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Saturday, September 22, 2012

High expectations on Battersea project

An artist’s impression of the Battersea Power Station with a 6-acre public park facing the River Thames.

SEPT 5 a cocktail party is in progress in a tent at the Battersea Power Station to introduce the new owners of the site.

Right after Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala and London mayor Boris Johnson complete their speeches, a man goes up to the London mayor. Both him and his wife are informally dressed, and they stand out among the guests who are formally attired. His wife stands a little distance away.

He tells the mayor: “We have attended such parties three to four times. Nothing happens after the party is over. Can you please promise us, assure us, that this time something will happen? We have been living here more than 35 years and we want this place to be developed,” the man says.

During the last three years, over 300 presentations and meetings with the local community groups and community forum were held. Several past owners have tried to develop the 39-acre iconic site. The last one to try to do so was Real Estate Opportunities but the Irish developer became a victim of the global financial crisis.

Battersea Power Station comes under the Wandsworth local council. If there is such a thing as being located at the wrong side of the bridge, this must be it. Because across the Chelsea Bridge, a mere 15-20 minute walk away, is one of London's most sought after address both in terms of retail and residential Sloan Square and Chelsea. Here, the people look different, the air smells different.

But there are two huge plus factors over at the Battersea site. One is the 200-acre Battersea Park. The other is the power station itself, one was built in the 1930s and the adjoining one in the 1950s. Both became non-operational in 1983. Since 1985, for 27 years, one developer after another tried to redevelop the site.

“It would have been great if the Irish had pulled it off,” says Savills London director Edward Lewis.

Says SP Setia Bhd president and chief executive officer Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin: “This is not just a Sime Darby, SP Setia and EPF (Employees Provident Fund) project. It is a government-to-government project.

“Despite all the negativity, we have done it! We own it!” And he challenged the press to take that 20-minute walk to the Victoria underground and the Sloan Square underground.

For over a year, Liew has been trying to get his hands on the site. He sees the value in it because the site already has the planning consent, which is the equivalent of a development order. He also likes the power station, which will give the development its character and heritage, and is not overwhelmed by the challenges it represent.

“During the London Olympics, there were six iconic sites that were featured. This power station is one of them. It will be the heart of the entire project.”

Italian Rafael Vinoly did the master plan for the previous owner and the consortium is happy with his work.

“Here, the layout approval is detailed right down to how the sunlight is going to fall, the type of glass to be used,” says Liew.

The consortium proposes to regenerate and restore the iconic power station, build 3,400 new homes and 1.73 million sq ft (160,933 sq m) office space, more than 550,000 sq ft (51,349 sq m) of shops and 160,000 sq ft (14,975 sq m) of food and beverage outlets.

The site will also have two hotels offering more than 400 rooms and community space for culture and leisure. It will also have a range of new community facilities.

Between now and the next 12 months, there will be much preparatory work on the site. Phase one is expected to begin in the third quarter of next year and scheduled to be completed in 2017. Phase two will begin in the last quarter of next year to be completed in 2019.

Phase one comprises conserving and preserving the power station and the development of 800 units of apartments with a preview tentative scheduled for November this year and a soft launch early next year. The one and two-bedroom units are estimated to cost a minimum of £900 per sq ft.

Work on the riverside walkway to connect to Sloan Square and Chelsea will also commence in phase one.

By The Star

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