By Ron Bernthal
A site called Nine Elms has existed on London South Bank since the mid- 17th century. Once just a row of elm trees, in the late 19th-century and early 20t-century Nine Elms was a notorious slum. Today, however, the area is a story of regeneration. With more than 40 interconnected development projects springing up in the past decade, and more to follow, this Thames riverside district continues to transform.
Nine Elms is steeped in history, as it is close to central London and on the Thames river, providing easy transport links for centuries. Fortunately, the Thames is still a key river route, the newest passenger piers opened in 2017 at Vauxhall (St George Wharf) and Battersea Power Station, connecting Nine Elms to London Riverbus services.
Until 1963, a Victorian neoclassical station structure by architect Sir William Trite stood on the site of what is now the New Covent Garden Market in Nine Elms. The Nine Elms Rail Station above opened in 1838 as the London terminus of the London & Southampton Railway, and Queen Victoria was one of the first passengers to use the station when she travelled from Nine Elms to catch the boat for the Isle of Wight where she visited her palace, Osborne House.
The station closed to passengers ten years later when the railway line was extended to Waterloo in 1848, making it easier to transport goods and passengers into central London. Although the station was closed to the general public, the Royal family kept the station in use when welcoming visiting European monarchs and dignitaries. It became known as the ‘Royal Station’ and then part of a freight yard until World War II, where the area took hits in 1941 by German bombers during The Blitz.
Remarkably, the structure stood proudly until 1963 when it was demolished, to be replaced by the flower section of the New Covent Garden Market in 1974, which itself was then demolished to allow for the widening of what is now a busy auto road known as Nine Elms Lane.
A big boost, however, to the ongoing revitalization of Nine Elms, and the nearby Battersea Power Station complex, will be the opening in fall, 2021, of the Tube’s Northern Line Extension (NLE), the first major extension to the London Underground since the 1990s.
The NLE will improve quality of life in Nine Elms, Vauxhall and the Battersea Power Station areas, where new mixed-use, residential and cultural projects are rapidly progressing. Thousands of new jobs are being created, and travel times from Nine Elms’ new rail station to London’s West End or the City via the Tube, now about 30 minutes via train/bus, will be drastically reduced.
“Seeing a Northern Line Extension train travelling through the extension for the first time is a really significant milestone and demonstrates the commitment of our brilliant team who have been working so hard during such a challenging year,” said Stuart Harvey, Director of Major Projects for Transport for London. “We are now focused on making sure the signalling software and systems are ready, along with completing the final stages of fit-out of the two new stations [Nine Elms & Battersea] before the planned opening of the extension in autumn. 2021.”
The Northern Line Extension is the first major London Undground line extension since the Jubilee line in the late 1990s. The extension will connect Kennington to Battersea Power Station, via Nine Elms Station, bringing those two South Bank neighborhoods to within 15 minutes of the City and West End districts. Three new residential buildings of 21, 17, and 16-stories are proposed to be constructed above and surrounding the new Nine Elms tube station, providing more than 9,700 square-feet of new public space and 1,200 square-feet of new retail space.
Nine Elms is also home to the regenerated Battersea Power Station, which offers trendy riverside dining and bars and pop-up food markets; a wide promenade along the Thames river embankment, and stalls at the wholesale New Covent Garden Market where vendors provide fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers. The area’s modern developments include stylish residential apartment buildings, he new U.S. Embassy complex which opened in 2017, and Linear Park, a Huw Morgan-designed swarth of green that runs through Battersea, Nine Elms and Vauxhall.
In 2018, the U.S. relocated from Grosvenor Square to Embassy Gardens, and the land on which the new U.S. Embassy stands was sold in 2008 to the U.S. government by Ballymore Group, one of the developers of the adjacent mixed-use Embassy Gardens project (phases one and three delivered by Ballymore and phase two delivered by a JV between Ballymore and EcoWorld). The Netherlands also relocated their embassy to Nine Elms as well, and the publisher Penguin Random House announced an greement to lease space in One Embassy Gardens.
