The latest proposals for regenerating London’s iconic Battersea Power Station by Uruguayan Rafael Viñoly are both symbolic and ironic in equal measures. Firstly, this particular site has been dogged by a series of high profile failures over the past 25 years and so the announcement of a £4bn scheme in the middle of the Credit Crunch is a brave move and a symbol of confidence in the longer term development prospects of the capital.
When first commissioned in 1939, the Battersea design by Giles Gilbert Scott, grandson of the illustrious George Gilbert Scott of St Pancras fame, was controversial and unpopular with many Londoners. The vast coal fired power station was the first of a series of generators linked in to the UK’s new National Grid, however it soon became an emotional symbol of London’s industrial power during the second world war and remains an instantly recognisable symbol of London for many visiting tourists. Battersea has relatives of the coal era up and down the Thames: Downstream, the hugely successful Tate Modern conversion by Herzog De Meuron (Formerly Bankside Power Station) is now the UK’s biggest tourist attraction and upstream is Terry Farrell’s , yet to be realised Lots Road Power Station re-development.
However Battersea’s life was unexpectedly cut short, being decommissioned in 1983, its use foreshortened by the coal crisis and the discovery of North Sea Gas.
That the site should now be redeveloped at this point in time is particularly ironic as the 25 years of the generator’s idleness exactly mirrors the rise and fall of the UK’s hugely important North Sea gas industry. This under publicised resource which has been quietly funding the UK’s growth for two and a half decades has all but run out. Last year symbolically saw the UK slide from being a net exporter to a net importer of energy with consequential rises in fuel bills of 40% being forecast for this year, compounding the already devastating effects of the credit crunch.
The UK is still dithering trying to establish a strategy to deal with the now widening gap between its consumption and resources. The huge shortfall is being supplied in the short term with Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) brought in by tanker from the Middle East and oil via new pipelines from central Europe.
A huge investment in offshore wind farms is expected to be announced soon but these will need to be underpinned with many additional nuclear reactors to ensure continuity of supply. None of these are yet defined let alone being constructed.
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