An urban view — 30 December 2011

It is arguably Londoner’s favourite industrial building and best viewed when travelling along the road of the rich and famous – Cheyne Walk. There on the opposite bank of the Thames is ‘The Temple of Power’ as it was then dubbed when constructed in the 1930s.

Battersea Power Station, the largest brick built building in Europe – even if it does not have a roof – was constructed in two halves, both identical from the outside and comprising two individual power stations. Battersea A Power Station was built first with Battersea B Power Station to its east constructed later in the 1950s. The two stations were built to an identical design, providing when finished the well known four-chimney layout. The station ceased generating electricity in 1983, but over the past 50 years it has become one of the best known landmarks in London and is Grade II* listed.

Two years ago we had rather hoped, or at least I did, that Real Estate Opportunities had a viable plan to ‘save’ Battersea and develop the site with the mix of retail units and the ubiquitous riverside residential units.

They have gone the same way as other developers with money to burn – at least in 1940 when they literally ran the boilers on bundles of used notes the power station produced electricity and not just hot air.

In the 1980s Alton Towers owner John Broome wanted to turn the building into a giant fun fair, even booking Mrs. Thatcher to cut the ribbon. His dreams went up in smoke selling his £350 investment for £10 million to Taiwanese property tycoons, but their dreams of developing its prime riverside location also went down the Swanee – or the Thames.

BatterseaEven using it for a photo shoot has been eventful. A pink pig tethered to Battersea’s chimneys for Pink Floyd’s album Animals broke its moorings and soared 5,000 feet disrupting air traffic approaching Heathrow, the pig eventually landing in a field in Kent. At King’s Cross the stark beauty of industrial heritage has been recognised by many who argue that an English Heritage listed Victorian gasometer become a centre piece of a new park being constructed. Could we not use Battersea Power Station as a centrepiece of a new park?

The old girl was earned a dignified retirement, not a single day’s production of electricity was lost during the war and at one time the generators were supplying one fifth of London’s power, she has earned her place in the sun.

So instead of the latest wiz-bang idea to make a buck by turning it into a 60,000-seater stadium for Chelsea FC (how can that be with Chelsea on the opposite bank?), let Battersea Power Station be a park, a quiet place for reflection and a chance to remember when we had an Empire and coal was King, while instead of buying France’s power we could actually keep the home fires burning and the lights turned on using electricity produced at Battersea.

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Gibson

(2) Readers Comments

  1. The key, as usual (and as your post implies), is money. No one is going to take on the huge cost of developing the site unless sure of turning a decent profit. It will take a courageous individual or consortium to tackle it.
     
    One body capable of undertaking such a task would be government. I suspect that the millions of pounds wasted on the Olympics could have be used to better and longer lasting effect here.

    • Unfortunately our political parties of any complexion are only interested in vanity projects and our industrial heritage doesn’t fulfil their criteria. No doubt another eyesore like St. George Wharf on the south side of Vauxhall Bridge will be built.

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