Emma Waterfall shares her 14-year journey which culminates in the opening of Battersea Power Station on Friday 14th October.
The power is back on at Battersea Power Station. This is huge, for me personally and for all the team, past and present at Cascade.
I am a Battersea girl. I moved to Battersea in 2002, stayed for 12 years and when I moved less than a mile up the road, I was cross about both the change of postcode and parliamentary constituency but thankful I could see the Power Station’s chimneys from the top of my house.
I first became involved with Battersea Power Station in 2008 when I was at Bell Pottinger. Lord Bell told me he had been trying, unsuccessfully, to win the project for many years. It was incredibly exciting to be advising what was then a small team, helping shape the narrative around the masterplan, its benefits and speaking directly to decision makers and the community.
I picked up when the Eco Dome was on its way out. I remember speaking to a long serving Wandsworth councillor who said, “the thing is Emma, you need to understand this project has been around for over 25 years, yes we want something to happen, but we can wait a few more years if that’s the best on offer.”
There was enormous scepticism around the project. Why would this plan succeed when others had not? It took a supreme salesman, the then CEO Rob Tincknell, to unlock the site’s potential through championing the proposals for the Northern Line Extension. The previous owners had agreed a significant upgrade to Battersea Park Station but a new tube line, funded by developers across Nine Elms, was a different ball game.
The Power Station itself has been the project’s greatest asset and its greatest curse. It is the reason it has taken 40 years to reach this point and it is the site’s identity. Within the local community, there were staunch objectors to the project – those who wanted to buy the building for £1 and hold it as a community asset. It is testament to the community team’s hard work, that today there is widespread approval for the plans within the local community with the occasional “critical friend”.
From the outset, Battersea Power Station has engaged with the community on a scale most developers would never dare embrace. The Battersea Power Station Community Forum has been running for over 15 years. I recall an Open House weekend with thousands of visitors through the door with queues backing into Battersea Park. Cascade managed a roadshow programme that saw 55 events in locations across Wandsworth amounting to 240 hours of engagement and 8356 conversations with local people. Sadiq Khan named the Battersea Power Station Community Choir his “favourite choir” and the Power Station’s response to Covid through Power to Connect, which saw laptops and data shared across schools in Wandsworth, received widespread praise.
One of the key differences between the Power Station project and others in Nine Elms is that the team here understand that they are creating a place, Wandsworth’s sixth town centre, a new destination for London and a place that will attract visitors from all over the world. It leads to a wholly different approach to everything that one might do to engage with stakeholders and local people. Throughout construction, neighbours have been kept informed, invited on site, engaged with weekly through updates. Those neighbours will now be using the Battersea Store, brunching at Megan’s, having a pint at the Battersea Brewery or meeting friends for a walk along the jetty. In my biased opinion, the Power Station team has been phenomenal at driving footfall with the opening of Circus West Village in 2017 until now when finally, the Power Station itself is open.
Supported by team Cascade, quarterly editions of the community publication, Power Station Post, have been issued and it amuses me that for many years now, there is usually an update on the Peregrine Falcons. Nesting boxes were set up to give the falcons their own home (i.e. not the Power Station) and sound monitors are in place to ensure they are not disturbed. Those pesky birds have put many an event in jeopardy – poor Elton John nearly got cancelled – that’s some power indeed but indicative of how committed the team have been to ensuring they meet their obligations.
Too often on projects gaining consent for the masterplan is considered job done. For the Power Station and Cascade’s involvement, it marked the beginning of what is now an eleven-and-a-half-year journey to this point. While it was Treasury Holdings who signed up to be one of Cascade’s first clients, the sea change happened when the Malaysian investors bought the site in 2012. Their commitment to realising the project’s vision and to creating a legacy, along with the first-class team on site at the Power Station led by Simon Murphy, is the reason the Power Station is opening today.
What is interesting is that one of the biggest challenges has undoubtedly been keeping the dream alive over more than a decade since the masterplan was approved. Over a decade of messaging around placemaking, while at the same time managing day to day comms around a construction site. Linked to this are many lessons that I have learnt around how to manage communications and engagement over a long period of time for a multi-phased project that, even after today’s Power Station opening, will still have another 4 phases to be designed in detail and delivered.
The macro environment both economically and politically has shifted throughout and the project has needed to respond to these changes. Boris Johnson was Mayor of London when the Northern Line Extension was approved and Prime Minister when it opened. Edward Lister was Leader of Wandsworth Council when the masterplan was approved before handing the baton to Ravi Govindia and now there is a new Labour Administration in Wandsworth who have made public their opposition to the level of affordable housing.
In often stark contrast to others within my industry, I don’t vocalise my opinion publicly on sensitive topics. However, having travelled this journey with my client, I will comment on this. The decision to review the affordable housing was part of a much wider suite of measures to ensure that the project would remain on track to be delivered. There are significant benefits to the wider community – most significantly a £300 million contribution to the new tube station – but also 6000 jobs created to date including 340 apprenticeships, health centre, theatre, cinema, public park, playground, river walk, local events, a river bus service and shops. All that before Apple lands as a flagship global office tenant who will act as a catalyst for further significant investment in Wandsworth’s local economy. 386 affordable homes which will be occupied this year have been delivered sooner than they would have been under the approved masterplan and of the homes built across the masterplan so far, circa 20% are affordable.
A review mechanism was agreed with Wandsworth to enable them to review the financial position if the development is shown to be generating profit up to or beyond an agreed level. Everything is within the rules and is based on viability. However, I understand why this is emotive and so too do those at the Power Station. Ultimately the key to delivering more affordable homes is the continued success of everything that is open or under construction here and across the whole of Nine Elms. More affordable homes may be achieved; it will require working in partnership with Wandsworth and without doubt, there is a strong appetite for that.
The real joy of working on the Power Station project has been being part of an incredible team and some hefty communications challenges. At Cascade we have managed engagement during planning for each detailed phase of the project as well as on plans for Cringle Dock, for sensitive heritage applications like the removal of the East Wall and during the reconstruction of the chimneys where our communications plan was written into the legal agreement with the Council including the “chimneys hotline”. We have supported the Communities’ team managing the Community Forum, Build Battersea, roadshow events, workshops, door knocking and numerous successful Local Leader events. I value how much I have learnt from the three people I have worked most closely with over many years now – Sarah Banham, Gordon Adams and Alex Baker. I liken our client relationship to us playing the role of the late Duke of Edinburgh in support of our dearly departed Elizabeth II and that’s the way it should be as a consultant and adviser.
So here we are – 10am, Friday 14th October, Battersea Power Station is officially open to the public. Let’s celebrate this milestone but then note, there is much more to come and still a long road to travel before it is job done creating a new town centre for everyone to be proud of.