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“We were going to win planning and flog it. Then thought, ‘Wait, could we do a mixed-use thing at Canada Water?’”

Roger Madelin, British Land’s maverick maker of place, sits down with The Developer, with photography by John Sturrock


Christine   Murray

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The area near Canada Water Dock behind the library has already seen additional housing built
Christine   Murray
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I meet Roger Madelin, Head of Canada Water, in what appears to be his impromptu site-office, the Canada Water Cafe. What follows over coffee, and a subsequent whirlwind walking tour, is a stream-of-consciousness rap, where he talks risk, planning policy, the art of stuff, the future of Southwark, Section 106, and why we should walk like Italians do, or fare una passeggiata

 

To listen to this special double-episode podcast, click the link:

 

Why Canada Water?

It was a bit of happenstance. British Land got a 50% interest in Surrey Quays Shopping Centre as part of a national retail portfolio. We were going to jointly develop it with Tesco and make a better shopping centre. Then the Daily Mail moved out of The Printworks in 2012 and wanted to sell the building quickly, so British Land bought it in two weeks.

 

We thought we were going to get planning permission and flog it, until we thought: “Wait, is that the right thing to do? Could we do a mixed-use thing at Canada Water?”

 

Then someone said, “Oh, we need more land,” and bought the cinema and bowling lanes, and suddenly we had 46 acres.

 

Then it was, “Let’s do a masterplan,” with Allies and Morrison going, “Great, more work for us.” They produced a technically very competent masterplan, but they had a three-headed client in British Land: the retail, residential and workspace clients.

 

It’s very important that you don’t feel you’re going from one piece of city to another – we really want to make it completely seamless, socially, psychologically and physically

 

Chris Grigg, chief executive of British Land, decided someone dedicated needed to run this. They heard I was leaving Argent and asked if I wanted to come and work for them. I said, “I don’t know. Let me spend some time there.”

 

I brought my wife down here. We came on the Underground and then the Overground. I took the bus here, then walked, then cycled… Then I thought: “With 53 acres of vacant possession, no residents to move, and an exciting demographic, of course I’m going to do this.”

 

But the most obvious thing [that attracted me] was the planning policy that was put in place in November 2015 – the Canada Water Area Action Plan [AAP] that Southwark Council produced. I didn’t want to get involved in a project that was going to be a huge battle from a policy point of view. The Canada Water AAP is one of the best planning policies I’ve ever seen. It says: “Here is a lot of land around Canada Water Station: it was almost entirely built in the 1980s and early 1990s before the Jubilee Line came, before the London Overground was upgraded, and it’s suburbia. We think it should now be the new urban, town centre.”

 

What is Canada Water like today?

After the docks were closed and filled in, Southwark’s mission was to get economic activity going, so they put the infrastructure in and encouraged anything to happen.

 

So, you’ve got low-density cul-de-sac housing, which is much-loved. You’ve got some of the first private housing built along the river – you look at it now and think it’s low-density and of medium quality, but it’s actually built quite well.

 

You’ve got a lot of industrial use: there’s the big Printworks, storage houses and light manufacturing stuff.

 

Then you’ve got Surrey Quays Shopping Centre, with the largest surface car park in Zone 2 at 1,400 spaces, which is strange when you’re 11 minutes from Green Park or 13 minutes cycle from the Bank of England. There are 240 more parking spaces next to the big cinema box that you would expect to see on a ring road in a city that isn’t London.

 

The shopping centre gets 7.2 million customer visits a year. It’s got Poundland, Boots, Halifax, Starbucks, Holland & Barrett and H Samuel: shops that people still want and still use. We want to build on, not obliterate, what is here, but we want to make it urban: that means bringing tens of thousands of people here every day to undertake commerce or receive education.

 

We want to retain a significant amount of what the shopping centre offers and then increase the amount of shopping, leisure and culture. I don’t want to lose those 7.2 million customer visits

 

These different kinds of people will encourage different cultural attractions and different retailers. The existing retailers will probably change their offer slightly and business will be slightly better. You will start to not need 1,400 spaces for cars, one hopes, because most of those people will be coming here by Underground, Overground, bicycle, bus or river bus.

 

That gives us a huge opportunity to create a new urban town centre in London. I don’t think that’s been done for 150 years. Every time I say that, everyone looks at me and says, “More bullshit from Roger.” But when was the last Brixton, Peckham or Islington built? If we do it well, this could be a real exemplar of how to create new urban environments from scratch.

 

“The Canada Water action plan is one of the best planning policies I’ve ever seen. It says: ‘Here is a lot of land around Canada Water Station... and it’s suburbia. We think it should now be the new urban, town centre’”

 

Are you retaining the shopping centre?

