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BATTERSEA REBORN: THE REGENERATION OF NINE ELMS

As construction work on the £8billion revamp of Battersea Power Station is set to start in mid 2013, Christopher Nye asks what’s in store for SW8 and beyond

Nine Elms new development

Battersea Power Station – Public Park

In Battersea’s new Nine Elms development, there are some big numbers being thrown around. Like 16,000: that’s the number of new homes planned. Or 25,000; the number of new jobs, including up to 1,000 apprenticeships for local youngsters. There’s £600 million, the value of property sold in the Battersea Power Station development in just a few days in January, with penthouses going for an astonishing £6million.

There are some smaller numbers too. Twenty is the number of separate developments that make up the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area. And four, is the number of the power station’s iconic towers which will be taken down, and then rebuilt stronger on completion of the project to mark the rebirth of one of London’s most memorable and evocative wastelands.

What all these numbers add up to, though, is that Battersea is becoming the number one most exciting part of London right now.

The multi-billion pound project to redevelop the last remaining under-utilised part of central London stretches from Chelsea Bridge in the west to Vauxhall Bridge in the east and covers 192 hectares – more than twice the size of Clapham Common. By the time the last builder leaves the site sometime in the late 2020s, there will be new schools, innovative new parks and gardens, cultural and artistic centres, an ‘embassy quarter’, three kilometres of new riverfront and some 30,000 new residents.

Of course, these shiny new buildings – with price tags to match – are all well and good, but many local residents must be wondering what’s in it for them. The leaders of both Lambeth and Wandsworth are clear that it’s good news: ‘Nine Elms on the South Bank will be a fantastic place to live, an internationally significant business district and a new centre for arts and culture in London. It will offer life changing opportunities to the area’s existing residents,’ says Leader of Wandsworth Council Ravi Govindia. They believe that the influx of tens of thousands of new residents will rejuvenate local businesses, restaurants, shops, tradesmen and artisans way beyond the limits of the development, extending the financial bonanza into Queenstown Road, Battersea Park Road and Lavender Hill.

Then there’s the infrastructure. The Northern line will be extended with two stations at Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms, bringing the West End, the City and Westminster to just a few minutes away. There are even plans for a new Thames foot-and-cycle bridge from near the embassy.

The three major elements to the development are: the power station itself, redevelopment of the rest of Nine Elms and the embassy.

Nine Elms new development

Embassy Gardens

Battersea Power Station, famous as the largest brick building in Britain (possibly the world) has seen many false starts since it closed in the mid-80s, including being touted as a possible Disneyland. There’s nothing Mickey Mouse about this development though. The first section of 600 apartments in blocks to the west of the power station sold so quickly it was possibly the fastest selling property development ever. Eventually it will include nearly 4,000 apartments (a good proportion of which will be ‘affordable’), 56,000m2 of shopping and nine hectares of public spaces, including ponds surrounding the building to reflect its Art Deco splendour. Studio flats were priced at £338,000, up to three-bedroom apartments at £894,000 and residents will be able to enjoy roof gardens with views over the river towards the London Eye and Big Ben. Work on this section will start this summer and should be complete within three years.

But that’s only the initial phase of one end of the entire development – a tenth of the total project. At the other end towards Vauxhall is the new billion dollar American Embassy. Already approved, it will be a gleaming glass box set on the river, above a spiraling park and a semi-moat. The first Americans should be arriving by 2017.

Elsewhere in Nine Elms development of offices, retail, residential and open spaces has already started, including St George’s Wharf and the 50-storey, 181-metre tall Vauxhall Tower, scene of the tragic helicopter crash in January. Other developments on the site include Riverlight, six towers with 806 homes, and Embassy Gardens with nearly 2,000 homes over six hectares to a height of 68 metres.

Some of the future building developments will trade on Nine Elms’ medieval tradition as market garden producer for central London, which later made it the ideal choice for New Covent Garden in the 1970s. The market, currently spread over several sites, will be reorganised to use its space more efficiently and operate from one site, with new buildings and a new flower market.

Another major feature is the new ‘linear park’, or green corridor, stretching all the way from Battersea Park to Vauxhall Cross and beyond, with sports facilities, gardens, picnic areas, cafes and cultural attractions along the way. There will also be cycle paths and running tracks, all running parallel to the Thames pathway – a lovely walk to work, weekend chill-out zone or jogging track.

For areas outside the development, the hope is that a halo of culture and wealth will spread beyond Nine Elms. But there will also be active investment too. In Vauxhall the linear park will extend eastwards, there will be a new High Street along the Bondway and a new Civic Town Square. The railway arches will no longer be a barrier, but a new area of business, community and culture, with access through them to the river at the Albert Embankment.

In Battersea, the package of transport improvements includes railway station upgrades at Queenstown Road and Battersea Park. There should be large numbers of new jobs, with the Council making agreements with developers to use local labour. Moreover, by removing the barrier that is the current wasteland at Nine Elms, and by creating green arteries from the South Bank, Chelsea and Pimlico the vitality of central London will flow through to Battersea more efficiently.

The only downsides, it will be sad to lose that glorious view of Battersea Power Station down Queenstown Road.

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