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Battersea Power Station: It'll Be Great When It's Done...

Words by Luke Alland, photography by Andres Garcia.

In London, we seem to be used to the disappointment of any large scale project not actually living up to the billing. From Wembley to the new Elizabeth Line, there seems to be delay after delay and, when you actually get round to going or using it, there's always something in the way of making it exceptional. Much like the England men's football team, all the potential is there, they just haven't managed to finish the job.

Having grown up going past the dishevelled husk of the power station on the train from south-east London into Victoria, I've seen first-hand how the area and the focal point has changed over the years. Long before it was decommissioned in 1983, my mum and my grandparents lived in the shadow of it in Battersea, and thankfully, my nan is not writing this article as I don't think she would be as forgiving as I am.

The Power Station itself has a bit of a strange history. It was originally half the size, with only two chimneys. Imagine it sliced down the middle length ways, or you could just Google it—reader's choice. With the first part being completed in 1935 and the other half being completed eighteen years later in 1955 (largely down to World War II) the now iconic 4-chimney structure was finally finished.

After it gave out its final watt of energy, the original plan was to demolish it and turn it into housing (some things never change), but due to the Grade II listed status of the building, the Central Electricity Generating Board had to maintain it. Naturally, they held a competition to garner ideas for giving the site a new lease of life, and the idea of an indoor theme park eventually won the bid. Six years on, and with costs skyrocketing from £35 million to £230 million, the idea was abandoned.

The new issue it now faced was that, because of the theme park plan, they'd taken the majority of the roof off. Given London's propensity for rainfall, you could understand the slight problem here. A host of ideas then ensued, with ownership changing hands like the weather: rebuilding parts of the station to run on biomass; Chelsea F.C. potentially turning it into a stadium; an eco-dome; and even something that would include a 980-foot-high tower were all thrown into the mix and eventually dashed.

In the end, and years later, the thing that finally got the green light was... a shopping centre. You'd have thought after all of that time we might have gotten something a bit more substantial. Don't get me wrong, they've done the place up lovely. The problem is, it's only half open (at the time of writing). There are a myriad of shops that have been reserved by brands which are yet to open. If only they knew when the launch party was! In such an ample space, there's only ONE bar, and it's not even that big. For its sins, it is actually quite nice, with queues forming at the bottom of the stairs as soon as it's 'acceptably late enough' to go for a cocktail.

The station that was purpose-built and extended the already ancient Northern Line is so devoid of character it makes Canary Wharf look appealing. For the amount of money spent and the time it's taken to complete, they could've at least nodded to the namesake of the stop, but no. It's wall-to-wall sterile steel that coats the inside of the platform and greets you on the escalators as you make your way to the ergonomically-designed walkway to disappointment. I hope that in years to come, I can look back on this and eat my words. The one thing I can't yet do there, ironically, is eat.

For something so culturally engrained within the modern history of London, I would've anticipated something out of this world. Regrettably we got something very much of this world, and when the surrounding streets have more to do than the jewel in the crown, it feels like a waste.

Does anyone know what's going on with HS2?


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