Battersea Power Station is a decommissioned coal-fired power station located on the south bank of the River Thames, in Battersea, an inner-city district of South West London. It comprises two individual power stations, built in two stages in the form of a single building. Battersea A Power Station was built in the 1930s, with Battersea B Power Station to its east in the 1950s. The two stations were built to an identical design, providing the well known four-chimney layout. The station ceased generating electricity in 1983, but over the past 50 years it has become one of the best known landmarks in London and is Grade II* listed. The station’s celebrity owes much to numerous cultural appearances, which include a shot in The Beatles’ 1965 movie Help!, appearing in the video for the 1982 hit single “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” by heavy metal band Judas Priest and being used in the cover art of Pink Floyd’s 1977 album Animals, as well as a cameo appearance in Take That’s music video “The Flood.” In addition, a photograph of the plant’s control room was used as cover art on Hawkwind’s 1977 album Quark, Strangeness and Charm.
Since the station’s closure the site has remained largely unused, with numerous failed redevelopment plans from successive site owners. The site was owned by the administrators of Irish company Real Estate Opportunities (REO), who bought it for £400 million in November 2006. In November 2010, REO was granted permission to refurbish the station for public use and build 3,400 homes across the site. However, this plan fell through due to REO’s debt being called in by its creditors, the state-owned banks in the UK and Ireland. In July 2012, the power station was sold to a consortium led by Malaysia’s SP Setia for £400 million.
The station is the largest brick building in Europe and is notable for its original, lavish Art Deco interior fittings and decor. However, the building’s condition has been described as “very bad” by English Heritage and is included in its Heritage at Risk Register. In 2004, while the redevelopment project was stalled, and the building remained derelict, the site was listed on the 2004 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund. The combination of an existing debt burden of some £750 million, the need to make a £200 million contribution to a proposed extension to the London Underground, requirements to fund conservation of the derelict power station shell and the presence of a waste transfer station and cement plant on the river frontage make a commercial development of the site a significant challenge. In December 2011, the latest plans to develop the site collapsed with the debt called in by the creditors. In February 2012, the site was placed on sale on the open property market through commercial estate agent Knight Frank. It has received interest from a variety of overseas consortia, most seeking to demolish or part-demolish the structure.
On 7 June 2012, it was officially announced by Knight Frank that administrators Ernst & Young had entered into an exclusivity agreement with SP Setia and Sime Darby and were working towards a timely exchange and completion of the site and associated land. Completion of the sale took place in September 2012, and the redevelopment intends to implement the Rafael Vinoly design which had gained planning consent from Wandsworth Council in 2011. In January 2013 the first residential apartments went on sale. Construction on Phase 1 is due to commence in 2013, with completion due in 2016/17.
Until the late 1930s electricity was supplied by municipal undertakings. These were small power companies that built power stations dedicated to a single industry or group of factories, and sold any excess electricity to the public. These companies used widely differing standards of voltage and frequency. In 1925 Parliament decided that the power grid should be a single system with uniform standards and under public ownership. Several of the private power companies reacted to the proposal by forming the London Power Company. They planned to heed parliament’s recommendations and build a small number of very large stations.
The London Power Company’s first of these super power stations was planned for the Battersea area, on the south bank of the River Thames in London. The proposal was made in 1927, for a station built in two stages and capable of generating 400 megawatts (MW) of electricity when complete. The site chosen was a 15-acre (61,000 m2) plot of land which had been the site of the reservoirs for the former Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks Company. The site was chosen for its proximity to the River Thames for cooling water and coal delivery, and because it was in the heart of London, the station’s immediate supply area.
The proposal sparked protests from those who felt that the building would be too large and would be an eyesore, as well as worries about the pollution damaging local buildings, parks and even paintings in the nearby Tate Gallery. The company addressed the former concern by hiring Sir Giles Gilbert Scott to design the building’s exterior. He was a noted architect and industrial designer, famous for his design of the red telephone box, and of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. He would go on to design another London power station, Bankside, which now houses Tate Modern art gallery. The pollution issue was resolved by granting permission for the station on the condition that its emissions were to be treated, to ensure they were cleaner and contained less smoke.
Construction of the first phase, the A Station, began in March 1929. The main building work was carried out by John Mowlem & Co, and the structural steelwork erection carried out by Sir William Arrol & Co. Other contractors were employed for specialist tasks. Most of the electrical equipment, including the steam turbine turbo generators, was produced by Metropolitan-Vickers in Trafford Park, Manchester. The building of the steel frame began in October 1930. Once completed, the construction of the brick cladding began, in March 1931. Until the construction of the B Station, the eastern wall of the boiler house was clad in corrugated metal sheeting as a temporary enclosure. The A Station first generated electricity in 1933, but was not completed until 1935. The total cost of its construction was £2,141,550. Between construction beginning in 1929 and 1933, there were six fatal and 121 non-fatal accidents on the site.
A short number of months after the end of Second World War, construction began on the second phase, the B Station. The station came into operation gradually between 1953 and 1955. It was identical to the A Station from the outside and was constructed directly to its east as a mirror to it, which gave the power station its now familiar four-chimney layout. The construction of the B Station brought the site’s generating capacity up to 509 megawatts (MW), making it the third largest generating site in the UK at the time, providing a fifth of London’s electricity needs (with the remainder supplied by 28 smaller stations). It was also the most thermally efficient power station in the world when it opened.
The A Station had been operated by the London Power Company, but by the time the B Station was completed, the UK’s electric supply industry had been nationalised, and ownership of the two stations had passed into the hands of the British Electricity Authority in 1948. In 1955, this became the Central Electricity Authority, which in turn became the Central Electricity Generating Board in 1957.
On 20 April 1964, the power station was the site of a fire that caused power failures throughout London, including at the BBC Television Centre, which was due to launch BBC Two that night. The launch was delayed until the following day at 11 am.
Both of the stations were designed by a team of architects and engineers. The team was headed by Dr. Leonard Pearce, the chief engineer of the London Power Company, but a number of other notable engineers were also involved, including Henry Newmarch Allott, and T. P. O’Sullivan who was later responsible for the Assembly Hall at Filton. Theo J. Halliday was employed as architect, with Halliday & Agate Co. employed as a sub-consultant. Halliday was responsible for the supervision and execution of the appearance of the exterior and interior of the building. Architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was involved in the project much later on, consulted to appease public reaction, and referred to in the press as “architect of the exterior”. The station was designed in the brick-cathedral style of power station design, which was popular at the time. Battersea is one of a very small number of examples of this style of power station design still in existence in the UK, others being Uskmouth and Bankside. The station’s design proved popular straightaway, and was described as a “temple of power”, which ranked equal with St Paul’s Cathedral as a London landmark. In a 1939 survey by The Architectural Review a panel of celebrities ranked it as their second favourite modern building.
The A Station’s control room was given many Art Deco fittings by architect Halliday. Italian marble was used in the turbine hall, and polished parquet floors and wrought-iron staircases were used throughout. Owing to a lack of available money following the Second World War, the interior of the B Station was not given the same treatment, and instead the fittings were made from stainless steel.
Each of the two connected stations consists of a long boiler house with a chimney at each end and an adjacent turbine hall. This makes a single main building which is of steel frame construction with brick cladding, similar to the skyscrapers built in the United States around the same time. The station is the largest brick structure in Europe. The building’s gross dimensions measure 160 metres (520 ft) by 170 metres (560 ft), with the roof of the boiler house standing at over 50 metres (160 ft). Each of the four chimneys is made from concrete and stands 103 metres (338 ft) tall with a base diameter of 28 ft tapering to 22 ft at the top. The station also had jetty facilities for unloading coal, a coal sorting and storage area, control rooms and an administration block.
The A Station generated electricity using three turbo alternators; two 69 megawatt (MW) Metropolitan-Vickers British Thomson-Houston sets, and one 105 MW Metropolitan-Vickers set, totalling 243 MW. At the time of its commissioning, the 105 MW generating set was the largest in Europe. The B Station also had three turbo alternators, all made by Metropolitan-Vickers. This consisted of two units which used 16 MW high pressure units exhausting to a 78 MW and associated with a 6 MW house alternator, giving these units a total rating of 100 MW. The third unit consisted of a 66 MW machine associated with a 6 MW house alternator, giving the unit a rating of 72 MW. Combined, these gave the B station a generating capacity of 260 MW, making the site’s generating capacity 503 MW. All of the station’s boilers were made by Babcock & Wilcox, fuelled by pulverised coal from pulverisers also built by Babcock & Wilcox. There were nine boilers in the A station and six in the B station. The B station’s boilers were the largest ever built in the UK at that time. The B station also had the highest thermal efficiency of any power station in the country for the first twelve years of its operation.
The station had an annual coal consumption of over 1,000,000 tonnes. The majority of this coal was delivered to the station from coal ports in South Wales and North East England by coastal collier ships. The ships were “flat-irons” with a low-profile superstructure, fold-down funnel and masts to fit under bridges over the Thames above the Pool of London. The LPC and its nationalised successors owned and operated several of its own “flat-irons” for this service.
