Let’s embrace our new London
15 Nov 2014
Terence Bendixson, Council member, Chelsea Society If you are a Chelsea-ite you will probably have seen computer-generated images showing Battersea Power Station as part of a new neighbourhood of residential and office towers. They are depicted rising up across the Thames against a pristine sky. The conventional reaction is shock-horror – look what THEY are doing to our London. But hold on. Nine Elms, now ready for renewal, is going to be a new chunk of London with a new Northern Line station at one end and all the connections of Vauxhall at the other. The towers, including a new US Embassy, will be arranged around a long serpentine park connecting the Tube stations, and a lot of the money that will pay for them is coming from Malaysia. Say that and it earns you what used to be called ‘an old fashioned look’.
If you try again to defend what is proposed by saying that it will create jobs, you tend to get a snide observation that “they will all be Poles”. Really? Go on to any large building site in London and see for yourself. They are not all Poles, or Romanians; many are Brits, and so are most of the engineers and architects. Make these points and you will be told peevishly that, even if what you say is true, all the flats, far from being occupied by Londoners, will be sold off-plan to Asians or Russians seeking to bank their ill-gotten money in bricks and mortar. What is the evidence for this? ‘Shop-window research’ in a few places such as Knightsbridge, where Richard Rogers and Candy & Candy have built the billionaire-only glass pavilions next to the Hyde Park Hotel. Look by contrast at the property magazine, Homes & Property, in the Evening Standard, with its hundreds of new developments all over London: does anyone really believe that all are going to foreigners? The features about them are certainly aimed at Londoners. Let’s protect Chelsea with its terraces. Let’s protect the 18th century squares and streets of Hackney, but let’s also embrace our new London. This city has been changing ever since it surpassed Antwerp and Amsterdam as the financial capital of Europe in the 17th century. It will change again if it succeeds in becoming the main Western location for buying and selling Chinese Renminbi. Other cities would die for London’s dynamism and its ability to attract investment from abroad. What are we afraid of?