Tag Archives: property developers

Power to the people

Cabbies pass it every day of their way to the Wyndham Grand Hotel or when taking a shortcut through Chelsea Harbour with hardly a glance in its direction and like its younger sibling Battersea downriver, Lots Road Power Station lies dormant awaiting redevelopment; this disused industrial building is the world’s oldest thermal power station and almost certainly the first steel-framed building in Britain.

[A]t the turn of the last century Edwardian’s decided, rather sensibly, that smoke filled tunnels with steam locomotives carrying passengers on London’s Underground was not the way to go, and electric driven trains was the way forward.

The bohemian painters of Chelsea objected to the removing smoke from the tunnels populated by the workers and instead discharging the pollution over their green and pleasant riverside residences. But built it was and for the present stands testament to Edwardian engineering at its very best; 220 piers supporting brickwork on a German steel frame; 453ft long, 175ft wide, 140ft high; chimneys 275ft tall; originally its 64 boilers drew water from an artesian well 500ft deep, supplemented by 60 million gallons a day drawn from the Thames via a single pipe wide enough for a horse to walk through.

At first the electricity was used to power the District Line but as demand grew and as the Underground network was extended it was burning 500 tons of coal a day; later it converted to oil and then to natural gas running eight newly installed Rolls-Royal Avon turbines.

Eventually electricity would be more cheaply obtained from the National Grid than generating the network’s own power at Lots Road and so this industrial dinosaur has now lain dormant for decades. The power station’s attractive location standing on the bank of the Thames opposite one of London’s most beautiful Georgian churches, St. Mary’s, Battersea, has made it a victim of more ubiquitous luxury flats.

Now a development planned by Sir Terry Farrell hopes to provide about 800 residential apartments and penthouses units in riverside towers of 37 and 25 storeys and the conversion of the historic Lots Road Power Station. The development will see a signature waterside restaurant, cafes, retail units and offices together with a leisure complex. Planning permission has been granted and development is underway.

Rich men’s basements

Recently I was taking a couple home after they had been to the theatre.

They were the quiet, courteous generation that grew up in the 1930s and 40s, expensively well dressed in a subdued way rather than the vulgar and scruffy apparel favoured by the rich today.

After a short conversation about their theatre visit, I was directed to their home in Belgravia.

[T]ravelling down Chester Row my customers directed me to stop just before a house shrouded in builder’s hoardings and with a large skip outside in the road. “I see your neighbour is having some work done”, I remarked when we had stopped.

While his wife said goodbye and thanking me as she walked towards her front door, her husband approached my driver’s window to pay, upon which he metamorphosised from a genial gentleman to Victor Meldrew. “These houses weren’t built with deep foundations, they are digging under the house and we can hear their work all day, the noise is driving my wife made and I’m just waiting for my house to subside, cracks have already appeared in our walls”

A sad fact is that a new generation is moving to Belgravia nowadays and many are doubling the size and value of their houses by burrowing underground.

Now my customer’s predictions would seem prophetic, for while adding an underground cinema and a gym to a perfectly respectable late Georgian house in Chester Row a skip has fallen into a hole in the road outside the house, spewing water out of the hole and flooding the neighbouring properties in the process.

Why would you spend the sum of a respectable semi, to live underground if not for a vast profit? Who would want to live underground we’re not moles. Already predictably there is the threat of legal action as the conversion was originally opposed by most of the road’s residents.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but a little research of Belgravia’s history might have given the developers cause for concern.

The land owned by Lord Grosvenor was originally marshy land with the River Westbourne running through it. In the 1820s Thomas Cubitt was granted the right to develop the houses that we see today. The nomenclature ‘Speculative Builder’ given to the developer should tell you everything you need to know about Cubitt’s Belgravia. Built for a quick profit, much like today’s developers, they would not have been expected to last nearly 200 years. The lax building regulations of the day almost certainly precluded the insistence of adequate foundations, load bearing joists and cavity walls.

When building a single story kitchen extension my borough planners wanted me to dig three metre footings, enough to support St. Pauls Cathedral, so why cannot the same be applied in conservation areas?

A neighbour commenting summed it up perfectly:

This entire fiasco represents a massive collective failure for all involved in designing, approving and attempting to build overly ambitious, vulgar additions to listed buildings in a conservation area.

How much misery do residents have to endure before we learn to properly balance long term interest against reckless pursuit of short-term profit?


Make do and mend

[I]n a world obsessed with the throwaway culture, London has a few examples of recycling parts of its demolished iconic buildings, not to save them for posterity, you understand, but to maximise the developers’ profits.

