London’s Battersea Power Station is finally reopening after a £9 billion refurbishment

After 40 years of abandoned plans, Battersea Power Station is finally opening its doors to test whether a dazzling £9 billion refurbishment project can get underway while the broader UK economy slows.

The financial crash of 2008 meant that the last attempt to revitalize the 1930s building went bust. But this time around, the Malaysia-backed developer believes this economic downturn won’t hamper plans to create a new residential, retail and leisure district on the River Thames in London.

Ahead of Friday’s public launch, Simon Murphy, chief of Battersea Power Station Development Company, said “in relation to the opening [now]we remain confident.”

“We are not blind to the fact that the world is a difficult place,” he added. “Of course there are other challenges. But what we have to do is manage the things that are under our control.

Battersea Power Station in 1937 when it only had two chimneys

Battersea Power Station in 1937 when it only had two chimneys © Fox Photos/Getty Images

“We think if you build something really special and it accommodates the new world that we’re undoubtedly living in, people will come anyway. So we’re going to find out if that’s right.”

Murphy described the 42-acre site, which includes a range of residential and office buildings as well as 250 shops, cafes and restaurants, a theatre, a hotel and public spaces, as “London’s new city centre”.

The building’s old turbine halls have been converted into upmarket retail space – with luxury brands such as Cartier and Rolex alongside Adidas, Superdry and Marks and Spencer – occupying most of the ground floor space.

The turbine halls converted into retail space

The turbine halls have been converted into retail space © Backdrop Productions

With Westfield shopping centers to the west and east of London, the former coal-fired power station becomes the southern point in a shopping center triangle, close to the West End.

Colm Lauder, a property analyst at investment bank Goodbody, said that despite the deteriorating economic outlook in the UK, “better” retail projects are still renting well, albeit often at discounted prices.

“There’s been more activity in the malls and high streets lately than it’s been in a long time, but only for the good spaces,” Lauder said.

Apple has taken six floors of offices in the refurbished power station in one of the largest leases in London in recent years. Last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted that the move was “a reflection of our commitment to Apple’s future in the UK.”

He added: “We can’t wait to open our new offices at the iconic Battersea Power Station.”

Above Apple’s offices, the building houses 254 apartments and a roof garden. One of its four white chimneys, a legacy of its days as a working power plant, has a glass elevator to the top that is open to the public and chargeable.

The original power station began producing electricity in 1935. The Art Deco architecture of the time is well preserved in one half of the building and is most evident in a control room that is being converted into an events space.

Its plaques once controlled the electricity supply for a fifth of London and includes a plaque reading 2 Carnaby Street, which was once linked to Buckingham Palace.

The panel that once controlled the electricity supply to Buckingham Palace via 2 Carnaby Street

The panel that once controlled the electricity supply to Buckingham Palace, through 2 Carnaby Street © Daniel Thomas/FT

The other half of the building was added after World War II when architectural trends had shifted to the steel and “space age” of the 1950s. This corresponding control center will be converted into a bar in the style of the 1950s.

Owned by a consortium of Malaysian investors and developers, the plans for the power station site will see the building open for use for the first time since power was cut off in 1983.

In the past the building has attracted owners from Hong Kong, Ireland and the UK who have had various aspirations to transform it into a theme park, a hotel and even the base of a 300m tall glass chimney.

But the site has remained largely untouched over the decades, as its owners either went broke or sold out — it even went roofless for a time in the 1990s after the project ran out of funding.

Control Room A at Battersea Power Station

Control Room A at Battersea Power Station © James Parsons

The consortium, backed by the Malaysian pension fund, bought the site from its beneficiaries in 2012 for £400m.

The new project has already drawn criticism for its lack of affordable housing and stoked concerns about the number of vacant apartments being built along a stretch of the Thames already ravaged by soulless blocks.

Murphy said 96 percent of the station’s commercial units — offices and retail — are occupied, while about 90 percent of the homes at the power plant have sold.

He said planning permission for the rest of the site, which had previously included “some really very large buildings,” has been updated to allow for greater flexibility in terms of future use, building shape and size, “resulting in a Timing is useful when the developer’s crystal ball is a bit foggy”.

But he added that the developer is already seeing interest in a new office building “despite the world being a weird old place.” London’s Battersea Power Station is finally reopening after a £9 billion refurbishment

Adam Bradshaw

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