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Social value, density and financing - a case of Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea regeneration

This year’s ULI UK Infrastructure and Urban Development Council’s Product Council Day focused on Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea area in London. The development features major projects and a unique approach to collaboration and partnership between public and private sector. It presented the chance to discuss many of the themes that our council has recently been debating, including:

  • Value creation for the local area and London more broadly

  • The role of infrastructure in unlocking (social and environmental) value

  • Collaboration, partnership and governance as a delivery model.

The event was kindly hosted by Kathryn Stewart, Head of Programme Nine Elms, Wandsworth Council; Danny Calver, Planning Manager, Transport for London; and Sarah Banham, Head of Community and Sustainability, Battersea Power Station. We started with a guided site tour and ended with a discussion particularly around those topics mentioned above.

Kathryn kicked off the discussion by providing an overview on the development project. She explained how the partnership between all key stakeholders was key to realise the development and highlighted the importance of governance structure and the council’s role in that. Danny followed to explain more about the Northern Line Extension – how it unlocked the development along with other infrastructure projects, how it benefited wider economy outside London and how it improved access for local population. Sarah then expanded upon the topic of social value. It was vital for the success of the development that all stakeholders are on board. They worked out all the sticking points through discussions which led those who opposed to the development now appreciate the development in a different way.

The group further discussed the governance model, stakeholder engagement, financing models and stewardship. We were all trying to ascertain success factors and lessons learnt. What was clear was that the partnership, which did not take a form of a development corporation, played a pivotal role in every aspect of the project. Its functioning relied as much upon a good structure and governance as on committed individuals.

There were, of course, lessons to be learnt. The ownership of assets, especially the park that lies at the heart of the development, is one that could have been arranged differently. In the current model, the park is owned by developers, who are obliged to manage and maintain the park under a single entity, Park & co., following the principles of Public London Charter. Nonetheless, it is entirely privately owned and public ownership would be something that the team would look at in future projects.

Another big question is around density. The density of the development was necessary to finance the enabling infrastructure projects. S106 was used to create communal amenities such as the aforementioned park to alleviate negative impact of the density. Nonetheless, the density of tall buildings observed in this area is undeniably unprecedented in London or elsewhere in the country. Is this the future of development? Is London ready to embrace this level of density as new standard? Is that desirable from perspectives of social wellbeing and quality of life or necessity in the context of climate change and urbanisation?

Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea might just be one example. But it certainly poses many pertinent questions to future regeneration projects. We are grateful for the hosts who provided insight into the project. We look forward to continuing the discussion in some form.

This post was originally written for the ULI event write up in February 2022.

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