Philp Hensher: A few more ruins is just what we need

Share
Related Topics

David Cameron launched his party's manifesto at Battersea Power Station the other day. The implication was that the vast, decaying bulk of the famous building was an example of the sort of neglect and abandonment which his government would put right.

It seems a little unfair. The power station was closed down in October 1983, which means that it has subsequently suffered 13 and a half years of neglect under a Conservative administration, and then 13 under a Labour one. Initially, the CEGB wanted to demolish the station and sell the land; but it is a famous, preserved building with an exterior by Giles Gilbert Scott, and a much-loved one, too.

Over the last 26 and a half years, plans to convert the thing have come and gone. At first, a consortium including Alton Towers wanted to build a theme park there with an industrial-history flavour. Costs escalated, and a subsequent proposal to turn it into a mixture of shops, offices and hotels also came to nothing.

By the 1990s, a Hong Kong company was proceeding with a Nicholas Grimshaw-designed renovation, in the face of strong local opposition. In 2006 it was sold again, and the current project hopes to get underway by next year. For the first time, it includes a Tube extension, which will also stop at the new American embassy in Nine Elms. It will be finished in 2020. That is 37 years after it last performed any useful function, apart from hosting Conservative party manifesto launches. And a brief period in the 1990s when it hosted a riverside bungee jump.

I go past Battersea Power Station pretty well every day of my life, and though of course it's a scandal that so large a stretch of central London land has been left like this, I actually don't find the spectacle of decay depressing at all. In fact, it's rather wonderfully picturesque. The lowering thing is not the building, but the acres of grubby wasteland around it. I wonder whether, in fact, we really and truly want an energy museum, a vast shopping complex and huge quantities of new housing. I expect that, like many hideous new housing blocks in London, they would all be snapped up by buy-to-let merchants anyway, doing nothing whatever to provide affordable housing to those who need it.

The 19th century was so keen on picturesque ruins that they often commissioned architects like Karl Friedrich Schinkel to build entirely new ones, just for the hell of it. We have the luxury of having almost incredible amounts of splendid industrial architecture which seems ripe to recreate this abstruse taste. Frankly, I don't believe there are enough magnificent ruins in central London, and there seem to me far too many rubbishy shopping centres. Do we really want to go to all that effort, just to allow the Body Shop, Caffe Nero, Marks and Spencer and Miuccia Prada to sell us stuff that's on sale north of the river anyway?

Let's just commission one of our excellent garden designers to make a grand new London park on the 38-acre site, with the picturesque detail of a giant, ruined power station at the centre of it, occasionally shedding bricks in excitingly unpredictable ways on the heads of picnickers.

Londoners love their parks, and it's been quite a while since anyone had the opportunity to create one in so central a place. Go on, Dave: you know it makes sense.

So what if the Tories appropriate your music?

At the Tories' manifesto launch, Mr Cameron used a song by a rock band called Keane, entitled "Everybody's Changing". Subsequently, a drummer for this band (Richard Hughes, far left), which I had never heard of, shared his disgust on discovering his song had been used by a political party which he does not vote for. "Am told the Tories played Keane at their manifesto launch," he wrote. "Am horrified."

Or, in Twitterspeak, "Sir, It has been drawn to my attention..." When did rock stars get so appallingly pompous? It's a song. It gets used and liked by all sorts of people, not all of whom subscribe to a millionaire-socialist ideal, or indeed, aspire to it. The Nazis were fond of the Eroica Symphony. Elgar has been used for any number of political purposes.

Of course, rock stars these days never get to meet ordinary people, but are shuttled around in a dreamlike bubble, only encountering those who agree with their every utterance. Naturally they would be astonished to discover that someone of a different political persuasion enjoys and hears a meaning in their music. It comes to something when the Conservative party seems more in touch, less pompous, more groovy and more culturally diverse than the attitudes of a rock star.

The problem with being called David Mitchell

David Mitchell is writing a memoir and a novel, to be published by Harper Collins in 2012 and 2013 respectively. And David Mitchell is publishing a novel next month, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, with Sceptre.

Nicholas Pearson, who will be publishing David Mitchell's novel, and who is also my editor, said the novel would mark "the start of a successful career as a novelist" for David Mitchell. On the other hand, David Mitchell's novel is his fifth, his previous novels including two shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Confusion between the highly literate comedian and the extremely popular experimental novelist is already rife, but when they both start publishing novels, anarchy may break out. Indeed what hope, in a hundred years' time, of critics succeeding in disentangling one David Mitchell from the other? They have both established their names, and probably both consider, with justice, they have a right to use their own name without modification, or the addition of a middle initial.

At least there seems no prospect yet of David Mitchell (the non-Peep Show novelist) following his colleague A.L. Kennedy on to the comedy stage, at which point we might as well give up.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Queen Elizabeth II with members of the Order of Merit  

Either the Queen thinks that only one in 24 Britons are women, or her Order of Merit is appallingly backward

Janet Street-Porter
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...