Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in a bad photo from the Power Station's ground-breaking event
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in a bad photo from the Power Station’s ground-breaking event

Battersea Power Station’s development was ‘started’ last week with a joint ground-breaking by the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and Malaysia.

Ground-breaking ceremonies are, arguably, a little pointless. If anything they tend to delay development because work has to stop to allow the ceremony to take place, and you can’t even argue that the ground-breaking does even a tiny bit of the work needed. Boris Johnson ‘broke’ the ground at Riverlight by sitting in a digger that had been turned off and the keys removed (despite this there was still a safety zone marked out around the digger, which perhaps speaks to the developers confidence in the Mayor around heavy machinery).

But there is a symbolism to the ceremony, and having a foreign head of government adds to that. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the celebration1 and while there is always something special about visiting the Power Station—something I have been inordinately fortunate to be able to do on many occasions—this was marked by something different: a very real sense of that things are going to happen.

It’s very hard to put my finger on exactly why I felt that, but thinking over the seven years I’ve been involved—to varying degrees—with Nine Elms I can begin to see why. Parkview may have had the money, but never seemed able to finally settle on a scheme. Treasury came up with plans, but ultimately the money was not there. Finally we have developers who not only have a scheme with consent, but the money to see it through.

There is, of course, a long way to go and not all of it will be universally welcomed, many are wary of the change of chimney demolition phasing, for example (although I’d harboured the view that would be necessary for much longer than I dare to admit). Indeed, there is so much left to do I may not even be around to see it completed (politically, I mean, I’m not that morbid), but at the very least I can say I was there when we were finally confident the iconic heart of Nine Elms Battersea would be saved.

  1. A very rare occasion, one of only a handful in my fifteen years on the council, when I’ve had hospitality I need to declare. 

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