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Questions raised over Battersea Power Station

The cage that hoists you to the top of the north west chimney of Battersea Power station, 102 metres high, stops with a shudder.

Clamber out and you see a wide and telling view. You’re eye level with the three other famous chimneys; around you, the cavernous, hollow interior of the turbine hall and switch houses; below, three thousand builders on site, a hive of activity; and following the flow of Thames up to Vauxhall, a mess of crane-strewn sites, the biggest redevelopment project in Europe.

I’m here to see the finishing touches put, by hand, to the chimney. One of the conditions for redeveloping the power station was keeping the power station.

They were in bad shape, so they were laser scanned, demolished, then rebuilt – using the same technique as their original construction in the 1930s.

Battersea Power Station chimneys
Image:The chimneys were rebuilt using the technique from their original construction

That means hauling 6,000 wheelbarrows worth of concrete up the hoist, then pouring it into metal frames by hand.

“It’s an absolutely massive, iconic project for the location,” says Mike Grice, chief construction officer of Battersea Power Station.

“It’s a driver for the whole of this regeneration of Nine Elms.”

Nothing much was happening here before; the power station itself was decommissioned in 1975. Two years later, it featured on a Pink Floyd album cover.

Now, thousands of homes are being built and businesses are moving in. The first premises open this summer. Apple will relocate its headquarters there once the whole site is complete.

Battersea Power Station is undergoing huge redevelopment
Image:Six thousand wheelbarrows worth of concrete have been used for the new chimneys

Good news? Not everyone thinks so.

Writing in the London Review of Books, John Lanchester describes the Nine Elms area as “a chaotic patchwork of architectural ambition, developers’ greed and mostly well-meaning but always overmatched local councils”.

Peter Rees, the former planner of the City of London, is even more forthright.

Standing on the banks of the northern side of the river, he tells Sky News: “London is currently covered by a rash of development that the politicians describe as being the creation of homes. I question whether that’s the case.

“One of the most intense areas of that rash is behind me at Nine Elms. Immediately behind me you have St George’s Tower, which is widely rumoured to be a home for Russian ill-gotten capital – a laundry you might say.

“And then more or less next to it we’ve got the American embassy, a fortified bunker for the US, still surrounded by some of its bubble wrap.

Battersea Power Station archive photo
Image:‘A monument to a decade of pollution and Pink Floyd’

“And further up the river, Battersea Power Station being expensively restored, rebuilt – and it’s a monument after all to a decade of pollution and Pink Floyd.

“Those three landmarks epitomise what’s actually happening in London: it’s not do to with the creation of homes. It’s iconic buildings for property developers to maximise their development return, to maximise their profit.

“And in between them we’ve got these blocks of real estate which the politicians describe as homes but which are in fact simply investment ready – they’re piles of safety deposit boxes.”

The only corrective, in Mr Rees’s view, is a massive collapse in house prices – something that brings its own risks.

From 100 metres up, on the temporary platform surrounding the last chimney to be completed, what you see is a moment in time – a glimpse of London’s future, yet to be decided.

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