Options, The Edge

Battersea Power Station celebrates the first anniversary of its transformational restoration

Ever since it reopened to great fanfare on Oct 14, 2022, London’s shiny (re)new(ed) Battersea Power Station has welcomed over 11 million visitors to the newly minted neighbourhood just south of the Thames, and across from posh Chelsea. For the many Malaysians who have paid it a visit — or, better yet, invested in homes or businesses here — it is understandable that the world-renowned Grade II-listed landmark evokes national pride. After all, it is no secret that a Malaysian consortium, comprising S P Setia Bhd, Sime Darby Property Bhd and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), together with the support of other private and public sector stakeholders were the key drivers in helping the iconic power station roar back to life.

It wasn’t an easy task, of course. Battersea Power Station was purchased by the current shareholders in 2012. A complex transaction, it took 18 months and involved a team of hundreds, including advisers, financiers and solicitors, before the deal was sealed. Meanwhile, the £9 billion (RM52 billion) regeneration project, which covers 42 acres of prime London real estate and includes 3.5 million sq ft of mixed-use commercial space, a hotel and 4,000 new residences, took eight long years to build before it officially opened to the public.

Now that the dust of the exciting first year has settled, it is equally clear the drivers of the mammoth project do not intend to rest on their laurels anytime soon.

“It has been a landmark year, a fast-paced year, establishing Battersea Power Station as a neighbourhood for all,” says Tan Sri Jagan Sabapathy, chairman of Battersea Project Holding Co Ltd. “While an extraordinary feat to convert this derelict ruin into a mixed-use destination for the public, involving years of painstaking restoration work and the immense fortitude, expertise and investment of our Malaysian shareholders, Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB), Sime Darby Property, S P Setia and the EPF, the opening of Battersea Power Station was just the beginning.”

Datuk Choong Kai Wai, president and CEO of S P Setia, happily adds: “It has been an absolute triumph! We welcomed over 11 million visitors in the past year and are targeting 15 million by year end. Year Two, here we come!”

Datuk Azmir Merican, chairman of Battersea Power Station Development Co Ltd and group managing director of Sime Darby Property, points out that the consortium “succeeded where many couldn’t. Restoring one of the world’s largest brick buildings that is over 80 years old was a huge challenge. The chimneys alone had to undergo a two-year replacement programme which saw them painstakingly dismantled and then rebuilt, using the same materials and techniques as the 1930s originals. We wanted to give Battersea new life while ensuring it be safeguarded for future generations”.

The Battersea Games at Battersea Power Station (Photo: Charlie Round-Turner)

Come one, come all

While the shareholder consortium was confident Battersea Power Station would complement already-exciting London, they were also well aware that launching a major new retail and leisure environment in a city that houses so many established neighbourhoods was not going to be a doddle.

“Launch a major retail and leisure offering in a city already bursting with options? Talk about a challenge,” Choong exclaims. “But guess what? Battersea Power Station is no ordinary place. Our visitor numbers speak for themselves, proving that when you’ve got something special, people will come from far and wide to experience it.”

“We’ve been busy encouraging people to return time and again and are delighted with the public reception,” Jagan assures. “So many Londoners and international visitors are impressed to see how we have transformed the building and given it a new lease of life. Our recent Battersea Games, a summer-long festival of sports and games, was a personal highlight for me, demonstrating how quickly the local community has accepted Battersea Power Station as part of London’s cultural, retail and leisure landscape, and we look forward to continuing the momentum into the second year.”

Choong attests to that statement, adding how the summer extravaganza “showcased just how quickly the community has embraced Battersea Power Station as an integral part of London’s cultural, retail and leisure scene”.

“Changing consumer habits is always challenging. However, we firmly believe we offer something unique in London,” Jagan continues. “Having delivered top-of-the-class shops, restaurants, cafés and more in an unrivalled setting in and around the Power Station, we are proud to be celebrating a strong first year. However, we are also acutely aware that future success is not guaranteed — we must adapt and grow to ensure the long-term success of the estate. We know there are areas that can be developed further, so we are keeping a close finger on the pulse to stay innovative to ensure Battersea Power Station retains its market-leading position.”

