“The cranes are swinging into action”
New year, new city-building, for better or for worse. London’s rate of change means that cranes along the skyline are something of a fixture, but the vast swathes of the city undergoing redevelopment in 2015 stand as a telling reflection of the priorities, opportunities and challenges of London today.
1. Bishopsgate Goodsyard
Left derelict by a fire fifty years ago, the historic Bishopsgate goods yard is one of the largest prime sites bordering the City of London and Shoreditch Highstreet. The redevelopment plans include 1500 homes, office and retail spaces and a new urban park. The site is also home to the Braithwaite Viaduct, one of the oldest railway structures in the world, which will be incorporated into the development under current plans.
The scheme has drawn significant opposition from a variety of groups, including Tech City Says No, More Light More Power and the Victorian Society. Complaints include the lack of affordable housing provision, the heights of several of the proposed towers and the lack of consultation on the various stages of the project. Four residential towers, two of which would reach 48-storeys and a 13-storey commercial blocks have been the focus of much of the criticism.
2. Battersea Powerstation
An even better known derelict site, Battersea Power Station has lain empty for the past 31 years. Malaysian investors kickstarted the redevelopment of the site in 2012 and plans for new housing from architects including Frank Gehry and Norman Foster have already stirred up worldwide interest in the project. The first new residents are due to take up residence in a new block next to the power station in 2016.
The redevelopment of the old power station forms part of a wider scheme- Nine Elms- the city’s largest residents construction zone. The area includes a new settlement of around 18,000 new homes, as well as being home to the new US embassy. Like other macro-sites across London, the Battersea redevelopment has been subject to a range of critiques. As Kath Allen writes: “the redevelopment plans have become a microcosm of the wider debate over London’s housing market.” Despite the provision for affordable housing in the development, the first phase of housing is largely targeted at young professionals and overseas buyers. With a studio flat priced from £340,000 for a studio flat- 10 times the average London worker’s salary- the grand new public spaces, river views and retail offerings in the old station seem to be out of reach for most.
3. Silvertown Quays
In July of last year plans were submitted to transform this 62-acre site in east London. The £3.5 billion redevelopment plan is part of a wider push to redevelop east London’s dockland areas into business and residential hubs, largely driven by huge investment deals from the far east.
A new business quarter, 3,000 homes and an incubator for tech creative industry start ups are all planned for the site, as well as a bridge to connect the area with Crossrail’s Custom House. £12m of government funding as just been announced for one of the first phases of the project- the restoration of the Millennium Mills building (out of use since the 1980s) which is due to re-open as an innovation hub. The Mayor has claimed that the Silvertown project will create 21,000 jobs but once again, questions of affordability, access and property as an investment vehicle have surrounded the project.
4. Earls Court
Demolition of the world famous 1930s venue began in the final months of last year, and work on the new housing is due to begin this year. 1.5 million square feet of retail and office space and 7,500 homes are planned for the site of the centre and its surrounds. At£8bn, the scheme was the UK’s highest valued planning application ever when granted approval in 2011. The site borders some of the most expensive properties in the city and the first homes in the new development, to be built in the old venue’s car park, went on sale last year at an average price of £1,500 per square foot. Half the buyers in this first sale are reportedly foreign buyers.
The developer has been forced back into negotiations with the local council after a change in administration last year. At the heart of these negotiations is the planned demolition of two council estates and the affordable housing provision in the current plans, with the new council leader stating that “[a]ll too often property developers treat the increase in land values in our borough as some sort of gold rush bonanza.”
The redevelopment of the area has proved one of the most controversial the city has seen in years. As Dave Hill notes: “If any one enterprise condemns the mayoralty of Boris Johnson, it is surely his eager promotion of the “project” to terminate such splendours and turn the Earls Court centre site, and others that neighbour it, into a vacuous, sterile colony of high priced, high rise speculator flats.”.
5. The Garden Bridge
Everyone’s favourite folly, London’s garden bridge gained planning permission from both sides of the river, as well as the blessing from mayor Boris Johnson. £60 million of the £175 million budget required has been pledged come from public money, with construction due to begin later this year. Last year the bridge was subject to various rounds of criticism, from the House of Lords (‘a very expensive piece of art’) to local groups lobbying against the planned entry restrictions revealed in November- including a requirement for groups of eight or more to give advance notice of visiting.
The Garden Bridge Trusts recently divulged its business plan to use merchandise and private functions to cover the annual maintenance bill (estimated at around£3.5 million a year) , prompting further concerns from critics about the commercial nature of this supposedly public space. The bridge is expected to open to the public in 2018, and with full planning permission granted, the (numerous) objectors to the London’s newest tourist attraction (or vital transport link, depending on who you listen to) seem to have quite the battle set up for 2015.
London mayor Boris Johnson has praised the development taking place around London, saying: “The cranes are swinging into action as work starts to build thousands of desperately needed new homes on sites that have in some instances been derelict for decades.”
With London expected to house ten million people by 2030, the city’s major development sites are indeed key to future capacity and resilience. Judging by the investors, price tags and regulations tied to many of 2015’s biggest developments, however, it remains to be seen who exactly London’s last big sites serve and what kind of city these developments will eventually shape in the years to come.