We’re not, but we want to retain a significant amount of what the centre offers and then increase the amount of shopping, leisure and culture, as the place gets more people coming and going and living here.

 

I don’t want to lose those 7.2 million customer visits. There are two high streets that don’t quite connect into our 53 acres and we would love to work with the existing retailers to make that real local high street connect into our new high street. It’s very important that you don’t feel you’re going from one piece of city to another – we really want to make it completely seamless, socially, psychologically and physically.

 

I know Southwark are 100% behind that as well. We see that as part of our offer: keeping Poundland and Burger King, and then adding other shops, restaurants and cultural centres.

 

My view of what makes a good city is not only a great mix of uses, but the journey between those uses – the journey of wondering and connecting. My favourite places in London are where it is a pleasure going between the buildings, where you can just go for that serendipitous walk: “What’s down there?… Let’s walk down there…” That joy of walking that the Italians call ‘fare una passeggiata’ [to take a stroll]. We want to create the most amazing passeggiata at Canada Water.

 

The site connects into 120 acres of wood, parkland and dock, so you can do a 5km circuit here and cross only one road. You tell me any urban place with that on its doorstep. We’re bordered by the Russia Dock Woodland and Stave Hill Ecological Park, which is 40 acres of – in effect – woodland. We literally connect into Greenland Dock, which has a water sports centre with sailing, paddleboarding, canoeing and stuff.

 

My view of what makes a good city is not only a great mix of uses, but the journey between those uses – the journey of wondering and connecting

 

Then we connect into Southwark Park – 54 acres of the first municipal park in London, with football pitches, cricket pitches, an all-weather athletics track, boating lake, bandstand, tennis courts, rose gardens and a children’s play area. It’s just wonderful.

 

Is a major cultural venue key to Canada Water as a place?

Absolutely. The Printworks is a big whale of a building. My wife said: “You’ve got to keep it, because you’d never build anything like that again, would you?” It took us a while to figure out what to do with it, but now we’re excited about reconfiguring it, half into workspace and half into performance space.

 

For the past 20 months, to get income from it, we’ve used it as a venue, with 300,000 people having come to see music events. These daytime raves bring 5,000 people to the area. We want to keep it as a performance venue going forward.

 

I said at King’s Cross there would be 50 places that you could hear live music. That’s not going to happen now

 

I always liked the idea of live music in a part of the city, but we don’t just want one kind of music – we want orchestras and dance, too.

 

Culture never really landed at King’s Cross. Is that something you regret?

I tried. I said at King’s Cross there would be 50 places that you could hear live music. That’s not going to happen now. The Aga Khan was going to put a big cultural building there and that was great, but for various reasons they just did the academic building and student accommodation. That’s great, but we did talk to them for quite a while about a big cultural building with a performance space. There is a 600-capacity theatre in that building – as well as Facebook’s offices.

 

There are going to be more offices at King’s Cross than we would have thought in 2012, but successful cities accommodate demands. There is still enough residential there. I always thought King’s Cross should have more retail and culture, but the planning system wouldn’t let us; here, planning says we can do a million square feet. We probably won’t do that much, but at least we have that opportunity.

 

Now, people like WeWork say we have thousands of people working in our offices and they like other stuff, too – people like to get out of the office.

 

Roger Madelin. Photo: Christine Murray
Roger Madelin. Photo: Christine Murray
Canada Water’s library, theatre and station
Canada Water’s library, theatre and station

 

Will you have a campus or some sort of educational outpost?

More than an outpost – a central facility. But I can’t announce that yet. It’ll be a good place to get to if you’re a student or a lecturer.

 

Do you have a market?

No, but we will have a market. I’d tell you about our market… but I might have to kill you. It’s so exciting! No one else has done one yet. There’s probably a reason no one has done one yet. I’m excited about our market idea, which of course has to be flexible, because it might be a stupid idea or it might be a great idea, but either way, it will only last for a few years.

 

We want to create a big adaptable volume that is joyous just to walk into. The idea at the moment is to include very seasonal food. If I said “asparagus”, you might say “yuck!”. But in Northern Europe, in springtime they go mad about asparagus. You get white asparagus and people go to asparagus markets and you learn about asparagus.

 

If I said “orange cauliflower”, you would think I’ve gone mad, but if you’re in Israel or the Palestinian territories in October, I think, they get these massive orange cauliflowers. They celebrate cauliflowers.

 

So we’re going to pick a series of very seasonal foods: one week, you’ve got onions, another, tomatoes or apples. Stuff like that. We’re going to have a whole festival around that one product. Tesco is very excited.

 

I think the thing about markets is that they’re micro-businesses. They’re not high risk. You’ll get a lot of innovative people who will take a stall who can’t afford to take a permanent space.

 

Some stuff will work, some won’t. That space has to be very adaptable – we might run it for five years and then people will say that they’re fed up with it and then we’ll do something different.