The jetty facilities used two cranes to offload coal, with the capacity of unloading two ships at one time, at a rate of 480 tonnes an hour. Coal was also delivered by rail to the east of the station using the Brighton Main Line which passes near the site. Coal was usually delivered to the jetty, rather than by rail. A conveyor belt system was then used to take coal to the coal storage area or directly to the station’s boiler rooms. The conveyor belt system consisted of a series of bridges connected by towers. The coal storage area was a large concrete box capable of holding 75,000 tonnes of coal. This had an overhead gantry with a conveyor belt attached to the conveyor belt system, for taking coal from the coal store to the boiler rooms.
Water is essential to a thermal power station, as water is heated to create steam to turn the steam turbines. Water cycled through Battersea Power Station’s systems was taken from the River Thames, upon whose banks it had been built. The station would extract an average of 1 545 700 000 L (340,000,000 Imperial gallons) of water from the river each day. Once the water had been through the station’s systems, the water was cooled and discharged back into the river.
After the end of the Second World War, the London Power Company took the opportunity to use the waste heat of the water from the power station to implement a district heating scheme (now better known as “cogeneration”). The system benefited some 10,000 people by providing hot water and central heating to newly redeveloped areas within Pimlico, on the opposite side of the river.
The reduction of sulphur emissions had been an important factor since the station was in the design stages, as it was one of the main worries of those who protested the construction of the station. The London Power Company began developing an experimental technique for washing the flue gases in 1925. It used water and alkaline sprays over scrubbers of steel and timber in the flue ducts. The gases were subject to continuous washing, and with the presence of the catalyst iron oxide, sulphur dioxide was converted into sulphuric acid. Battersea Power Station was one of the first commercial applications of this technique in the world. This method of washing was stopped in the B Station in the 1960s, when it was discovered that the discharge of these products into the Thames was more harmful to the river than the gases would be to the atmosphere.
The fact that the station’s output continued to fall, coupled with increased operating costs, such as flue gas cleaning, led to Battersea’s demise. On 17 March 1975, the A Station was closed after being in operation for 40 years. By this time the A Station was co-firing oil and its generating capacity had declined to 228 MW.
Three years after the closure of the A Station, rumours began to circulate that the B Station would soon follow. A campaign was then launched to try to save the building as part of the national heritage. As a result the station was declared a heritage site in 1980, when the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Heseltine, awarded the building Grade II listed status. (This was upgraded to Grade II* listed in 2007.) On 31 October 1983 production of electricity at Station B also ended, after nearly 30 years of operation. By then the B Station’s generating capacity had fallen to 146 MW. The closure of the two stations was put down largely to the generating equipment becoming outdated, and the preferred choice of fuel for electricity generation shifting from coal toward oil, gas and nuclear power. Since the station ceased generating electricity, there have been numerous proposals and attempts to redevelop the site.
Following the station’s closure, the Central Electricity Generating Board had planned to demolish the station and sell the land for housing, but because of the building’s Grade II listed status, they had to pay the high cost of preserving the building. In 1983 they held a competition for ideas on the redevelopment of the site. It was won by a consortium including Alton Towers Ltd, which proposed an indoor theme park, based around Britain’s industrial history. At an estimated cost of £35 million, the scheme was risky and would require over 2 million visitors a year to make any profit. The scheme received planning approval in May 1986 and the site was purchased by John Broome for £1.5 million in 1987. Work on converting the site began the same year.
The project was halted in March 1989, for lack of funding, after costs had quickly escalated that January, from £35 million to £230 million. By this point huge sections of the building’s roof had been removed, so that machinery could be taken out. Without a roof, the building’s steel framework has been left exposed and its foundations have been prone to flooding.
In March 1990, the proposal was changed to a mixture of offices, shops and a hotel. This proposal was granted planning permission in August 1990, despite opposition from 14 independent organisations, including English Heritage. Despite permission being granted, no further work took place on the site between 1990 and 1993.
In 1993, the site and its outstanding debt of £70 million were bought from the Bank of America by Hong Kong-based development company, Parkview International, for £10 million. Following resolution of creditors’ claims, it acquired the freehold title in May 1996. In November 1996 plans for the redevelopment of the site were submitted and outline consent was received in May 1997. Detailed consent for much of the site was granted in August 2000, and the rest in May 2001. The company received full possession of the site in 2003. Having purchased the site, Parkview started work on a £1.1 billion project to restore the building and to redevelop the site into a retail, housing and leisure complex.
