Icon's salvation in reach

Latest plans for a loved London landmark illustrate the dilemmas in reconciling heritage and renewal interests while meeting infrastructure requirements.

The latest stage in the turbulent planning history of Battersea Power Station has opened with the unveiling of a proposed £5.5 billion mixed-use redevelopment of the 16ha site on the south bank of the Thames (Planning, 23 October, p2).

The iconic landmark has featured widely in popular culture, including the Beatles movie Help! and the cover of the Pink Floyd album Animals. But planning decisions on the site have historically stirred public opinion. Some 15,000 people attended recent public consultations. As a result, plans for a skyscraper have been ditched by the developer.

Now Treasury Holdings proposes a wide mix of uses for the riverside site comprising 3,700 homes, nearly 150,000m2 of office space and 46,000m2 of retail and restaurant space. Uruguayan-born architect Rafael Vinoly's masterplan shows new open space, a park and an extension to the riverside walk connecting with Battersea Park.

The public would have access to restored historic areas such as the turbine halls and control rooms. The developer also proposes to generate 30MW of electricity. Together with other energy efficiency measures, this will enable the plant to become zero carbon and the rest of the development to be low carbon, saving around 65 per cent of carbon emissions across the whole site.

The grade II* listed power station closed in 1983 and has since been the subject of a number of proposals for redevelopment. Among them were an "urban circus and Roman-style spa baths" by the Canadian company Cirque du Soleil, an indoor theme park by the consortium behind Alton Towers, a shopping mall and a biomass power station.

Real Estate Opportunities, led by Irish businessmen Richard Barrett and Johnny Ronan of Treasury Holdings, purchased the power station and the surrounding land three years ago. An essential element of their regeneration package is a London Underground extension. The developer and Transport for London (TfL) have begun preparing a Transport and Works Act order, to be submitted in the middle of next year.

The £450 million project, the first-ever privately funded extension to the tube network in central London, would branch off the Northern Line at Kennington to stop at Nine Elms and Battersea. Treasury Holdings UK managing director Rob Tincknell says: "We always felt that the tube was an exciting proposal that would open up Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms. Buses can take 2,500 people an hour. The tube can take around 26,000."

Funding would come from a levy that would sidestep the contribution for Crossrail. "London mayor Boris Johnson has intimated that if there is a suitable transport scheme outside the central activities zone, the money could be diverted," says Tincknell. "There would need to be a change in the Crossrail legislation, but we feel that this is a suitable case. We would also use extra revenue from TfL and a local authority bond scheme."

Tincknell expects a planning decision by the middle of next year and hopes that construction can start in 2012. The plans have been subject to pre-application consultation with the London Borough of Wandsworth, CABE, English Heritage and the Greater London Authority (GLA). The reaction from the council, which has already granted outline permission nearby for the US embassy, has been encouraging.

"Everyone wants to see the power station restored and the whole site developed," says leader Edward Lister. "This application is a further sign that things are about to take off in the Nine Elms corridor. These two important projects are hugely symbolic and demonstrate the scale of the commitment to this new urban quarter in the heart of London."

Prospects for the area will become clearer over the next few weeks when the GLA, in association with Wandsworth and neighbouring Lambeth, publishes proposals for meeting infrastructure needs in Nine Elms. As for the power station, this is a classic case of keeping heritage interests happy in a prime regeneration area. The outcome will be watched far beyond the local residents following the planning process.

Perhaps London First director of planning and development Judith Salomon best sums up the issues: "You can see both sides of the argument - preserving an iconic building or redeveloping the area. It was the same with Wembley. Everyone wanted to preserve the twin towers but now everyone loves the arch."

1939: Giles Gilbert Scott's design completed
1955: Second mirror image station built alongside original
1975: Station A closes
1980: Grade II listing status conferred
1983: Station B shuts down
1984: Alton Towers owner wins competition to redevelop site as indoor
theme park
1986: Planning approval granted for theme park
1989: Theme park idea dropped
1996: Parkview International acquires freehold
2003: Parkview unveils mixed-use proposals
2005: Wandsworth approves plans to demolish and rebuild unsafe chimneys
2006: Real Estate Opportunities buys site for £400 million
2007: Rafael Vinoly appointed masterplanner for mixed-use development

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