Battersea Power Station is a defunct coal-fired power station in Battersea, London, that was the first in a series of large coal-fired electrical generating facilities set up in England as part of the introduction of the National Grid power distribution system. The first part of the structure was built in 1939, and the station ceased electricity generation in 1983. Since then the site has remained largely unused, with numerous failed redevelopment plans from successive site owners. The building is the largest brick building in Europe and is notable for its original, lavish Art Deco interior fittings and decor. The station famously appears in The Beatles' 1965 movie Help! and on the cover of Pink Floyd's 1977 album Animals.
The building is Grade II* listed and its condition has been described as "very bad" by English Heritage, which includes the power station on its Buildings at Risk Register. In 2004 the power station was on the World Monuments Fund's List of 100 Most Endangered Sites. The site has been owned by an Irish company, Real Estate Opportunities (REO), since November 2006, after it purchased it for £400 million.
Until the late 1930s electricity was supplied by municipal undertakings, small companies that built stations dedicated to a single industry or group of factories and sold any excess power to the public, with widely differing standards of voltage and frequency. When parliament decided that the power grid should be a single system with uniform standards under public ownership, several private power companies reacted to the proposal by forming the London Power Company in 1925. Their plan was to build a smaller number of very large stations and sell the power to anyone who wanted it.
The London Power Company's first power station was planned for the Battersea area on the south bank of the River Thames in London. This in turn sparked protests from those who felt that the building would be too large and would be an eyesore, and from those who were worried about the possibility of pollution. The company addressed the former concern by hiring Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, a noted architect and industrial designer, famous for the design of the red telephone box, of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and of another London power station, Bankside, which now houses the Tate Modern art gallery. The resulting design is a steel-framed building with brickwork hung from the outside, similar to the skyscrapers being built in the US at the time.
Construction, which was carried out by John Mowlem & Co, started in 1929 and was completed by 1939. Most of the electrical equipment, including the steam turbogenerators, was supplied by the Metropolitan Vickers company. The original power station had a single long hall with a chimney at either end.
After the end of the Second World War the London Power Company took the opportunity to introduce a new innovation, a district heating scheme better known now as "Cogeneration". Some 11,000 people benefited from the scheme, which provided hot water and central heating to newly redeveloped areas within Pimlico.
From 1953 to 1955 a second station, "Station B", which was identical to the first station from the outside, was constructed alongside the original, which then became known as "Station A". This gave the station its now familiar four-chimney layout.
On 20 April 1964 the power station was the site of a fire that caused power failures throughout London, including at the BBC Television Centre, which was due to launch BBC Two that night. The launch was delayed until the following day at 11am.
When it first opened the station had a 105 megawatt (MW) steam turbine. At the time, this was the largest steam turbine in Europe. After the Second World War the station's capacity was enlarged to approximately 500 MW. In the 1950s 60 MW was considered to be large for UK stations. Power stations' output continued to grow and this factor, coupled with increased operating costs, such as flue gas cleaning, led to Battersea's demise.
In 1975 Station A, which by then was quite out of date, was closed, with rumours that Station B would soon follow. Intense public pressure was mounted to save the buildings, in particular Station A's Art Deco interior. As a result the station was declared a heritage site in 1980. In 1983 production of electricity at Station B also ended.
There have been several projects to redevelop the power station. One plan included the production of power, this time using two of the famous chimneys to expel water vapour generated through the production of clean energy. The plans were for a carbon-neutral development.
In 1984 there was a competition for a redesign of the site. It was won by a consortium including Alton Towers Ltd, which proposed an indoor theme park. This received planning approval in 1986 and work on converting the site was begun, but the project was halted due to lack of funding in 1989, leaving huge holes in the roof through which machinery had been removed from the building.
In 1993 another development company, Parkview International, purchased the outstanding loans from the banks and, following resolution of creditors' claims, it acquired the freehold title in May 1996. The company received unencumbered possession of the site in April 2003. Having purchased the site, Parkview started work on a £1.1 billion project to restore the building and to redevelop the 38-acre site in one of the largest privately owned development projects in the UK.
Parkview's project plan, called simply "The Power Station", proposed to develop restaurants, retail, cinemas and other cultural and commercial offerings within the existing building. In addition, it proposed new buildings, comprising two hotels, a theatre, flats, offices and showrooms, as well as a £26 million scheme to modernise and upgrade the nearby Battersea Park railway station. The proposal included plans to expand the site along the bank of the River Thames to include another two hotels, a conference centre, an event auditorium and about 700 residential units. The scheme was designed by Grimshaws Architects and Buro Happold.
An independent environmental impact assessment conducted by Arup had forecast that the project would be responsible for creating some 6,000 full-time-equivalent new jobs and that nearly 3,500 of these would go to people living in the locality. At the launch of a recruitment office in July 2005 the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions David Blunkett said, "this development is good news for the people of East Battersea, indeed the whole of London."
On 13 October 2005 Parkview, English Heritage and the London Borough of Wandsworth claimed that the chimneys are structurally unsound and irreparable, and Wandsworth Council approved a plan to demolish and rebuild them. However, the Twentieth Century Society, the World Monuments Fund and the Battersea Power Station Company Ltd commissioned an alternative engineers' report that claimed that the existing chimneys could be repaired. In response, Parkview claimed to have given a legally binding undertaking to the council to provide certainty that the chimneys will be replaced like for like, in accordance with the requirements of English Heritage and the planning authorities.
On 30 November 2006, it was announced that Real Estate Opportunities, led by Irish businessmen Richard Barrett and Johnny Ronan of Treasury Holdings, had purchased Battersea Power Station and the surrounding land for €595 million. REO subsequently announced that the previous plan by Parkview had been dropped and that it had appointed the practice of the Uruguayan-born architect Rafael Viñoly, of New York as the new master planner for the site. The engineers Buro Happold were retained on the design team.
The Battersea Power Station Community Group campaigned against the Parkview plan and argued for an alternative community-based scheme to be drawn up. The group described the plans as "a deeply unattractive project that has no affordable housing anywhere on the 38 acre site, no decent jobs for local people and no credible public transport strategy".
Most notably it was featured on the cover of Pink Floyd's 1977 album, Animals, with the group's inflatable pink pig floating above the station. The inflatable pig seen tethered to the power station reportedly "broke loose" from its moorings and veered into the flight path of Heathrow Airport before landing somewhere in Kent. On subsequent photo shoots, sharpshooters were hired to shoot it down if it went astray. These problems led to there being no usable single photo of the pig above the building, and the sleeve is actually a composite image. This image is often parodied or paid homage to, for instance on
The station can also be seen on: