Battersea Power Station and the parallels with a German coal mine

Battersea Power Station has been in the news a lot recently. When is it not in fairness? The latest round of arguments around the site soon to be sold through administrators by Knight Frank, centre around whether the time has now come to knock it down. 

Many see it as an eye sore and would love to see it come to the ground, however many see it as iconic and a building we should do our utmost to refurbish and bring it back to life for future generations. Possible developments have come and gone though, with no developer even getting near to putting a spade in the ground. In reality the cost of refurbishing the power station means that the rest of the site becomes unviable, developers borrow heavily in order to get it off the ground, which never happens, then they go bust. 

Recently, EC Harris stated that if the power station was demolished, then the site would be worth another £470m, making the northern line extension viable and kicking off the rest of the VNEB opportunity area with up to 16,000 residential units. In the middle of a recession and a huge housing crisis, the demolition has its merits as well as increased backing, not least by Sir Terry Farrell (albeit partially). His plan is to knock the brown brick structure down, but keep the listed chimneys and their supports and transform it in to a park. He’s even going as far as submitting a listed building application, paying for it himself with the intention that it would be available for any future owner to implement.

This idea actually reminded me of a very similar project in Essen, Germany, which I visited a couple of years back. Now the Ruhr Museum, the Ruhr being the industrial heartlands of Western Germany, it was once known as the Zollverein Coal Mine. Ceasing operation in 1993, the state government then bought the site soon after, declaring part of it a memorial. Now a museum and event space, attracting over 1 million visitors a year, it’s the city of Essen’s most recognised and iconic landmark and helped bring about the most unlikely title of European Capital of Culture 2010 for the Ruhr. Back in 2001 it was also inscribed into the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, putting it in to the same bracket as Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London.

                                                                                                      Image via UNESCO 

I’m not saying we should open Battersea Power Station up to the public as a museum, I don’t think that would work. London and Essen are two very different cities, but it’s definitely food for thought, especially as the power station has lain derelict for so long now. The parallels with Zollverein don’t look too different to Sir Terry Farrell’s plans either. The interesting bit for me though is how the local government in Germany was so pro-active over the future use of the site, once it had closed down. Town planning in Germany just seems to ‘work’. The ironic thing is that it was the governments of the UK, the US and France which formed and set up the structure of the German government soon after the second world war, so as to not have a dictatorial regime from the top. Instead power is devolved down to the local level, in to something that Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps look upon with envy.

View the long and varied history of Battersea Power Station from EGi here, including the Alton Towers owners plans for a Disneyland style theme park, back in the early days.

About Paul Wellman

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2 Responses to Battersea Power Station and the parallels with a German coal mine

  1. Rob Lugg 22 April, 2012 at 4:27 am #

    “Many see it as an eye sore and would love to see it come to the ground” Like who?! I live opposite the power station and can honestly say I have never met anyone who didn’t think it was one of the best buildings in London.

  2. Paul Wellman 23 April, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    I’m with you. I love it. There are some with no taste though. Apparently it was voted Britain’s second worst eyesore.

    To elaborate, I personally think most people love the power station and would like to see it stay and be refurbished. However there is a growing group of pragmatists who feel the only way for the huge site to be regenerated is for the power station to be levelled. The site just becomes unviable once the costs of redeveloping the power station are included.

    Hopefully some Qatari/Chinese or other Far Eastern money can be injected this time around? It seems they will be the only ones with serious enough capital and the vision to pull the redevelopment off, with a refurbished power station still at the heart of the proposals.

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