London's exciting new shopping and leisure destination (Photo: Charlie Round-Turner)

Proof of the pudding

Words are all well and good, but few things underscore success quite the way physical accolades can. In this aspect, the rejuvenated Battersea Power Station has already won a slew of awards in its first year, including Best Mixed-Use Scheme and several citations for Best Heritage/Culture Project.

“It is a shining example of what the Malaysian people can achieve around the globe, delivering ambitious projects in circumstances where many other developers have failed. We are proud to have won a number of industry accolades that recognise the incredible work put in by thousands of people from both Malaysia and the UK to deliver this impressive project,” says Jagan.

“A particular highlight for me was the project’s win in the International Category at the Malaysia Developer Awards. To have Battersea Power Station feted at home is a source of great pride to the shareholder consortium, so we hope that all Malaysians take the time to visit when they come to London next. We have also seen off fierce competition from other globally recognised developers at UK property awards, including the RESI Awards, Property Awards and The PROPS Awards, winning the likes of Developer of the Year, Development of the Year and Best Conversion. This further demonstrates the innovation and success of our shareholders, while having significant and positive impact on the UK property market.”

Also adding to the delivery of a world-class project is the great pay-off a successful development can have on a city. Statistics have shown how thousands of jobs were created from Battersea Power Station’s opening alone.

“Battersea is an iconic asset that will generate economic activity and multiply value for not just the local community but also our shareholders in the long term,” Azmir points out.

“We have been committed from day one to make Battersea Power Station a neighbourhood for all and to be a force for positive change in the local community,” Jagan adds. “Job creation is a crucial part of this, creating opportunities for local residents and providing a significant boost to the local economy. Since construction started in 2013, we have created 5,500 jobs, and once the master plan is complete, this number will grow to 20,000. We have prioritised locals in these roles, creating the Battersea Academy for Skills & Employment (BASE), which matches employers with jobseekers from the area. More than 1,000 jobs have been filled by local residents since 2013, helping us achieve our target of at least 20% of long-term vacancies to be filled locally, and ensuring this new town centre is embedded in the community that was here before us.”

Battersea Power Station Underground station (Photo: Brendan Bell)

A project of such mammoth scale naturally also had a significant ripple effect through the supplies and materials needed for its delivery. Construction materials were sourced from across the UK, including three Eiffel Towers’ worth of steel from Scotland and the North East and North West of England, as well as 1.75 million bricks ordered from the original suppliers in the Midlands.

“Large-scale projects like Battersea Power Station help support jobs, communities and economies right across the country, as well as in the immediate vicinity of the estate,” Jagan continues. “Another crucial benefit to the local community was the opening of the Northern Line Extension in September 2021, which gave Battersea Power Station its own Zone 1 Underground station and easy connection from the area to the rest of Central London. Both the Underground station and the regeneration of Battersea Power Station were co-dependent to succeed. To be frank, our vision for Battersea Power Station could only be a success with a tube station, and Transport for London would only commit to building the Northern Line Extension upon our guarantee to restore the Power Station. This scenario prompted a lockstep approach between the two projects, which ultimately resulted in its mutual success.”

Life is beautiful

A privileged — and investment-savvy — handful of Malaysians are lucky enough to have a home away from home in this exciting enclave but Battersea Power Station’s developers are also keenly cognisant of the fact that more Londoners, as well as more tourists from across the UK and beyond, need to make their presence palpable in order to hit the projected sweet-spot figure of 25 million visitors in the coming years. Thankfully, its bag of treats include a dizzying array of retail, food and beverage options as well as a theatre, not one but two cinemas, and Lift 109, the Battersea Power Station chimney lift experience that makes a thrilling ascent 109m to the top of the north-west chimney offering unrivalled 360º views of the London skyline.

Those who do not own a home here as yet may get a taste of how sweet life can be by checking into the 164-room art’otel London Battersea Power Station, perched on the rooftop gardens of a Foster + Partners-designed space. Social media mavens have been giving endless airtime to the vibrant hotel, especially from the vantage point of its rooftop infinity pool that looks out across the Power Station and the rest of the Big Smoke, while the foodie brigade makes a beeline for Joia, a restaurant and bar operated by Michelin-starred Portuguese chef Henrique Sá Pessoa.

