A powerful history

The foundations are being laid for a new community at Battersea Power Station, with £8 billion of investment creating a thriving, diverse neighbourhood. October 2015 witnessed a new milestone in the project

The Grade II* listed Battersea Power Station, situated in the Nine Elms area on London’s South Bank, is the largest brick building in Europe and is notable for its original, lavish Art Deco interior fittings and decor. Having ceased generating power in 1983, numerous redevelopment plans were drawn up from successive site owners, but it wasn’t until 2012 that Knight Frank announced that administrators Ernst & Young had entered into an exclusivity agreement with Malaysia’s SP Setia and Sime Darby and were working towards a timely exchange and completion of the site and associated land. Completion of the £400 million sale took place in September 2012, and work finally commenced with Phase 1 on July 4th, 2013 – the 80th anniversary of this historic building.

This vast 42-acre former industrial brownfield site is going to be revitalised into a community of homes, shops, cafes, offices and 18 acres of public space. Described as a ‘new town centre for London’, it will also be serviced by an extension to the Northern Line. The overall plans include the restoration of the art deco structure internally and externally, reconstruction of the chimneys, and refurbishment of the historic cranes and jetty. Also included are 4000 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 commenced in 2013. 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. The overall development is anticipated to be completed in 2025, with The Power Station itself expected to be open to the public for the first time in over 30 years in 2019.

As mentioned above, reconstruction of the chimneys is part of the site plan, and in fact, is a significant part of the project, given that Battersea Power Station’s four chimneys are iconic structures that are instantly recognisable and a much-loved feature of London’s skyline.

However, following exhaustive surveys and testing by leading experts it was found that any refurbishment of the existing chimneys would only ever be a short-term fix and not actually prevent the chimneys from continuing to deteriorate. Therefore, with the agreement of Historic England and the London Borough of Wandsworth, it was agreed that the chimneys would be dismantled and rebuilt, using the same techniques and materials, so that they will continue to dominate the skyline for generations to come.

Each new chimney will be visually identical to the original, the only difference being that the new chimneys will use a more modern pattern of steel reinforcement within the concrete. Initially, work started on just the new South West chimney and October 2015 saw a major milestone reached in this aspect of the project, when it reached 7a height of 25m above the highest point of the wash tower brickwork. This marked the halfway point, and meant that work could start to dismantle and rebuild the other three chimneys simultaneously.

Rob Tincknell, Chief Executive Officer at Battersea Power Station Development Company (BPSDC), agreed: “Reaching the halfway point on the first chimney to be rebuilt is another significant milestone for everyone involved in the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station. We are very proud of this achievement and with work to start soon on the other three chimneys, I would like to offer the teams on site every best wish for the rest of the project.”

Cllr Ravi Govindia, Leader of Wandsworth Council, added: “These chimneys are a defining feature of the London skyline so as the local planning authority we have a profound duty of care to make sure the rebuilding process is a success. With each of these structures towering above the Power Station’s brickwork we also have to recognise that this is a truly unique engineering challenge.”

The rebuild process is to pour concrete into a set of wooden shutters measuring 1.22 metres in height. The concrete section or ‘lift’ as it is known is left to set for 24 hours and then the shutters are removed unveiling the new chimney surface. In total, running vertically through the concrete sections will be approximately 70 tonnes of steel reinforcement bars that are set into the concrete in two concentric rings.

With another 10m of new chimney lying inside the brick washtower, the South West chimney will be restored to its full height of 50m before the end of 2015. The rebuild programme that uses the same construction principles to ensure the new chimneys are rebuilt to be visually identical to the originals will conclude late summer 2016. Once the rebuild work is completed, all four chimneys will then be painted. Until then the chimneys will remain in their grey concrete–fluted form as they did when they were first built. Paint scrapings have been taken to ensure that the new chimneys will then be repainted in the same original colour. Whilst the colour will look brighter initially, this is simply because the surface will not have weathered yet, which will affect the eventual shade.

The rebuild programme has been undertaken by a group of specialist contractors including construction managers Skanska, Beroa Bierrum and Buro Happold Engineering. BPSDC is working with Historic England and LBW throughout the process of redeveloping the Grade II* listed Power Station to open it up to the public.

Nigel Barker, Planning Group Director for London at Historic England concluded: “We are excited to see the delivery of this milestone stage. Our Historic Buildings Inspectors and Engineers have provided expert advice throughout the rebuild process so that the new chimneys match the originals as closely as possible. This demonstrates BPSDC’s commitment to the redevelopment of the Power Station which will safeguard its distinctive profile for the enjoyment of future generations of Londoners.”

For more information, visit www.batterseapowerstation.co.uk/chimneys