Several of the new developments in Nine Elms have impressive features, especially the Sky Pool, which will open in spring, 2021. The pool will be suspended 10-stories high between Embassy Gardens’ two Legacy buildings, allowing residents to swim between the buildings. The pool is designed to appear as though it floats in the air and uses clear acrylic panes, 8-12 inches thick, so swimmers have uninterrupted views of the London skyline, as well as the terrain 115 feet below.
The Sky Pool is 75-feet long, allowing residents to swim across the 46-foot gap between the two buildings. The pool is entirely transparent and, according to the designers, the experience will be more akin to swimming within an aquarium than a pool. There are walk-in steps and filtration systems at both ends of the pool, and five modes of lighting will add to the magical feeling.
Additional Embassy Gardens project amenities include a Sky Deck with spa, summer bar and Orangery dining venue, the Maureen O’Hara theatre, the Belmont indoor pool, working and meeting spaces, indoor retail shops and plenty of outdoor green space for walking/running/biking trails.
From the 1930s to 1980s, the Battersea Power Station (BPS) was a working power station. At its peak, it was producing a fifth of London’s power, supplying electricity to some of London’s most recognisable landmarks, such as the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. After decades of sitting derelict in Nine Elms, it is now being redeveloped into a new destination for visitors and residents. The Battersea Power Station, with its four tall towers, is one of London’s most iconic restoration projects, and when fully completed will help grow the local economy with over 17,000 new jobs, and deliver 4,239 homes to the area.
Circus West Village opened within the BPS project in 2017 and is now a thriving area of independent restaurants, cafés, and bars as well as leisure offerings including The Turbine Theatre, Birdie’s Crazy Golf, Boom Cycle and Archlight Cinema with two distinct venues. Other retailers include Uniqlo, Jo Malone and Space NK.
Along with about a thousand residents living in this first phase, over three million people normally visit BPS annually to experience the wide range of festivals, markets and children’s activities available year-round. In 2016, Apple announced plans to renovate and eventually house 1,400 employees at BPS by 2021, occupying around 500,000 square-feet of space. Presently Apple has employees in several locations around London, and although Covid travel restrictions in 2020 delayed somewhat the original construction deadlines, Apple is setting its eyes on a 2022 occupancy.
“We are delighted to be partnering with these exciting brands which set the tone for our retail and leisure offering inside the Power Station,” said Simon Murphy, Chief Executive Officer at Battersea Power Station Development Company. “We entered 2020 with a very strong pipeline of retail and leisure brands intending to make the Power Station their home, and despite the pandemic, we have continued to work hard on the project, and have been counting down the days to the opening of new phases of this historic landmark in 2021.”
Nine Elms Park is located in the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area (VNEB). This project presents additional prime development opportunities in the heart of the Nine Elms regeneration area. Nine Elms Park covers 14 acres, with the park itself running the length of the site east to west. The new development is located just 1.5 miles from the Houses of Parliament and close to the older, traditional desirable districts of Kensington, Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Mayfair.
Benefiting from major city investments that include the Northern Line Extension, and the two soon-to-open new Battsea and Nine Elms tube stations, the Nine Elms Park project comprises seven serviced development plots within a park setting, with planning permission for up to 1,950 residential units.
A separate linear park has also been created to connect Lambeth Palace Gardens and Vauxhall to the Battersea Power Station, and was incorporated into the Nine Elms Park project, thus providing a continuous green corridor stretching through the middle of Nine Elms Park, offering a landscaped, green and car-free pathway from Battersea Power Station to Vauxhall Cross, allowing more green space for the new residential components.
Nine Elms Park will open out into a variety of open spaces and extends into various community projects, connecting with public squares, retail shops, and to public transport access. It will eventually contain 130,000 square-feet of retail and restaurant space, and be entirely open to the public as a focal point for leisure, sports, outdoor events and food markets. There will also be a new pedestrian and cycle route through the center of the VNEB area as an alternative to the main road. At four key points along the route the park will connect to the Thames River Path, enabling visitors and residents to move easily between the Park and the river’s edge.