The Vanity of VNEB

VNEB development

Long form blogging – it’s the future, I tell you.

Much like the Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea Development.

Blimey.

And so what follows is a blog post of three parts, seamlessly sewn together with one unifying theme: will the much needed regeneration of VNEB create a community, or will it simply be a calling card for new capital?

What do you think

And so first the facts, then the sixth form hyperlocal theorising, before I finish off with some deep topological wanderings off the edge of Wandsworth Road, in a misguided attempt to recapture some long lost South London memories.

Plus hopefully a little optimism before the pictures take over come the close.

Facts are sacred:

The consultation for the 195 hectares of development land centred around Battersea Power Station took place throughout 2009 / 10. In March 2012, the Mayor of London formally adopted the Planning Framework, effectively sealing the deal for the complete redevelopment of the riverside land between Vauxhall and Queenstown Road.

A whopping 16,000 new ‘homes’ (yeah, right…) are part of the plans. 20,000 – 25,000 new jobs have been cited as to how enterprise will benefit from the regeneration of Battersea.

A Tall Building Strategy [PDF] has been adopted for Vauxhall; a Linear Park [URGH] will plot the route of the regeneration from Battersea back to Vauxhall. Thirteen different landowners have had to sit around the table to come to an agreement.

All of this will come at a cost: over £8bn, £1bn of which will be swallowed up by the Northern Line extension to Nine Elms and Battersea. This is very kindly being ‘loaned‘ out by that nice George Osbourne.

As compensation for the existing communities around SW8, SW11 and SE11, a significant level of Section 106 back scratching payments will be made available. With two different Boroughs involved, tracking down the exact figure for these payments is tricky. The two local authorities of Lambeth and Wandsworth (Labour and Tory controlled respectively) will no doubt have fun divvying this up.

The timeline boasts that the US Embassythe main mover in finally kick starting the construction – will open on 4th July 2017. Estate agent Knight Frank predicts that property values will increase by 140% between 2011 and 2016 – the highest forecast growth in the UK.

Um, *shhh* Hurrah!

Ready for the sixth form speculative twaddle?

VNEB development

The VNEB land was my South London backyard for almost two decades. I moved around different properties, yet still the view overlooking my sense of home was VNEB. It may not boast the same veranda views that other London areas can claim, but the industrial backdrop was a constant reminder that South London has historically been a place of work. Along with Bankside and Lotts Road, dirty, heavy industry defines Transpontine history.

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Decades of neglect for Battersea symbolises the ideological destruction of toil and reward. South London is now playing catch up as the mode of production shifts towards the service economy. Bankside has benefitted for over a decade with the rewards that the cultural pound can bring. Regeneration was built around the arts – build it and they most definitely did come.

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But can the same be said for Giles Gilbert Scott’s other riverside powerhouse down in SW8? The epochal shift has taken a slight change of path past Vauxhall Bridge and out towards Nine Elms. Cultural regeneration has never played well in the Transpontine stove house.

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Instead a new industry for the 21st Century is starting to define VNEB. All property most definitely isn’t theft as the glasshouses and international embassies start to emerge from underneath the rubble. Penthouse apartments and international diplomacy are replacing working class graft. They’ll be selling comedy spy specs in Woolworths, if it was still open.

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Little remains physically of my veranda view that defined two decades of South London living. The memories can still be plotted though, cutting through the neatly planned foundations that attempt to cover over the randomness of Transpontine organic growth of the past.

Cycle routes through the Patmore Estate en route for korfball training; dropping off the track bike at a South London lock up for a dodgy cash in hand deal. Trying to find a time / space portal south of Sainsbury’s that allowed me to bypass the Cupcake Run when making my way down to the Junction.

These geographical memories can still cut a path through all the regeneration that is neatly slicing up the area. But be weary of what lies deep below, and how the past can still have a part to play.

I remember thinking during a bizarre Battersea dotbomb job interview that the fault lines for this place are built upon glorious failure. A ridiculous employment contract was offered for a ridiculous job. I did the usual I’ll sleep on it routine, only to wake up the next morning to find that the dotbomber had dotbombed.