 

The temporary things in King’s Cross were much loved: the Skip Garden, the freshwater pond. They went away and everyone got upset.

We always knew the pond at King’s Cross would be a problem when we got rid of it. Even though you could only book two weeks in advance, you got the same people phoning up on a Monday morning, so it was quite exclusive to the same crew of 25 people. We knew they would go mad when we got rid of it. But it was good for a while and looked wonderful.

 

Will you do a lido at Canada Water?

Maybe something quite small, like Reading lido. It’s basically a restaurant. It has to have a restaurant and a spa to make money. But open swimming is wonderful.

 

How do you engage with the locals?

We’ve had four years of consultation, with tens of thousands of people coming to those events. There is general enthusiasm, with a bit of scepticism. Most are in favour of the mix of uses, the timing, the phasing and the designs. The concerns people raise are about Canada Water Station and traffic.

 

“I don’t think [a new town centre] has been [built] for 150 years. Every time I say that, everyone lsays, ‘More bullshit from Roger.’ But when was the last Brixton, Peckham or Islington built?”

 

How do you create meaningful community engagement?

The trick is: ‘young and old’. Kids don’t have those issues [with reacting against the new], so the school at King’s Cross is brilliant for permeating the public realm with kids; the elderly have a lot to offer, if you just give them a little bit of help connecting with the new communities that we’re creating.

 

We’ve got an older person’s charity called Time & Talents and they have these amazing tricycles where you can go with an older person for a ride; they’re working with the young person’s children’s charity, Global Generation, who did the Skip Gardens at King’s Cross. The elderly and the young are coming together and growing stuff. It’s wonderful creating those social connections.

 

I think that’s why Canada Water is more exciting than King’s Cross and any other development. If we can facilitate connections between the resident communities – old people, young people, working people, non-working people – then we can create opportunities for social connections, because British Land will know everyone that’s here. Hopefully not in a spooky way.

 

We can tell people that there’s a homework club where they can volunteer if they have any STEM skills, or ask if they’re willing to help an elderly person with the shopping or set up a sporting group. All those things quite rightly take a huge amount of management – you can’t just go into an office space and say, “Do any of you want to coach the kids’ football club?” You need a coaching badge and need to be checked by the police.

 

A lot of those kids will end up in prison. We can slag off the Blair administration for lots of reasons, but that idea of helping a family as soon as a kid was born is the best thing. We’re seeing the consequences now

 

We can facilitate that. We can say to schools, “Let us run the reading club, the sports club, the elderly shopping club, the bridge club, the table tennis club.”

 

What we hear from employers is that social connection is what they want for their employees. Mental health is a big issue – it’s not just physical health and well-being, it’s people wanting to help, they want to know what value they add for others, rather than just the audit in the office. People have got so much more to offer and that social connection side of Canada Water is the most exciting aspect.

 

We’ve already got a poetry school in our listed dock building. There were comments locally about that “not being for us” – even though you could say that rap is the new poetry. One of the characters who was giving me a hard time about it came anyway and he sent me a poem that night about working in the dock. If you can encourage them to open the door… But that’s tricky because the natural reaction is against anything new.

 

What about teenagers?

Teenagers are always the most challenging. With knife crime (and this is not just my opinion, but also the view of youth workers), if you draw a line from the withdrawal of Sure Start – which used to identify single parents or those in need of support right from the day a kid was born – to now, and you look at knife crime, you can almost directly relate where we stopped that support to the growth of knife crime in London.

 

Would more policing help? Probably not. Would more prisons help? Probably not. It’s that social intervention that was taken away and needs to be added back pretty damn quick.

 

Sadiq Khan is right – it will take generations to sort this out. A lot of those kids will end up in prison, which will be much more expensive than a social intervention. We can slag off the Blair administration for lots of reasons, but that idea of helping that family as soon as a kid was born is the best thing. To take that and social housing grants away… well, we’re seeing the consequences now.

Rotherhithe Street Bascule Bridge is one of the area’s most distinctive landmarks
Rotherhithe Street Bascule Bridge is one of the area’s most distinctive landmarks
There will be a mix of independent and start-up shops, as well as big conglomerates
There will be a mix of independent and start-up shops, as well as big conglomerates

 

We’re talking about knife crime and social support, but the developer has come to be associated with aggravating these issues through gentrification – even vilified for it.

Yet, I would love to build social housing. But it costs £300,000 to subsidise each three-bedroom council house. Where do I get that money from? Imagine me going to the board and saying, “Can we build a hundred council houses?” and them saying, “Yeah, that’s a good idea. Here’s £30m.”