Parkview’s project plan, called simply “The Power Station”, was masterminded by architect Nicholas Grimshaw. The scheme proposed a shopping mall, with 40 to 50 restaurants, cafés and bars, 180 shops, as well as nightclubs, comedy venues and a cinema. Cosmopolitan shops would have been sited in the A Station’s turbine hall, and label name shops in the B Station’s turbine hall. The boiler house would have been glazed over and used as a public space for installations and exhibitions. A riverside walkway would also be created, running continuously along the riverside from Vauxhall to Battersea Park.
Parkview claimed that 3,000 jobs would be created during the construction of the project, and 9,000 would be employed once completed, with an emphasis on local recruitment. The Battersea Power Station Community Group campaigned against the Parkview plan and argued for an alternative community-based scheme to be drawn up. The group described the plans as “a deeply unattractive project that has no affordable housing anywhere on the 38-acre (150,000 m2) site, no decent jobs for local people and no credible public transport strategy”. They also criticised how appropriate the project was in its location, and proposal of other large buildings on the site. Keith Garner of the group said “I feel that there’s a real problem of appropriateness. They need a completely different kind of scheme, not this airport-lounge treatment. What you see now is a majestic building looming up from the river. If you surround it with buildings 15 storeys high, you don’t have a landmark any more.”
In 2005 Parkview, English Heritage and the London Borough of Wandsworth claimed that the reinforcement inside the chimneys was corroded and irreparable. Wandsworth Council granted permission for them to be demolished and rebuilt. However, the Twentieth Century Society, the World Monuments Fund and the Battersea Power Station Company Ltd commissioned an alternative engineers’ report that claimed that the existing chimneys could be repaired. In response, Parkview claimed to have given a legally binding undertaking to the council to provide certainty that the chimneys will be replaced “like for like”, in accordance with the requirements of English Heritage and the planning authorities.
On 30 November 2006, it was announced that Real Estate Opportunities, led by Irish businessmen Richard Barrett and Johnny Ronan of Treasury Holdings, had purchased Battersea Power Station and the surrounding land for €532 million (£400 million). REO subsequently announced that the previous plan by Parkview had been dropped and that it had appointed the practice of the Uruguayan-born architect Rafael Viñoly, of New York as the new master planner for the site. The engineers Roger Preston & Partners and Buro Happold were retained on the design team. REO announced its £4 billion plan in 2008, later revised. Jersey law firms, Ogier, Carey Olsen and Mourant Oxannes helped REO to raise funds for the new Battersea Power Station redevelopment. On 30 November 2011, it was officially announced that the REO scheme had collapsed with the debt called in by its lenders and creditors, putting the site in administration.
A proposed part of the regeneration is an extension of the London Underground to serve the area. Although the site is close to Battersea Park and Queenstown Road stations, it appears to be considered that trains from these stations to Victoria and Waterloo respectively are already heavily loaded. The proposed 2-mile tunnelled extension would branch from the Northern Line at Kennington and travel west to Nine Elms and Battersea. The proposed extension would cost at least £500 million in 2008 terms before inflation and optimism bias (extra contingency amounts) and would be part funded by REO and, possibly, other significant land owners in the Nine Elms area. the 2010 planning consent for the site includes a phased contribution of approx. £200 million to the Underground extension, which adds another financial hurdle to the many difficulties in developing the site.
They include reusing part of the station building as a power station, fuelled by biomass and waste. The station’s existing chimneys would be utilised for venting steam. The former turbine halls would be converted to shopping spaces, and the roofless boiler house used as a park. An energy museum would also be housed inside the former station building. The restoration of the power station building would cost £150 million.
A plastic built “eco-dome” was to be built to the east of the power station. This building was originally planned to have a large 300 metres (980 ft) chimney, but this has now been abandoned in favour of a series of smaller towers. The eco-dome would house offices, and aim to reduce energy consumption in the buildings by 67% compared to conventional office buildings, by using the towers to draw cool air through the building. 3,200 new homes would also be built on the site to house 7,000 people.
In June 2008 a consultation process was launched, which revealed that 66% of the general public were in favour of the plans. At an event at the station on 23 March 2009, it was announced that REO were to submit the planning application for their proposal to Wandsworth Council. These plans have now been shelved due to the latest financial crisis to hit the site.
