Battersea Power Station is reborn as a £9bn luxury development

Battersea Power Station’s makeover has taken nearly a decade but the project has been worth the wait.

The site was an emblem of British industrial decline, a relic of what south London used to be – working class, gritty and busy. At peak production in the 1950s it supplied a fifth of London’s electricity.

But just 30 years later, the electricity was turned off for good as Britain turned its back on coal-fired power stations for both political and environmental reasons.

Transformed: Forty years since it stopped generating electricity, Battersea Power Station in South London has been converted into luxury flats, offices and a shopping mall 

Sitting alone on the bank of the Thames in Wandsworth, nobody knew what to do with the site and hair-brained ideas included turning it into a theme park and a football stadium.

In the 1980s Alton Towers owner John Broome bankrupted himself while promising to build ‘The South Chelsea Fun Palace’. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher even turned up to the opening ceremony in 1988 wearing a hard hat and wielding a massive laser gun. But the ‘world’s greatest theme park’ quickly fell apart.

The power station’s only purpose became as a backdrop for trendy album covers such as the one for Pink Floyd’s Animals, a 40-minute nihilistic rant on the decay of capitalism.

In early 2012 it was nearly demolished altogether by Wandsworth council despite the building’s grade II-listed status.

Simon Murphy, chief executive of the project, said: ‘The decision was nearly made. Realistic ideas were thin on the ground.’

But the site was given one last throw of the dice and in September 2012 a consortium of south Asian investors from Malaysia stumped up £9billion to turn the power station and the surrounding area into somewhere people could live, work and shop.

At the time there was little hope about the project and the usual headlines and cynicism appeared. The problem was the site was too big and gutting the insides would be too costly, the headlines read.

Fortunately the £9billion gamble has paid off and the power station is once again a colossus.

Inside, it has been split into 15 storeys. The top six floors will be Apple’s European headquarters and the tech giant moves in this summer. 

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the opening ceremony of the ill-fated ¿The South Chelsea Fun Palace¿ project  in 1988

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the opening ceremony of the ill-fated ‘The South Chelsea Fun Palace’ project  in 1988 

Murphy admits Apple would never have agreed to the deal without the extension of the Northern Line which will run from Battersea, to Nine Elms and into Kennington.

Below Apple, on the ground floors, a shopping mall will sit.

Unlike Westfield, the power station has bags of character. Much of the building has been left intact, including the remnants of old cranes hanging from the ceiling. But, as with all large-scale construction projects, the real value is in the design.

This can be best viewed elsewhere on site where ‘starchitects’ Frank Gehry and Norman Foster have built apartment blocks side by side to the north.

Much flat development work is the same in London: rectangular glass boxes stacked high into the air.

But Gehry in particular has managed to create something unique, with his apartments zigzagging into the sky. The baroque style and unusual shapes bring to mind buildings in Barcelona.

‘Costly, not very south London,’ quips Murphy as he stands, looking up.

In total there are 1,600 flats on site and only 150 are still on the market. With an average price of £1million they are not cheap, yet UK buyers remain in the majority.

‘Sixty per cent UK buyers, 20 per cent Malaysian and 20 per cent other overseas,’ Murphy explains.

Nevertheless, the project has not been without issues and the boss admits there were times when he thought the power station curse might strike again.

He adds: ‘We were very lucky to have a Tory mayor, a Tory MP and Tory leader at Wandsworth so everything was aligned but there have been a lot of unknown unknowns through the build.’

Brexit, the introduction of stamp duty and the pandemic unsurprisingly top the list. Murphy said: ‘Brexit had an effect and the uncertainty made things difficult. Everybody wanted to know what it was going to do to the UK. 

It did impact our ability to sell, particularly residential. The Malaysian investors were shocked, but at no point did it stop any investment.’

The momentum kept rolling and with the Tories looking for ideas, Battersea shows what can be done with some imagination and investment.

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