The belief that London cab drivers wouldn’t venture south across the river was probably due less to their fear of entering unknown lands inhabited by strange savage tribes than that (especially late at night) they’d have trouble finding a fare wanting to go north. But it’s true to say that south London has always had an image problem with those who live in northern climes. Anyway, that will soon be a thing of the past according to the marketing experts promoting the ambitious developments planned for the area between Chelsea Bridge and Lambeth Bridge as ‘an undiscovered part of London is finally opening up to the city. Nine Elms is coming to life.’
Over the next decade and beyond, this area, which includes the Albert Embankment, Vauxhall and a large slice of north Battersea, will become home to another 30,000 people. There is no doubt that this hugely ambitious regeneration project co-ordinated by the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership will result in a cityscape to rival that of Canary Wharf and Docklands.
More than £1billion is being spent on new infrastructure including Battersea’s first tube station, part of a Northern line extension, which will cut travel times to the City to 12 minutes. Over 3km of the Thames river frontage will be opened to the public, with the potential for cafes, bars, restaurants, and a range of cultural attractions and public space. The promise is that Vauxhall will be dramatically remodelled to create an attractive and pedestrian friendly environment. The area does have a visibility from the other side of the river which will be immensely helpful to its success. Together with a regenerated Battersea Power Station, the new United States Embassy (planned to open by 2017) and an improved New Covent Garden Market if fully realised this project would bring the area to the forefront of the London economy.
Part of the overall design of the scheme includes plans for the whole community to benefit from the creation of additional services such as schools and health centres, and there is potential for more to be made of the area’s multitude of railway arches, creating new food, leisure and retail spaces.
Clearly much of this is as yet an unfulfilled promise, although the Riverlight development next to the power station will open in 2014, and the 50 storey high St George’s Wharf Tower (left) is nearing completion creating the tallest solely residential building in the UK. The density of the residential developments (especially those close to Battersea Power station) have not met with universal approval and there are nagging concerns about the funding viability of the new Northern line extension, and about the strain which will be put on other transport resources, particularly buses. Despite repeated assurances by the developers there are still some who continue to believe that the power station’s iconic chimneys are under threat. However, ultimately we must celebrate the fact that what was a neglected underused part of south London is at last being given the regenerations is so richly deserves.