The Council gave planning consent on 11 November 2010. REO hoped for construction to begin in 2011, but this has now been delayed to 2012. The station structure itself is expected to be repaired and secure by 2016, with completion of the whole project by 2020. Plans now include the construction of 3,400 apartments and 3,500,000-square-foot (330,000 m2) of office space. Approximately 28,000 inhabitants and 25,000 workers are expected to occupy the space once complete.
Reuters reported on 1 September 2011 that lenders would allow more time for a new equity partner to be found:
Lenders to the owner of Battersea Power Station in London waived a debt maturity deadline yesterday while talks with potential new equity partners for its redevelopment continued, a source close to the process told Reuters. AIM-listed Real Estate Opportunities is seeking a partner for the 5.5 billion pound ($9 billion) development, and its senior lenders Lloyds and Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency have already extended a deadline once relating to the 400 million pounds REO paid for the site in 2006. ‘The banks have nothing to gain by calling the debt in. Talks with new equity partners continue, and an announcement may come in the next few weeks,’ the source said
However, in November 2011, Lloyds and NAMA called in the debt and the REO scheme collapsed into administration. A new buyer is now being sought for the site.
On 19 September 2011, the Irish Independent reported concern over an alleged donation of 23,000 Euro by a developer to Britain’s Conservative Party.
In February 2012, Sir Terry Farrell’s architectural firm put forward a proposal to convert the power station site into an “urban park” with an option to develop housing at a later date. In this vision, Farrells propose to demolish all but the central boiler hall and chimneys and display the switching equipment from the control rooms in ‘pods’. However, this plan is unlikely to bear fruit due to the Grade 2 listing status of the site. The bid failed to make the shortlist of final bidders considered by the administrators.
On 9 November 2008, Chelsea Football Club were reported to be considered moving to a new purpose built stadium at the power station. The proposed stadium was to hold between 65,000 and 75,000 fans and feature a retractable roof. The proposals were designed by HOK Sport, the same company who designed Wembley Stadium. However, the Chelsea FC scheme was seriously in doubt due to concerns for the preservation of the site and the collapse of the REO scheme in late November 2011.
Following the failure of the REO bid to develop the site, in February 2012, Battersea Power Station was put up for sale on the open market for the first time in its history. The sale was conducted by commercial estate agent Knight Frank on behalf of the site’s creditors. In May 2012, several bids were received for the landmark site, which was put on the market after Nama and Lloyds Banking Group called in loans held by Treasury Holdings’ Real Estate Opportunities (REO). Bids were received from Chelsea F.C. with other interested parties including a Malaysian interest, SP Setia, London & Regional, a company owned by the London-based Livingstone brothers and housebuilder Berkeley. If sold, the new owner would have to pay £500 million for the power station, including £325 million to cover the debts held by Nama and Lloyds, and a £100 million contribution to the northern line extension. If the sale is unsuccessful, the agent would have a duty to maintain and preserve the site in line with its listed status.
On 7 June 2012, Knight Frank announced that administrators Ernst & Young had entered into an exclusive agreement with Malaysian developers SP Setia and Sime Darby, who were given 28 days to conduct due diligence and agree the final terms of the deal. Completion of the sale to the Malaysian consortium took place in September 2012. The redevelopment of the site will use the existing Vinoly master plan which intends to position the Power Station as the central focus of the regenerated 40-acre site, housing a blend of shops, cafes, restaurants, art and leisure facilities, office space and residential accommodation. The plan includes the restoration of the historic Power Station itself, the creation of a new riverside park to the north of the Power Station and the creation of a new High Street which is designed to link the future entrance to Battersea Power Station tube station with the Power Station. The redevelopment is hoped to bring about the extension of the existing riverside walk and facilitate access directly from the Power Station to Battersea Park and Chelsea Bridge. Restoration of the Grade II* listed Power Station is an early priority in the development. Work is due to commence in 2013 and plans include the restoration the art deco structure internally and externally, reconstruction of the chimneys, and refurbishment of the historic cranes and jetty as a new river taxi stop. The plan includes over 800 homes of varying sizes, and sales of residential apartments in Phase 1 of the redevelopment began in January 2013 with around 75 per cent of townhouses and apartments being sold within four days. Construction work on Phase 1, called Circus West, is being undertaken by Carillion and is due to commence in 2013 alongside work on the Power Station. The full redevelopment consists of seven main phases, some of which are planned to run concurrently. Phase 1 is due to complete in 2016/17 with the Northern Line extension and requisite new Battersea Power Station terminal anticipated to complete in 2020.
In October 2013, Frank Gehry was appointed joint architect with Foster + Partners to design “Phase 3” of the scheme, which will provide “the gateway to the entire development and the new Northern Line extension”.