Whoops.

You suspect that the VNEB regeneration business model is built on a capitalist system not quite so reliant on the Mickey Mouse money of the dotbomb economy. International capital is propping it up, and we all know what a sound economic system this has come to represent.

Hang on

Boris has described VNEB as:

“The final piece of the jigsaw that completes the central area of London.”

But what if you don’t like the design of the jigsaw, or if the pieces don’t even fit together? Best not go losing one of those fancy glass house architectural designs down the back end of Battersea.

We have been here before of course, and so have I [broken links ahoy!] – I walked around the perimeter of the magnificent old Power Station when the dedicated Job Centre for the site was boldly declared back in 2005. The Job Centre failed to open, and the promised 9,000 new jobs were just a Minimum Wage wankfest for a Third Way twonk.

But now the regeneration of Nine Elms is finally happening. Friends in high places have seen to the Northern Line extension, which in turn will see to the luxury riverside apartments. It’s remarkable how the lure of the Northern Line is able to attract wealth – albeit as a ‘loan’ – whereas the number 156 bus isn’t viewed as an attractive public transport proposition for the affluent.

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The very location of VNEB has a topology connection to transport. The site of the Sainsbury’s car park at Nine Elms is more or less the location where the first Vauxhall car was manufactured. This is the age of the train, etc. It’s also the age of pointless vanity underground projects propped up by aspirational needs, and not any genuine public transport requirements. I’m not sure why boutique shoppers can’t walk it down Wandsworth Road from Vauxhall Station, saving over £1bn from the public purse.

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The physical boundaries of VNEB are worth exploring as well. Water to the north restricts building on the Thames – for now, at least. To the south and it is Wandsworth Road and the splendour of Larkhall Park that pushes the regeneration away from the edges of Stockwell.

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Most of the footprint [URGH] covers industrial sites, although there’s a fair amount of social housing stock that is also swallowed up. Where does regeneration start, and where does it end? It shouldn’t be a physical barrier, but the Wandsworth Road could soon become the new dividing line when it comes to South London postcode property wars.

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And so it was with this sense of geographical interest that sent me out exploring the boundaries of the VNEB development for a day of contemplation and connections. I wanted to capture digitally my old veranda view before it falls off the end of the world, and I wanted to see if regeneration is able to recapture former glories without manufacturing new false futures.

Or maybe it’s just the twaddle of a blog post that manufactures the myth?

The plan was to walk the perimeter, and then explore what’s left of the old within the VBEB development. But cartography and topology combined is never a precise science; you cut through an alleyway, catch something camera worthy slightly off radar and find yourself deep entrenched in Clap’ham Junction cupcake territory.

Whoops.

Much has changed already along the southern boundary of Wandsworth Road. The back end of Larkhall Park has benefitted from ongoing regeneration over the past ten years. There was always a sense that the green delights of Larkhall were barricaded away behind the shop fronts. The opening up of the park perimeter is beautiful – Larkhall allows the passing traffic to take a look inside, rather than act as a physical barrier shielding away one of South London’s finest public parks.

It seems an age away when the Vauxhall campus of Southbank University was to be found along Wandsworth Road. Here be Lambeth College, and here also be evidence of how you don’t need to knock down an existing old building in order to breathe new life into it. One would hope that the Overlords of Battersea Power Station are aware of this.

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The pace of change however along the remainder of Wandsworth Road remains relatively slow. The old Pie and Mash shop was long lost. Truth be told and it wasn’t a patch on the Walworth mash served up at Arments, but the loss was symbolic for the last remains of Transpontine identity hanging on around the edges of SW8.

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Change is inevitable as you progress towards Union Road. Mr Tony would LOVE that sentence. You have to fear for the future of the Mind Shop once the Embassy millionaires move in. Here’s hoping that cupcakes won’t replace pie and mash as the defining SW8 cuisine.

