Tideway Village in Nine Elms under threat

The Tideway Village is a community of houseboats moored in an inlet dock a short way down the river from Battersea Power Station. Property developers Berkeley Homes are involved in the regeneration of the so called Nine Elms Opportunity Area which encompasses the dock and have met with opposition from the residents of the houseboats for their apparent plans to remove the boats from their moorings. The residents were dismayed to hear that they had not been invited to the consultation concerning Berkeley’s plans for the area. After another consultation was held, they were shocked to find that in place of their homes there was a sort of floating garden.

The rightly outraged villagers started a petition and a media campaign to raise awareness about their situation. The BBC paid a visit as did the Evening Standard. After seemingly contacting Berkeley homes; the Evening Standard claimed a victory for the houseboat community and that Berkeley Homes had listened to them and removed the dock from their plans.

However Berkeley have made no Official Statement with regards to the continued presence of the houseboat community and their official website concerning the Tideway Wharf development still omits the boats and depicts a floating garden in their stead. See the Architectural Details and Summary of Our Proposals (links open as PDFs) sections of their website for graphic depictions of the proposed garden.

As far as the Tideway Village (and Spectacle) are concerned, Berkeley still plans to remove them from their moorings and the villagers campaign is still underway.

Interviews with the residents can be viewed here.

Please visit the Tideway Village community website and definitely sign their petition to safe this little pocket of individuality on the increasingly homogenized bank of Thames.

Spectacle will be keeping an eye on the situation and has added the Tideway Village to its Battersea Power Station project page as part of our ongoing interest in the Battersea and Nine Elms area development.

Nine Elms Regeneration – involving local residents

The invitation to the information meeting at the R.O.S.E. Community Clubroom states: “It’s clear that the area will be transformed and we want you, as local residents, to be involved in this process.” As for the first part of that sentence, we cannot argue with this. It is clear that the decision have been made, where and by whom is not entirely clear. Maybe it was made by Transport for London, who want to build an extension of the Northern line. Or by the American diplomatic corps, who want to build their embassy in the area. Or maybe by Real Estate Opportunities, the troubled owners of the Battersea Power Station. One thing is clear though, it was not the local residents who made that decision. There were some presentations, a short Q&A and residents were invited to sign up for updates on the regeneration. These updates may concern them, but they certainly don’t involve them in the decision making process.

The event was well attended, with about 40 people filling all the available seating. There were some displays with impressive looking posters illustrating the plans. There were drinks and nibbles. The plans involve 15,000 new homes and 25,000 new jobs. Those numbers are impressive. There are also plans to build one elementary school and one library. 15,000 homes and one school, the numbers don’t exactly seem to add up. Either someone needs to go to school to develop their mathematical skills, or the calculations are correct and the developers aren’t expecting many children to be raised in their new flats. Perhaps these new properties are being built to house so-called DINKS, or Dual-Income-No-Kids for those of you less familiar with yuppy terminology. Walking through the neighbourhood of the R.O.S.E. Community Clubroom with large estates and a wealth of playgrounds, you can see why the DINKS wouldn’t want to live here.

As for the 25,000 new jobs, it is important to remember that there are already 12,000 jobs, mainly in the industrial area along Stewarts Road. In the presentation it was made clear that those industries would have to move. While at the same time vague promises were made to keep the industry in the borough (with no indication as to where it should go instead) and that an effort would be made “to preserve as much as we can”. Later in the meeting, discussing the lengthy period of 15-20 years the project is planned for, one of the reasons given for this extended span of time was the existing leases.

Reading between the lines, this seems to indicate that the local industry will disappear. And we can subtract most of those 12 000 existing jobs from the 25 000 planned ones. Now the two biggest prospective employees will be the American Embassy and the Battersea Power Station. The American Embassy will bring their own employees and looking at the plans for th Battersea Power Station with up-scale office spaces, one cannot help but wonder how many of the industrial workers will find jobs in the planned (and not yet existing) offices.

Now the construction itself will bring some work to the area. The number 40 000 floated through the room for a while, until a local resident pointed out that those 40,000 jobs refer to a period of 20 years in an industry where contracts usually don’t last any longer than 3 years. So this number is misleading, as it doesn’t mean there will be 40,000 jobs at any point in time. Also if you count each contract, one worker will be getting 6-7 3 year contracts. Each contract term is counted as a job, but calculating actuall employment numbers they are more likely to be around 6,000.

