The battle for Battersea's chimneys

Parkview International, the Hong Kong-based firm owned by the reclusive billionaire Victor Hwang, has submitted proposals to demolish the four chimneys and replace them with replicas after a scientific study, backed by English Heritage, found they cannot be repaired.

The company has spent £450,000 on surveys and trial repairs of the chimneys, but its consultants concluded they were in a "worryingly poor condition" and must be demolished.

But a separate report commissioned by campaigners and two leading conservation bodies - the World Monuments Fund and the Twentieth Century Society - rejects the findings and calls for the fluted smoke stacks to be preserved for posterity. A draft copy of the report, obtained by The Independent, challenges Parkview's claim that the chimneys are at risk of collapse.

Instead, it suggests that cracks in the concrete which surrounds the steel rods that form the chimneys date from their construction and can be filled in.

The study, which will be presented to Wandsworth Borough Council before it meets to make its decision on the scheme next month, said: "No evidence to support the statement that the chimneys are close to the end of their design life has been seen. There is no evidence that the four chimneys are structurally unsound despite the absence of any repair and maintenance work since the station was closed in 1983."

The study suggests that chloride levels in the chimneys, which Parkview's consultants say has contributed to the decay, are only marginally above normal.

The dispute is the latest in a litany of controversies which have dogged efforts to bring into the 21st century one of central London's last great industrial relics. Construction of the power station began in 1927 but it was not fully operational until 1940.

The plant, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the creator of the red phone box and Liverpool Cathedral, was the subject of an ill-fated attempt in the late 1980s to turn it into a fun park before Mr Hwang bought it for a reported £10.5m in 1993.

His own proposals for the site have also been beset by delays but Parkview revealed its plans for the 38-acre site this summer, including the power station which has a footprint equivalent to the size of Trafalgar Square and St Paul's Cathedral combined. As well as turning the building into an arts and exhibition venue topped by a futuristic hotel, the power station will be flanked by offices, hotels and flats.

But campaigners claim that proposals to demolish and rebuild the chimneys at a cost of £12m could be a prelude to its eventual destruction. Brian Barnes, founder of the Battersea Power Station Community Group, said: "There is no reason for the chimneys to be destroyed - their condition has been exaggerated and we don't believe they will be rebuilt."

Parkview rejects his claims, and cites the support of English Heritage, the state conservation body, which said in a statement: "We are confident that the new chimneys will match the existing stacks in form and materials and that the power station's iconic appearance ... will be unaffected."

The company, which aims to finish the project by 2008, said it would enter into a binding contract with its contractor, Bovis, to rebuild the chimneys and place £12m to cover the cost with a financial institution.

Ian Rumgay, Parkview's director of communications, said: "We have carried out exhaustive investigations ... and the overwhelming evidence is that repair is simply not possible. To suggest we will knock them down and walk away is not credible. We have spent £100m drawing up these plans. The chimneys are the symbols of Battersea and therefore a key part of our brand - we could not do without them even if we wanted to."

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