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The four towers of Battersea dominate your every movement around the VNEB perimeter. You suspect that the developers would have preferred to flatten the iconic structures and start again from scratch. But you need a coat peg – or four – in which to hang your branding vision. The Battersea towers are one of the few remaining heritage assets in central (ish) London that can still resist the developer’ dream of glass houses. Battersea Power Station stoked up South London life during its industrial heyday. It now provides the aesthetic energy for the marketing brochures of property developers. It is currently an empty shell – unlike the plans for the VNEB development

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A misty eyed gaze from the Wandsworth Road towards the towers was temporarily interrupted during my walk as a steam train rolled through the old station. It wasn’t quite a ghost train – this had already departed under the cloak of Kafkaesque secrecy a couple of hours earlier. It was a reminder however of how this part of South London isn’t quite ready for the contemporary architectural train station swirls that now define the likes of the new Kings Cross.

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The affluence of Clap’ham gradually creeps in as you continue to walk along Wandsworth Road. Boarded up old boozers are replaced by lifestyle bars with whacky names.

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I followed closely the VNEB boundaries and took a turn, so to speak, along Silverthorne Road. It is here where the area begins to green as you approach Queenstown Road with Battersea Park softening up the industrial landscape.

Queenstown Road Station itself is worthy of exploration. For decades this has been a beacon for anyone wanting to head east of Vauxhall into what is now known as VNEB. It was my daily destination from Brixton during my first fortnight in London, working as an intern at an Aussie radio station based out at Battersea.

I made tea during the day, and then spent some balmy evenings with some barmy Aussies undertaking urban explorations [URGH] of the old power station. This was a pre-digital age, and sadly the only memories that remain are stored away internally, rather than online.

Many a missed last train from Queenstown Road led to a two-week period spent underneath the stars at Battersea. I like to consider myself an early adopter of VNEB contemporary living. At the time it felt more like the lifestyle of an Aussie beach bum decamped to a decaying corner of South London. Queenstown Road served me well whenever I could be bothered to pay attention to the train timetable.

With the planned new Nine Elms and Battersea extension to the Northern Line soon to make a £1bn detour east of Vauxhall, you have to wonder what is the point of Queenstown Road? Or perhaps what is the point of the £1bn new Nine Elms and Battersea extension to the Northern Line?

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I continued my VNEB wanderings out towards the old river. The BSB building remains unoccupied – crass, clad in testosterone and a symbolism for a debased culture. It would make for an ideal American Embassy.

The VNEB map insists that the Thames itself is part of the regeneration plan. I wasn’t on for walking on water at such an early hour, and so plodded along around the back of Battersea and back towards Vauxhall along the river.

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The Chelsea Fringe Festival [ha!] was doing its best to comb over the blatant sales pitch from a property developer, whilst at the same time preventing further public access along the river.

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The overt aim is to open up Battersea and allow the public to sit on a recently laid garden lawn in front of the bordered up four towers and eat a guacamole wrap. The Aussie beach bum radio boys probably wouldn’t have approved.

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Information boards line the perimeter of the shell of the four towers, crudely mixing heritage with ads for Buy to Let opportunities. The area was empty, both physically and emotionally. A cultural bankruptcy could yet to follow.

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A cut through some of the side streets at the back of Battersea that have yet to be flattened, and I was soon back on course for the return leg back towards Vauxhall. It is here that the traffic starts to splutter and choke as you make your way towards the gyratory.

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I couldn’t resist a look around what remains of New Covent Garden Market. It was never the most pleasing or welcoming of locations – regeneration is required. I loved the symmetry of wearing the same workmen trousers that I bought at the Sunday Car Boot Sale some three years earlier.

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The massive Sunday market has been a destination for over a decade for South London folk wanting to buy an industrial supply of washing up liquid or dodgy DVD’s. You can’t but help think that Car Boots Sales won’t be a regular Sunday morning feature once the Embassy folk move in.

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Standing by the SW Sorting Office and it is here that you first get a real sense of the size of the VNEB development. Much of the immediate landscape has already been flattened, offering a clear perspective all the way back towards Battersea and the river. It is an immense area of land – a new town is being constructed Southside on the Thames.

