Battersea Power Station on the south bank of the River Thames, in Nine Elms in London, England is one of the world’s most iconic power stations. The building comprises two power stations, built in two stages and almost identical, creating a four-chimney structure. It was decommissioned between 1975 and 1983 and remained empty until 2014.
Up until the 1930s, power in London was produced at a number of small companies providing electricity to industry with the surplus sold to the public. Each used different standards of voltage and frequency. In 1925, it was suggested that electricity production should be nationalised. In response, a number of the smaller companies formed the London Power Company and agreed to use a uniform standard.
The London Power Company began planning for the first of a number of large power stations on the south bank of the River Thames in Battersea. The site was formerly the location of reservoirs belonging to Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks Company and was thought to be favourable for the delivery of coal along the river.
The building was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who was famed as the designer of the red telephone box and Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. Another of his power station designs, Bankside, now houses the Tate Modern art gallery. The design was to incorporate innovative solutions to reduce smoke and provide cleaner emissions.
Construction on the first station, Battersea A, began in March 1929. Power generation began in 1933 however the building was not completed until 1935. Six construction workers were killed in accidents on site during construction. Work on Battersea B was delayed as a result of World War II and began soon after. It was completed in 1955 and mirrored A Station. Together, they formed the familiar four-chimney design. The 509 megawatts generating capacity provided a fifth of London’s electricity needs. By this time, electric power generation in the UK had been nationalised and Battersea Power Station had come under the ownership of the British Electricity Authority.
The power stations art deco design led to it being described as the Temple of Power. The brick-cathedral style of design was popular for power stations in the UK at the time. Steel frame construction with brick cladding had been used successfully in skyscrapers in the USA and Battersea Power Station is still the largest brick structure in Europe to this day. Each of the chimneys is 103 metres (338 ft) tall.
Coal for the station came from pits in South Wales and North East England and was delivered aboard special coastal collier ships. Over a millions tonnes of coals was consumed annually. Two cranes operated at the station’s jetty, unloading coal from the ships onto a conveyor belt system that took it to the coal storage area. The station used an average of 1.5 gigalitres (340,000,000 imperial gallons) of water from the River Thames each day for cooling.
A fire at the power station on 20 April 1964 caused massive power failures across London and delayed the launch of BBC Two after power was lost at the BBC Television Centre. The channel launched the following morning.
During the 1970s, the use of coal to produce electricity was declining rapidly and on 17 March 1975, A Station was closed. It was evident that B Station would soon follow and a campaign was launched to maintain the Temple of Power as a national monument. In 1980, Battersea Power Station was awarded Grade II listed status by Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Heseltine. B Station finally closed on 31 October 1983, marking the end of energy production at the site.
The Central Electricity Generating Board launched a sale process for the site, inviting tenders for redevelopment. A project by developer David Roche and Alton Towers owner John Broome was selected. They sought to build an indoor theme park with shops and restaurants. It received planning approval in May 1986 and Battersea Power Station was sold to the consortium for £1.5 million.
In March 1989, work was halted as costs had ballooned from £35 million to £203 million. Large sections of the roof had been removed by this time and much of the internal infrastructure was left to the elements when construction was abandoned. A new proposal for a hotel, offices and shops was given planning permission in August 1990 but work never proceeded and the building remained abandoned.
Hong Kong-based development company, Parkview International, bought the abandoned power station for £10 million in 1993 and submitted plans for redevelopment. Permission for the development wasn’t granted until 2003 when Parkview began work on a £1.1 billion project to restore the building and to redevelop the site into a retail, housing and leisure complex.
On 30 November 2006, Real Estate Opportunities, an Irish property company, purchased the power station for €532 million (£400 million) and revealed a new masterplan for the site. They proposed an extension of the Northern Line on the London Underground to the new development. The new plans would include an energy museum in the former A Station. Planning permission was granted on 11 November 2010 but by this time, Ireland was in the midst of a property crash and site passed to senior lenders Lloyds and Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency (NAMA).
Battersea Power Station was put up for sale in May 2012 with bids coming from Chelsea FC for the construction of stadium among others. On 7 June 2012, it was announced that Malaysian developers SP Setia and Sime Darby had won the bidding process and the site passed into their ownership in September 2012. They retained the previous REO masterplan designed by Uruguayan-born architect Rafael Viñoly. The plan includes the restoration of the power station to house shops, cafes, restaurants, art and leisure facilities, office space and residential accommodation. The Northern Line extension is also part of the plan. In September 2016, Apple announced that they would create office space for 1,400 employees at the power station.
Battersea Power Station has had an interesting history and after several misfires, it’s hoped that the Temple of Power will thrive again soon!