THE imposing white chimneys of the Battersea Power Station (BPS) have dominated the skyline of south London for over 80 years. Designed by the late architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, BPS was completed in two stages and is considered a masterpiece of the Art Deco era.
Battersea A Station was completed in the early 1930s, with the B Station added to its east more than a decade later. The iconic structure we know today was completed in 1955, when its last chimney was put in place. However, as electricity generation in the UK shifted towards the cleaner technologies of oil, gas and nuclear power, BPS was shut down on Oct 31, 1983, after 50 years.
Over the years, BPS has been immortalised in popular culture by becoming a focus for film, art, music and fashion. Batman: The Dark Knight Rises and the Oscar-winning The King's Speech filmed scenes in the iconic building, and Pink Floyd fans will remember its imposing structure on the cover of Animals — the band's 1977 album.
After 29 dormant years, BPS is again a hive of activity. On Sept 4 last year, Malaysian consortium Battersea Power Station Devt Co (BPSDC) became its official owner.
BPSDC, comprising Sime Darby Property Bhd (SDP), S P Setia Bhd and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), won an open tender for £400 million. Sime Darby and S P Setia each have a 40% stake, and EPF has the remaining 20%.
The consortium has a grand vision for the 39-acre landmark. It will offer over 3,400 homes; over 1.7 million sq ft of office space; 552,716 sq ft of shops; 161,190 sq ft of F & B space; two hotels; 508,821 sq ft of community, cultural and leisure space; and it is expected to generate a significant number of new jobs.
Lofty goals, some said when the project was announced. But its first phase, Circus West, has sold 98% since its launch in January. Comprising a mix of 866 apartments, and townhouses and penthouses, prices range from £335,000 for a studio, to £890,000 for a three-bedroom unit.
Construction commenced in July, and phase one is scheduled for completion in 2016. Phase two and three, comprising residential and commercial products, will be launched in 2014. The entire development consists of eight phases, which will be completed within 15 years.
Regenerating Nine Elms
BPS is an interesting project in many ways, says Dr Tan Kok Heng, Head of Global Marketing and Property Investment, SDP.
"For this project, we took a holistic sustainable perspective that covers primarily three areas — the environment, and economic and social elements. It has to be a holistic approach, as BPS plays a key role in the regeneration of Nine Elms," says Tan.
BPS is an integral part of the Nine Elms Opportunity Area master plan, which aims to regenerate the 204-acre Nine Elms. The area sits across the River Thames from Chelsea.
"Obviously, it's a project with a lot of history, and it enables us to transform the landscape in Nine Elms. The site has been inactive for nearly 30 years, so we are trying to create something out of nothing," notes Tan.
"We had a sustainability statement, as well as one to address the shareholders and local community. We looked at the big picture. The sustainability agenda is very much guided by the sustainability charter that was written specifically for BPS. The charter was in response to and in compliance with the UK government's expectations, Sime Darby Group's sustainability blueprint and the project's aspirations," says Tan.
According to him, the proposed zero carbon energy centre and the Northern Line extension, which will have a station in BPS, are part of the environmental element of the holistic sustainable perspective.
"We also looked at water conservation strategies, material waste, ecological conservation, as well as social and economic elements. There's also sustainable heritage, which is the restoration and conservation of the power station building itself.
"In terms of the social and economic elements, it is more of an urban regeneration. We would be able to generate a significant number of jobs, directly and indirectly, from the development. This will provide income and occupation for residents within Nine Elms," shares Tan.
He believes the train line extension will change the way people commute, as well as their shopping patterns, while also opening up the area.
"This has been proven by the setting up of the American, Dutch and Chinese embassies in Nine Elms within the next few years," says Tan.
There will be over 500,000 sq ft of community, cultural and leisure space in BPS, which Tan says is a way to embrace and create activities for the community.
"BPS will be a very vibrant place. We are positioning the mall as a district shopping centre and people living in the surrounding areas can come and participate in the activities, especially since the train stops at our doorstep," says Tan.
Getting the project to where it is today was not easy. The consortium faced vocal opposition from the local community and non-profit organisations, and negative press from the local media in the early days. The negativity has eased considerably, which Tan attributes to the efforts of the team on the ground.
"We had dialogue sessions with the respective local stakeholders, such as the community and authorities, to calm and appease any issues and anxiety they may have had. We started right from the moment we knew we had won the bid, and it is still ongoing," says Tan.
In line with the extensive stakeholder engagement and sustainability agenda, a local person was hired, specifically to communicate with the community.
"The person we hired actually lives in the Battersea area. I think that's a very important element in how we address stakeholders, because it comes from people who truly understand what the community needs.
"I think the ongoing transparency with the local community and authorities is very important. We focused on doing what we believe is the right thing for the development, which is to continue to contribute to the regeneration of the site, and Nine Elms. Staying consistent with our focus and message has helped us gain traction," says Tan.
One of the community's major concerns at the time was the conservation of the power station itself. Tan points out that BPS is one of a handful of landmarks in central London, and is listed as a heritage site.
"The chimneys are iconic to Londoners, so there were concerns about how we planned to restore them. We came up with two options — we either refurbished the existing chimneys or built replicas. In terms of life cycle, it makes more sense to create replicas," offers Tan.
The agreement with the local authorities is to take down one chimney and start work on the replica. Once it is about 25% completed, work can start on the remaining three.
"The authorities want some assurance that we will complete the work, and they want to see at least one chimney still standing. We are also restoring the beautiful brickwork of the power station. Construction is expected to start by the end of the year," says Tan.
Heart and soul
According to Tan, BPS's concept encapsulates SDP's place-making philosophy.
"Everything that has been proposed and will be developed in BPS, is driven by the place-making objective, which is to create a community that is self-sustaining. We want visitors and residents to have an affiliation with a place that has its own character and identity," shares Tan.
While BPS already has its own character and identity, the consortium wants to enhance its character by introducing a mixed-use integrated development.
"We don't want it to be a single-place destination, but rather one that is well-integrated and an extension of the local community. We will also have a more-than-six-acre park that will be open to the public. We are creating a place that is socially and economically self-sustaining," says Tan.
The retail section will be a mix of the mall and high street shopping concept, which is popular in London.
"There will be shops along the road which you will see when you come out of the train station. This combination of high street shopping and a mall experience is an interesting concept, because you will get a variety of shops and a different atmosphere," says Tan.
He believes it is not the bricks and mortar, but its sustainable elements that are the heart and soul of BPS.
"If you don't embrace the holistic sustainable statement and practice it, the soul of the development won't come alive. BPS has been waiting to be regenerated for many years, and that is what we are doing now," concludes Tan.
This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of Aug 19-25, 2013.
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