 An Inspired Idea
If you are going to demolish a Wren church you don’t wish to be perceived as a vandal, Oh No! So how can one give Londoners a symbol of your altruism? Why you preserve the spire of course, but where to re-erect such an historic structure, representing Resurgam as Wren coined it, restoring London to its former glory after the Great Fire. What better location can there be for the spire than a 1960’s housing estate in South-East London? Well that’s the fate of St. Antholin Church, first its spire was sold for £5, a bargain considering its Wren’s only stone spire and octagonal to boot, then for good measure demolishing the church 46 years later.

180px-London_bridge_alcove London Bridge in Hackney?
We have all enjoyed the anecdotal story of selling London Bridge for $2.5 million to the Americans so they could re-erect it at Lake Havasu City, Arizona, when they were under the impression it was Tower Bridge they were purchasing in order to plonk it in the middle of a desert. But what happened to London Bridge’s predecessor? Some of the stonework was incorporated in Adelaide House situated on the north side of the existing bridge, 49 Heathfield Road SW18 is built of the stuff, two stone alcoves grace Victoria Park in Hackney, while a third is to be found in the courtyard of Guys Hospital.

IMG_0012 Exporting Romford
When the old Mawney Arms public house was transformed from a traditional spit and sawdust East London boozer into a Gastropub, the old interiors didn’t like most improvements these days end up in a skip. Complete with the original pub sign it ended its travels in Thailand at a place called Koh Samui. So if you are passing while on holiday and fancy a curry and a pint, it’s available on Thursday during the darts contest.

BalticExchangeSt%20mary Gherked Off
The grade II listed Baltic Exchange when damaged by an IRA bomb was dismantled piece by peace at a cost of £4milllion. In its place proudly stands the Erotic Gherkin (sorry the Swiss Re: Tower), a testament to modernity. In June 2006 an Estonian businessman while trawling the web for reclaimed flooring came across an advert for the Baltic Exchange being stored in a barn in Kent. Buying it for £800,000 he has shipped it in 49 containers to Central Tallinn, Estonia. All he has to do now is find what part goes where in his giant jigsaw.

Say No to NoHo

My dream of immortality has been dashed, CabbieBlog’s birthplace has been demolished and the old Middlesex Hospital site is being redeveloped.

In a re-branding exercise unmatched since Datsun decided to pick Cherry as their new car’s name (either you were driving a small red fruit or making a statement on your virginity), there’re calling the development NoHo.

[S]ituated a quarter of a mile north from Soho the title presumably comes from being ‘Not Soho’. Soho derives its name from the cry given by hunters in the forest originally situated there, when their quarry had been spotted. Similar to today’s cry of Tally Ho!

So NoHo must have the opposite connotation ‘no quarry spotted’, presumably for disappointed property hunters.

The residents in the area are enraged at this blatant attempt to rename this area known as Fitzrovia.

The old hospital has now been demolished, except for a range of buildings on Nassau Street. Now the development is currently on hold after Candy and Candy, the interior developers, left the development, leaving the site in the hands of the Kaupthing Bank.

In its place a perimeter hoarding in black has been erected, giving both colour and texture to this otherwise featureless area, a marked improvement to the elegant Edwardian building that it now replaces.

Walking past the site, I noticed recently a further twist to the areas’ gentrification, the name NoHo has been removed from the sleek black hoardings. But at least the black looks cool.

A Phoenix Arises

Supreme Court As part of a CabbieBlog series with the imaginative title The Buildings of London we focus on another London architectural delight.

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, to give it its full title, is emerging like a phoenix from the old Middlesex Guildhall, on the south side of Parliament Square – and what as little gem it promises to be.

Little did Tony Blair imagine, or care, when he was ingratiating himself with the Americans to guarantee his healthy income stream for when he left office, that copying their idea of a Supreme Court would bring that neglected building to life.

[T]he name Middlesex comes from the kingdom of the Middle Saxons, and has been around for over a thousand years and the Guildhall symbolises that civic pride. The building was built between 1906 and 1913 in an art nouveau gothic theme, and decorated with mediaeval-looking gargoyles and other architectural sculptures. The Guildhall also incorporates in the rear a doorway dating from the seventeenth century which was a part of the Tothill Fields Bridewell prison and moved to the site to be incorporated in the building.

The conversion has attracted much controversy from conservation groups, which claim that the conversion will be unsympathetic to such an important building. The Middlesex Guildhall is a Grade II* listed building and English Heritage classed the three main Court interiors as ‘unsurpassed by any other courtroom of the period in terms of the quality and completeness of their fittings’. But the conversion works have involved the removal of many of the original fixtures and fittings with a vague promise to display a few key pieces in the basement and find a home for the rest in some other building not yet designed or built.

Outside the building stands a statute of George Canning whose total period in the office of Prime Minister was at 119 days the shortest on record. If only Tony Blair tenure had been so brief, Britain might not be in the sorry state it finds itself today.