London is no stranger to massive construction projects, but the Battersea Power Station venture must surely rank as the most ambitious of recent times.
In recent weeks, the restoration of the building’s four iconic chimneys was completed, the first phase of a programme that will see the structure brought back into use after more than 30 years. The original chimneys, dating from the 1930s, had to be painstakingly deconstructed and replaced with exact replicas that required over 25,000 wheelbarrows of concrete and two years of work to complete.
The vast structure, the largest brick building in Europe, has planning permission for over 8.5 million sq ft, split approximately evenly between commercial and residential use.
It is also one of the biggest building sites in Europe, employing 3,000 construction workers, and once the entire project is completed in 2025, the 42-acre development will be home to 25,000 people living and working on the site. Battersea Power Station will also be one of the largest retail, leisure and cultural complexes in central London.
Having been decommissioned in 1983, the power station lay dormant for decades as a number of ill-fated development plans, including a theme park and football stadium, came to nothing.
Treasury Holdings controlled the 40-acre site prior to its takeover by Nama, who then sold it on to a Malaysian consortium of SP Setia, Sime Darby and the Employees’ Pension Fund of Malaysia, for €600m.
However, chairman Frank Daly defended the decision: “We didn’t sell early, we sold at the right time. We sold that loan for €600m, so we got back the full value of the loan.”
The possibility of Nama holding on to and developing the site “misses the reality” he said, and added that it would have amounted to a “€6bn property play in London with no guarantee of a return”.
Those concerns expressed by the former Nama chief have proven somewhat prophetic, with costs on the project having already risen considerably. Work involved on the chimneys rose from €30m to €53m, while the price of the project’s energy centre quadrupled to €68m. The bill for the eradication of asbestos rose significantly.
Rob Tincknell, chief executive of the development company explained: “We pretty much had to scrub the entire building with a toothbrush. That said, we set out to make Battersea a showcase for the world’s very best architects and the designs, and we are determined to create a genuine sense of place, and developing landmark buildings in which people are proud to make their home and work in is vital to us achieving that aim.”
Frank Gehry, founder of architects Gehry Partners, added: “Our goal from the start has been to create a neighbourhood that connects into the historic fabric of the city of London, but one that has its own identity and integrity.”
Getting the project to this point has involved not just complex construction problems, but increasing anger from local groups after the development company reduced the amount of affordable housing agreed in the original plans.
Wandsworth Borough Council last month agreed to a reduce the affordable units to 636 from 386 units, which led to London Mayor Sadiq Khan saying that the decision “had let Londoners down”.
The political fallout from Grenfell Tower disaster may yet see the Battersea project hitting more potholes before it is completed.
As the largest mixed-use buliding in central London, the project has also green-lit a €1.5bn extension of the Northern tube line, requiring two new 3.2km tunnels and two new stations, serving new developments, including the US embassy and the development of New Covent Garden Market.
Apple will be the largest office tenant, occupying 500,000 sq feet across six floors of the central Boiler House. Apple is expected to make the move in 2021, to take 40% of the office space.
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