“The art’otel has become its own destination within Battersea Power Station and is a brilliant place to base yourself to enjoy everything the neighbourhood has to offer,” Jagan smiles. “Our Arcade Food Hall, which just opened in July, has quickly become the go-to dining place with 13 global cuisines, including a number of Asian concepts, on offer.”

Many new names have since been added to the roster, including Noci, Bao, Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen and Wagamama.

Arcade Food Hall (Photo: Battersea Power Station)

“We still have more to come,” he assures, “including the first tashas, a South African café concept that just opened in the UK, and the ever-popular Dishoom, further cementing Battersea Power Station as a food destination.”

Beyond food, unique retail concepts also add to the heady mix, including the first-ever dedicated beauty store by high-street powerhouse pharmacist Boots, which offers over 250 cosmetic, skincare and haircare brands.

Heart + soul

Beyond the historic architecture and pop culture significance — Pink Floyd immortalised the Power Station forever, featuring it on the cover of its seminal Animals album, and it has also served as the setting for several major films — the human touch remains a key element. Several initiatives were drawn up to bring the greater circle closer together, including the Battersea Power Station Community Choir, which Jagan admits is his “favourite initiative” within the overarching outreach programme line-up.

“The choir brings over 100 people to sing together every week, from the Power Station as well as the surrounding area, and performs on key occasions throughout the year,” he shares. “There is something very special about a group of people coming together to sing as one and the choir represents the cohesion we are proud to champion across the estate.”

For expatriate Malaysians, it is heartwarming to note that our music is regularly performed as well — “A joy to hear in London,” says Jagan — and the choir has also sung with the likes of Sting and Jamie Cullum.

“They don’t just belt out any old tune,” adds Choong. “During the opening ceremony last year, with the King and Queen of Malaysia in attendance, the choir sang Wau Bulan, accompanied by Team Setia’s very own Setia Harmony percussion, playing traditional Malaysian instruments.”

Besides music, nature is another important component of the development and Battersea Power Station is proud to have created an ecologically-rich environment in which over 95 bird species now call home. Birdwatchers and ornithological enthusiasts regularly flock here — pun intended — to admire a pair of peregrine falcons, a Schedule 1-designated species in the UK (which means they enjoy the highest level of protection), that nest on the grounds.

A bird’s eye view of the development (Photo: Battersea Power Station)

“They have a new ‘penthouse’ apartment in one of the wash towers,” Jagan laughs, “which we delivered as part of the restoration project. We like to think we have created an oasis in the centre of London, creating an environment for both wildlife and the public to cohabit while also providing welcome respite from the city’s hustle and bustle.”

Not content with ecological and community enrichment, technology was also introduced as a key pillar. Another successful initiative is demonstrated by the Power to Connect project where over 2,500 laptops and digital devices were donated to local families.

“We take our responsibilities seriously as a major developer and estate owner in London,” notes Jagan. “We want to build a legacy we will look back on with pride. Through Power to Connect’s donations of devices and laptops, we want to overcome digital poverty across Wandsworth [the London borough Battersea belongs to].

“We’ve also made huge carbon savings through the adaptive reuse of the Power Station. Restoring this landmark, rather than constructing a new building of similar size, has saved the equivalent of approximately 96,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. We have also reused as much of the original materials as possible, for example, strengthening the steel trusses in the Turbine Halls rather than replacing them with new ones.

"Walking through the residential concierges, you will find reception desks and coffee tables made from old steel — such is our dedication to reuse and repurpose as much as possible. Looking towards our current development pipeline and future phases, we are also considering how to make these as sustainable as possible. 50 Electric Boulevard, our new 200,000 sq ft office space due for completion later this year, is WELL Platinum-rated and BREEAM Outstanding, with HEPA air filtration systems throughout, as well as a 1,800 sq ft communal urban roof garden and a 4,000 sq ft amenity pavilion with trees and giant skylights.”

Adding to that are successful events that have since become annual fixtures, like the winter ice rink, children’s holiday activities and a free open-air cinema, all of which, Jagan affirms, reflect Battersea’s commitment to be an inclusive neighbourhood for all. “We aim to create a sense of belonging which differentiates us from other destinations.”

Just a few miles away from Battersea Power Station is Shakespeare’s historic Globe Theatre. Perhaps a quote from Coriolanus, one of the Bard’s most underrated plays, best sums up the development’s driving force and raison d’être: “What is the city but the people?” What indeed.