There are few landmarks as iconic to Londoners as Battersea Power Station. To the rest of the world it’s all about the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, the Shard, but to those of us who call London home those four skinny chimneys are as sweet and homely as a mug of hot chocolate.
To me its emptiness offers a moment of peace in a hectic, jumbled up city. It’s tall and knowing, calm and still. Whenever I’ve been away for long periods of time, the few years I decided to decamp ‘oop north’ for example, it, more than anything else, would make me feel flushed with homesickness when I saw it on TV.
A few weeks ago as part of Chelsea Flower Show’s fringe festival, the strip of land in front of the old building was opened to the public for the first time in years. The art installations weren’t particularly memorable, but the chance to get closer to Battersea Power Station was. I’d never noticed the strange romance in its smashed windows, the nesting birds or the rusting coal cranes before.
Ever since I’ve been dogged by sadness. This week, work is due to start on redeveloping the building (it’s really happening this time). The site’s been bought by a Malaysian consortium – made up of a palm oil plantation, a property group and the state pension fund – who will take it to pieces and start again, rebuilding it minus the decay and the birds. Instead there will be new ‘smart spaces’ – flats, offices and a gym.
It was inevitable that it would become something flashy one day, especially considering its fairly central position and notoriety. Of course, I’m happy it’ll be looked after, but I’d become quite attached to the building as it was. Thanks to dozens of failed redevelopments it’s been nothing other than a landmark during my lifetime. It felt like it existed for no other reason than because it was ours, the people who lived nearby, and we loved it.
Despite developers promising a ‘cultural hub’, a community, many of the flats have already been sold to overseas investors. The building will become an international attraction, the famous chimneys part if its brand, and it won’t be ours anymore. Technically the frontage will look similar (it’s Grade II* listed), but there’ll be little of the spirit left of the landmark I loved. When I roll past on the Waterloo train, staring out of the window, there won’t be Battersea Power Station looking back at me, but Malaysian palm oil and Arab black gold.
The fear of homesickness has kept me in London since returning from those years in The North, I was scared of seeing images of the beautiful (to me) landscape and thinking what have I done? But its useless feeling attached to city like London because, no matter how long you’ve been here, it will never love you back. Not unless you’ve got an outrageous amount of cash anyway. Perhaps it’s time to move on.