From its perch on a chimney about 120 metres above the River Thames, a Peregrine falcon casts its hawk-eyed gaze on the vast expanse of Battersea Power Station below. There are more than 2,000 workers on the site, cranes moving, welders sparking, fitters joining — but the Peregrine is looking for its next meal, food for the family’s offspring.
Here, from one of the four iconic white chimneys that make up Battersea Power Station, the views — north across the adjacent Thames, into central London stretching out, across to the London Eye, a plastic-and-scaffolding sheathed Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament — are simply stunning.
And down below, in what is the largest regeneration and construction project under way in Europe and spread out for almost a half-kilometre alone the River Thames, is a £9 billion project that will truly change the face of London for decades to come, if not longer.
“We are creating an entirely new town centre for London on the banks of the River Thames, all centred around one of the most iconic buildings in the world,” Simon Murphy, the Chief Executive Officer of Battersea Power Station Development Company tells the Weekend Review. “The first phase is already complete and it’s hugely exciting to see this part of London transforming. With over a thousand people now living here, new restaurants, shops and cafes open and events happening here all the time, we are well on our way to realising the vision and it’s fantastic to be making such good progress.
“It’s been a long time coming, with the Power Station having sat empty and derelict for over 30 years because it was deemed impossible to redevelop, but finally the time has come for it to be given a new lease of life.”
The Power Station itself is an imposing brick structure that powered the homes and factories of the capital from 1933 until it finally closed in 1983. The power it produced was from coal, slowly choking the city’s buildings and environment.
It’s a familiar icon too, having been featured on a Pink Floyd album cover, used in a James Bond movie shoot, and as a backdrop to the movie adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984.
When this project is finished, it will inject £20 billion into the London and British economy, create 20,000 new jobs, and set this long under-appreciated side of the river on a new course as both a residential and retail district — one that will rival the trendier districts north and to the west of London’s central core.
“We are seeing strong levels of interest both domestically as well as globally and have sold in excess of £115 million of residential property in the last year alone,” Andrew Jones, the director of special projects and Battersea’s sales director for the Mena region, says.
So much for the negative doomsayers of Brexit.
Jones shrugs the Brexit concerns aside
“Despite the ongoing uncertainly surrounding Brexit, we believe that London will continue to thrive as a global financial hub. It has such strong fundamentals that are not going to change, whatever happens with Brexit; a robust regulatory framework, a favourable time zone, high security levels, excellent schools and universities, a highly skilled workforce and fantastic cultural attractions – all these will remain in place, so London will continue to be a top choice for global investors looking for a place to live, work and invest.”
And the facts around this huge project certainly seem to suggest he and his team have every reason to be confident.
Across the 42-acre site, the project will create hundreds of new shops, restaurants, office spaces, cultural venues, homes, a hotel and more than 18 acres of public space including a new six-acre public park, Murphy explains.
“The Power Station itself is set to become home to Apple’s London campus, with over 1,400 staff relocating here in 2021,” he says, with six floors being added above the power station central core as the tech firm’s new UK and European headquarters.
The Battersea project will also include a new Northern Line extension to bring London’s iconic and vital Underground network to the revitalised district.
“The much-needed extension to the Northern Line and the creation of a new Zone 1 London Underground Station which will make this previously rather inaccessible part of the city one of the best-connected places in London. We have already created a pier for river bus service which puts us within 15 minutes of the West End via boat and is already proving popular with residents who use the service regularly,” Murphy says.
With the first phase of the project largely complete, the new district is becoming a firm favourite for its new residents, such as Thoraya, who is originally from the Middle East and moved to Circus West last year. Her sister also lives in a townhouse at the development with her two children.
“Having visited the area several times over the past 12 months, I was excited to move into my apartment late last year,” Thoraya says.
“What really attracted me to the development was the sense of community that exists here. Everyone is so friendly and it’s been lovely getting to know all my neighbours. It feels very secure but it’s not super exclusive which I like. I love having everything right here on my doorstep — the restaurants, the general store, the cafes and now I have even started going to the hair salon downstairs which is so convenient. I can take my dog with me everywhere too, which is another perk.”
She works as a psychotherapist and uses the Riverhouse residents’ club both as a great space to relax in and to book rooms for private meetings.
When I visited the site in January, there were more than 2,000 workers on site, and this will rise to 6,000 in the coming year. Even then, however, transforming what was an empty industrial shell and an abandoned site into what will be London’s newest, largest — and hippest — shopping centre and residential complex is not without challenges. The building must be protected as much as possible for its unique architectural, historical and cultural significant.
“We are very proud to be working on one of London’s greatest icons and bringing it back to life,” Murphy says. “We work closely with Historic England and Wandsworth Council, along with our heritage architects to ensure that the building is treated sensitively and with the respect it deserves.”
When the site was acquired by Mayalsia-based SP Setia, Sime Darby and Employees Provident Fund back in 2012, the building was in a terrible condition.
“The bricks were crumbling and the chimneys were so badly damaged they each needed to be painstakingly repaired,” Murphy says. “We took each one down and rebuilt them from scratch using the exact same methods as the originals. They are a key feature of London’s iconic skyline so it was important to get it absolutely right.
“We also recently placed an order for over a million bricks that will be used to restore and rebuild parts of the building that are in disrepair. We even managed to track down the same British brickmakers that made the original bricks, so it’s been great to give them the business and of course ensure that we have an exact match in terms of the bricks.”
But it’s not just the power station that will be an architectural icon.
“Many investors from across the Middle East have purchased a home in Circus West as their main London home,” Jones says. “Others have children at university in London so have bought a home here for them to live in while they are studying. Some have also bought off-plan in the third phase and are attracted to the idea of owning a home in Frank Gehry’s only residential building in the UK or an iconic Foster and Partners home.”
He says they also like the mixed-use nature of the project, its shops, restaurants and cafes, and appreciate the central location on the riverfront.
“We also have the 200-acre Battersea Park next door to us and Sloane Square within a 15-minute walk, which is a great attraction particularly for this market who love the fact that they walk around the city with ease.”
For now, the Peregrine falcon is taking it all in, waiting for the next meal. It’s hard to believe that all of this is indeed taking shaping at the very heart of London.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe.