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. 

Not, at first sight, the greatest news for Nine Elms that the banks have called in the administrators at Battersea Power Station. My reaction on hearing the news yesterday was not one I would readily repeat. Could the site be cursed?

In fact, the outlook for Nine Elms remains good.

For a start, the Government is now backing the Northern Line Extension. This is a linchpin for development, making the ambitious targets of creating 16,000 homes and 25,000 jobs possible.

Even the bad news of Treasury being put into administration has some positives. The financial status of Treasury had increasingly become an issue, and this at least bring that to a head.

And, most importantly, Nine Elms is a different place to the last time something like this happened, and Treasury bought the power station site from Parkview. Preparatory work has begun at Battersea Power Station and the first phases of the development could be started quickly, even if later phases change.

Meanwhile, other parts of Nine Elms are already moving forward. Work has started at Riverlight, the US Embassy has committed to the area and other developers continue with their plans.

So, not great news for Treasury. But that doesn’t mean Nine Elms future is any less bright.

The winner? The iconic Power Station building in Nine Elms
The winner? The iconic Power Station building in Nine Elms

The council is starting its formal consultation on the Battersea Power Station planning application and, to coincide with this, Treasury Holdings are holding another public exhibition this Thursday (between noon and 8pm), Friday (from 10am to 6pm) and Saturday (from 10am until 5pm).

The Power Station is a key part of the regeneration of Nine Elms. There is no getting away from the number of false starts over the years, but this – hopefully – is the beginning of the formal process that will see the site brought into public use. If you have an interest in how Nine Elms is going to start to develop over the coming years it’ll be well worth going along.

It takes place on the site, which can be accessed from Kirtling Street just off Battersea Park Road.