Up in Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station
by Peter Watts, Paradise Road, 2016, £20.
Review by Terence Bendixson
Opponents of the power station did not mince their words. Pollutants from it would ‘kill every green thing within two miles of Battersea, rot all buildings and bleach all the babies’. Thus wrote Edward Young, MP, to the Private Secretary of the Prime Minister in 1929. Even chain- smoking King George V, recovering from lung surgery at Bognor, joined in. ‘His Majesty feels the greatest concern at the prospect of the atmosphere of London being still further polluted…’ his secretary wrote to Neville Chamberlain, then Minister of Health.
It is not controversy about air pollution that dogs (pun intended) Battersea’s giant power station today, but what Will Self has called ‘class cleansing’ and domination by foreign – in this case Malaysian – capital. Could it have been otherwise? Might a sister organisation to the Coin Street Community Association have risen up to devote the power station to the dreams of Londoners? Might another Nicholas Serota, whose boldness and imagination have made Bankside the most popular museum of modern art in the world, have ridden in on a shining installation and rescued Battersea from commercial exploitation?