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But how do you construct a community? The cluster of signs reading Private Road perhaps point towards how closed the new VNEB community is likely to become. Helicopters constantly hover overhead. Battersea Heliport might just become the transport option of choice once the new capital moves in.

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Meanwhile down at the Cross and the fate of the magnificent Vauxhall Bus Station remains in doubt. With only a decade of public service, the future of the ski jump defining architecture of Arup Associates is up for discussion with Lambeth Council and local residents.

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There is no hiding from the statement that Vauxhall Cross can be incredibly intimidating for any cyclist. It can even be a cause for concern for any motorist not confident enough to hold their ground as the lanes split westbound towards either Victoria or Waterloo.

Many folk get cross over Vauxhall Cross. But how do you remove anger away from the gyratory, yet still allow traffic to flow from east to west? Residents have long since wanted the centre of Vauxhall to be just that – a defining sense of physical community that encourages local trade and conversation. Commuters rely on the handy interchange between mainline, tube and bus. There is nowhere left for road traffic to be diverted. It has to pass through Vauxhall.

With a massive population expansion expected ahead of the VNEB development, the arteries of Vauxhall are not going to loosen the grip on all of the transport directed anger. Architecture is not always the answer to the woes of the world, but I tend to think that the stunning ski slope at least gives Vauxhall a unique identity.

The redevelopment site claims:

“The Vauxhall Gyratory will be remodeled to create a more pedestrian friendly environment and a new bridge across the Thames will link the area to Pimlico on the opposite bank. A redesign of the gyratory system will tame through traffic and enable the creation of four distinct quarters, each with its own unique identity and attractions.”

Good luck with that one, Comrades.

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And so that was my day of walking around the fluid fault lines upon which the VNEB development is starting to be built. I was probably about six months behind the Best Before date. Much of what I wanted to document digitally had already disappeared. The pace of change for regeneration hasn’t always been unforgiving around Battersea Power Station. It seems that all those lost decades of neglect are now being made up for.

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Yet the veranda views of SW8 that greeted my every South London morning can still be seen. It will take a mountain of mini Manhattans to destroy the Transpontine defining sight of the four chimneys.

It would be so simple to conclude with a sneering commentary as to how the spirit of South London is being sucked away from an area that has a proud past. But truth be told and the VNEB development simply had to happen.

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London will always throw up pockets of neglect that have fallen upon hard times. You can celebrate the ‘authenticity’ of the past until the hyperlocal economy is left to stagnate whilst the rest of the city celebrates the investment; or you can sign up for regeneration and hope to have a say in how it is managed.

I was spectacularly wrong with my predictions for the demise of Brockwell Lido when Fusion first floated the idea of knocking down an art deco wall and building a bloody gym. But these are the true Golden Days of the Lido. It has for the first time in decades been operating off a stable business model. Careful and determined input from the Brockwell Lido Users Group has led to an incredibly sensitive reconstruction of the beautiful old building.

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Can the same be said for Battersea? The four chimneys remain part of the central plan – or at least part of the marketing bumph that is shipped out across to the big investment on the other side of the world.

Regeneration can work.

In the case of the VNEB development you feel that it simply has to work.

Time to complete the jigsaw.

Plus: here’s South London Hardcore on VNEB. Essential Transpontine listening.

Full flick feed.

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Embassy Gardens

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Marco Polo House

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New Covent Garden

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One Nine Elms

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Riverlight

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Sainsburys

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But before all of the Bright VNEB Boxes can be developed

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One thought on “The Vanity of VNEB

  1. Really interesting article; the future looks good for Nine Elms; however, this will only be achieved with the extension of the Northern Line and the full redevelopment of Battersea Power Station; without these 2 key elements, the opportunity area will not succeed; what I find interesting is the number of people and associations against the NLE; if you live in the area, it will benefit you in many ways; not only by better connectivity to central London and the City, but also the creation of new jobs in the area, surely a good thing for any area.

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