preserved.

We ask Wandsworth Council to initiate discussions with the owner/developer so that the development can be reconfigured to incorporate the pumping station

We further ask Wandsworth Council to convene negotiations between the owner/developer and the Battersea Power Station Company Ltd (a local registered charity) to allow the pumping station to be passed into the latter’s ownership for £1, to allow them to renovate the pumping station with Lottery funding.

Sean Creighton & Keith Garner

June 2014

Stop this cultural vandalism for profit.

PLEASE Sign the petition

For more blogs on the Battersea Water Pumping Station

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