Does Nine Elms symbolise everything that’s wrong with London’s housing market?
4 July 2021
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The Sunday Times
In Concrete Island, JG Ballard’s 1974 novel, the pre-eminent chronicler of urban dystopia wrote about an architect stranded in a swathe of derelict land between converging motorways and high-rises, unable to escape. Swap the speeding cars for e-scooters and Boris bikes and the plot comes to mind as soon as you hit the shadow of Nine Elms, London’s largest — and most controversial — regeneration scheme.
Step away from the low Georgian brick terraces of Harleyford Road and Vauxhall Grove and a castellated fortress of sky-high cranes and new towers — some built, others still under construction — blocks the view. They are not made of concrete as in Ballard’s novel, but of glass and steel. And suspended between two ten-storey buildings is a gravity-defying box of acrylic known as the Sky Pool, offering residents of the £1.2 million flats the chance to swim laps 115ft in the air.
First mentioned by the Romans in AD47, this vast stretch that extends for 561 acres between Vauxhall and Battersea was so-named in the 17th century after a row of trees. For centuries almost nothing was built on this land. Battersea Power Station, the brick industrial icon designed by Giles Gilbert Scott and J Theo Halliday, was in action from 1933 until it belched its last in 1983, when the site fell into ruin. When the London Plan commissioned by the London mayor Ken Livingstone was published in 2004, Nine Elms was described as a “degraded environment”.