Besides the number games there were whole presentations which merely seemed to consist of quoting a number of “documents” and “frameworks”, including the London Plan including “designated opportunity areas”, the “Opportunity Area Planning Framework”, “Local Development Framework, “Site Specific Allocation Document” and many more. Not having read any of those, I ended up more confused than in the beginning with an unsettling feeling of disempowerment: There is no way I will find the time to read all those, even less understand their terminology. But if I don’t, I won’t understand what it is exactly that is being developed and proposed. Referencing this mass of documentation had one effect only: dispiriting an delegitimising any opions or critiques by local residents and raising a windscreen of referential material that is cited as authority. Here the event resembled an excercise in exclusion rather than any real attempts at involving local residents or trying to set up a democratic and accountable process to find a solution that will actually respond to the needs of and benefit the local population.

Thankfully there was some time for questions and they came plentiful. How the project was benefiting local residents, if their homes were due to be displaced was one of them. The councilor had never heard about this before. But as the petition to save Tideway Village states:

Now yet another very special London gem is under threat: Tideway Village and the Nine Elms Pier Boat Community may disappear forever, possibly as early as March 2011. Tucked away next to the Battersea Power station the 30+ houseboats with their inhabitants form a diverse vibrant community framed by old boats, water wildlife and nature, dearly loved and frequently photographed by passers by.

The current plans being submitted for the construction of ‘Tideway Wharf’ by St James (Berkeley Homes) proposes a development that would replace this special corner of London with cloned, soulless structures, erected in pursuit of profit at the expense of beauty and diversity.

You can find out more about Tidway Village on their website, and sign the petition online.

The question about how Climate Change was swiftly answered, stating that the whole project would be build to highest standards. The question whether projects on such a scale can possibly be sustainable, remained unasked.

When Brian Barnes pointed out that he’d been promised work at the Power Station as a young man, and has been through three proposals, and now, after his hair has gone gray, he is still being promised work at the Battersea Power Station – in twenty years time…

The point was raised that the proposal did not mention affordable housing and that it looked like local people were being “re-developed out.” The Save Shaker Aamer Campaign asked that the local council stand up for Battersea resident Shaker Aamer who is still being held in Guantanamo illegally. The question was raised whether it was right to invite the US Embassy into the borough, as long as Shaker Aamer ist still not home.

The organisers had pointed out that the meeting was being recorded, and you could see quite a few staff sitting around the edges and scribbling hastily. They will be able to answer all questions and refute any criticism raised soon, it seemed like an excercise in preparing notes for future public debate, to be prepared for any objections that might come up.

notes: starbucks and other big corp chains coming in is bad for local business as well as atmosphere of area, artifical venues and retail outlets that won’t work, just as unreal and illusionary as any other proposal during the last 20 years,

Storms brewing over REO personnel?

You’d think that with debts up to their eyeballs, and Wandsworth Borough Council’s decision on planning permission still in the balance, the owners of Battersea Power Station would have enough to worry about.

But now new allegations have arisen in the Irish media about certain figures involved in REO, the property firm that owns the site.

The Irish Independent has reported that Willie McAteer, formerly finance director of Anglo Irish Bank, which loaned money to REO, also owns a stake in the company.

McAteer was also arrested and questioned by the Irish fraud squad in March 2010 following his resignation from the board of bailed out bank Anglo Irish in 2009.

Meanwhile accusations of irresponsible behaviour are in the air directed at Johnny Ronan, one of the owners of Treasury Holdings, REO’s largest stakeholder, with an opinion piece in the same newspaper accusing him of reckless spending. Mr Ronan’s children’s ‘lavish birthday parties…costing hundreds of thousands of euro’ come under fire.

This only adds to speculation on the propriety of his behaviour – in March the Irish Times reported that he was ‘standing down’ from his position for a few months, following embarrassing revelations about his love life.

It seems Mr Ronan had been embroiled with arguments with a former girlfriend after being found taking extended lunches and private jet trips to Morocco with a former Miss World.

Not responsible behaviour, some might say, for a man whose company has debts funded by the Irish taxpayer to the tune of more than a billion euro.

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How much is Battersea Power Station worth?

Detail of a slide from REO's presentation to the Battersea Power Station Community Group

Even if you take the question in its strict financial sense, it’s not as simple as you might think.

Property consultants King Sturge valued the site at £388m in February of this year. But read the small print and you see that this value depends on some factors which are still in flux: the obtaining of planning permission, the extension of the Northern line to Battersea, and the availability of funding for REO’s huge debts.

To take the first issue of planning permission, that’s a decision that’s going to be made by Wandsworth Borough Council later this summer.

And it might not be as cut and dried at the developers hope: several groups are opposing the plans, including the Kew Bridge Engines Trust, 20th Century Society, Battersea Society, SAVE, and the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society. The Victorian Society have also made a formal written objection and recorded an interview with Spectacle on their attitude towards the developers’ plans.

Even supposing the planning proposal is given the go-ahead, it’s unclear how valuable the site will be, given REO’s reluctance to say what proportion of the site will be made up of affordable housing.

Even now, when the site has none of the “essential” planning permission in place, the valuation of £388m suggests a value-per-acre of £10m. A little high, perhaps, given that Capital & Counties exhibition centre in Earls Court, which already generates income and has ready transport links, is valued at £6m per acre.

This second point of transport links, and the extension of the Northern line to Battersea, is also up for discussion.

No public money is being put towards it from either the mayor’s office or the Department of Transport, so it looks like it would have to be privately funded. The REO’s estimated cost at the moment is £200m – seen by some as a hopelessly optimistic figure.

And even if the price of building the tube link remained on target, it’s uncertain where REO would find £200m, given the company’s unfortunate financial position and hefty debts.

It’s hard to see how a valuation of the Battersea Power Station site, and of its worth to the developers, can be at all conclusive. £388m is an attractive figure for a company mired in debt, but to anyone else it looks optimistic at best, and at worst completely unrealistic. It is also £12m less than REO paid for the site.

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Battersea Power Station owners deep in debt

REO co-owner Rob Tincknell

Property firm REO, whose portfolio includes Battersea Power Station, owes millions of euro to its banks, and to the Irish taxpayer.

The company owes a total of €2bn to its banks. This includes nearly €1bn owed to Nama, Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency – set up by the Irish government to take on the debts of banks bailed out in the financial crisis.

With a property portfolio valued at €1.3bn (including the Battersea site, whose valuation is problematic in itself), the company’s debts now far outstrip its assets.

That’s not the end of REO’s problems: it recorded a pre-tax loss of £900m for the 14 months to February 2010. The announcement of those accounts, in June this year, caused a 50% fall in the company’s share price, taking it down to just 8 pence per share, and a market value below £40m. The company is not in good financial health.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that REO are looking to separate the potentially lucrative Battersea Power Station site from the company as a whole. They hope to draw off the property into a separate company, and list it on the stock market before the end of the year.

Investment partners are being sought to help fund the project, with international property groups and Middle Eastern wealth funds thought to be expressing interest.

But these grand plans could be brought to a halt if Wandsworth Borough Council decide not to grant planning permission. Elsewhere on the Spectacle Blog you can find out more about the historical preservation groups who are opposing the developer’s plans for the site.

You can also watch our interview with Alex Baldwin of the Victorian Society and other clips about the power station in the Spectacle video archive.

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Treasury Holdings Northern Line Battersea Extension Plans

As we have mentioned here on the Spectacle blog previously; owners of Battersea Power Station, REO (Real Estate Opportunities), have some illustrious plans to bring the Northern line to the Power Station. The project has received support from the mayor’s office but no public money is being put towards it from either the mayor’s office or the Department of Transport. This extension would serve to sever the two branches of the Northern Line so that only Bank services would travel to Morden and Charing Cross services would end in Battersea. As it is very few Charing Cross branch trains travel past Kennington. Far from benefiting the local community, this extension is effectively an attempt to build a private station for a private development with little to no concern for the local people.

In typical architectural consultation manner, they’ve produced 4 proposals and asked people to choose which one they believe will be the most beneficial. One of these maps is reproduced below and they can also be found over at London Reconnections along with some other useful information about the extension plans.

As can be observed on the below map taken from OpenStreetMap, REO’s consultation map conveniently crops Victoria station and forgets to label Queenstown Road and Battersea Park stations. The South London Line which runs from Victoria and London Bridge passes through Battersea Park station thus the Power Station site is already connected to these two major stations. Additionally Queenstown Road station, five minutes walk from the Power Station site, is one stop away from Vauxhall Station. With these two connections to major stations very nearby, surely extending the tube to the area is a bit over the top? Tunneling is not a cheap process after all.

Another proposal suggests extending the Northern Line to Vauxhall en route to the new Battersea station, but as we mentioned, Vauxhall is already easily reachable from Queenstown Road station and is in fact actually quite a crowded station already. The other two proposals suggest an intermediary station in Nine Elms, either around New Covent Garden Market or at the site of the current Sainsburys. The intention here is to serve the Nine Elms opportunity area and the new planned US Embassy (allegedly their 12 storey embassy building requires some underground facilities). However a few more buses in the area could easily serve this purpose or even a small tram service which would be far cheaper than costly tunneling. Besides, Vauxhall is really only a short walk away.

The consultation has included a Freepost Questionnaire for anyone who would like to inform Treasury/REO how they feel about the proposals. It is also worth considering that Treasury Holdings are conducting the consultation themselves and likely have no obligation to share the results. Either way, how would the public know that any published results of the consultation would match up with the actual results?

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