 

I’ll send you my essay on how to solve the housing crisis. It’s just so bloody obvious why we have a housing crisis – no one tried to address it for 30 years. It’s not a party-political thing. Every democratic country subsidises housing to an extent, but it’s a challenge for all of us because it takes a lot of money. Talk to Peabody.

 

Ten years ago, we said as a country we wanted to subsidise housing. Ken Livingstone said it should be 50% affordable housing. I think that’s right. But you’ve got to have that subsidy from general taxation. Why should it come from the developer?

 

Paul Finch says if you put a tax on people who want to make a loaf of bread, you’ll have a bread shortage in three months. If we make loads of money, I’m happy to pay tax on it. I love paying tax. I don’t know of any business that if it’s made a profit, doesn’t like paying tax. But you’ve got to make the money.

 

I have to go to British Land and say, “Here is my business proposition for Canada Water. I want £400m for the first phase. I want to build two large empty office buildings and 163 apartments that we’re not going to pre-sell in China – we might have to rent them out, but I’m prepared to take that risk.”

 

Then if I say, “By the way, I want to build 100 council homes,” they’d rather do something else with the money.

 

If you want subsidised housing, it should come from general taxation. The government stopped the housing grant in 2010. It’s mad.

 

 

What about Section 106?

Section 106, as a principle, I cannot disagree with. Developments should pay to deal with the extra infrastructure. I haven’t got a problem with that. But Section 106 has been expanded and misused. You’ve now also got CIL [the community infrastructure levy]. Then you’ve got other mayoral tools as well. If we were trying to do King’s Cross today, it wouldn’t happen, as we’d have to find money to subsidise housing from profits that we may or may not make in several years’ time.

 

No wonder we’re getting crap development and not enough housing. It’s not rocket science, is it?

 

What things do residents really want?

It’s more nitty-gritty concerns, rather than concerns about doubling the population of Rotherhithe. The estates around here are very passionate about teenagers and keeping them busy; they talk about knife crime and job opportunities. The private residents talk about congestion and disruption – a lot of them have got cars. But they like the idea of better shopping and better restaurants.

 

Some of the communities don’t like each other so much, because they are quite distinct. There is the usual politics and characters, but we are the least hated, I guess, for now. Everyone is friendly, if you make the effort to listen. They offer me a cup of tea when I go round, which is always a good start.

 

How do you contemplate the risk on something like this?

You have to take a 10 to 15-year view, because whenever you start, at some point the economy is going to be a bit shit.

 

If you analyse developments over two or three economic cycles, generally speaking, if you’ve got the right kind of money and you invest in the right kind of things, you’ll do all right. But if you get the timing wrong and you invest too much money at the wrong time, big developments do go bust. At King’s Cross, the developer went bust; Silvertown Quays is on its third developer; Earls Court is having challenges; Brindleyplace in Birmingham – the developer went bust; Canary Wharf – the developer went bust.

 

Do you want to invest in a big development? Want to put your life savings in it?

 

“If we can facilitate connections between the resident communities – old people, young people, working people, non-working people – then we can create opportunities for social connections”

 

But you’ve invested here…

I’ve invested here and I invested in King’s Cross. And it was a bit scary. History says it will probably get a bit scary here at some point, but history also says it will probably be all right if you’re in it for the long term.

 

If you invest in quality and you put good public realm in, people are still going to want to live here. Is London’s population really going to reduce that quickly? Some of the scenarios say the population will start reducing, but most of them say it will keep growing at a slower rate.

 

We can’t believe Brexit will be so xenophobic and against intelligent, young, bright people wanting to come over here that it will kill the golden goose. It can’t be that stupid, Brexit, can it? But it might be.

 

If the economy is good and we decide to go as fast as we can, we can finish all of this in 12 years.

 

Transport for London ridership is down for the first time in decades and we have more cars on the road. How do you prepare for that when looking at a masterplan that’s going to be built over the next 10 or 20 years?

I’m a commissioner on the independent transport commission. I sat for two hours last night listening to a very capable chap going through some research about travel over the past two decades and what has been happening over the past two years.

 

First of all, whatever we think is causing the drop, it probably isn’t that. Whatever we think will happen, we’ll be wrong.

 

All we do know is that as the population expands, demands on transport in all its forms do tend to increase – or so far they have done. But maybe that’s wrong. Maybe we are at peak car, peak transport.

 

I think tech clearly in the past two or three years has genuinely started to change the way we work for the first time in many decades. I can now work anywhere because technology is usable by an idiot like me. A lot of employers are trying to encourage non-peak travel and working from other offices. It’s not just working from home.

 

What does this mean for Canada Water and the design here? Well, first of all, when you go into Canada Water Station in the peak 45 minutes, you will find it horrendous. It’s completely rammed. There are quite likely some concerns from people around here who say, “We can’t possibly do any more development because the transport is full.”

 

But when we look into why Canada Water is congested, 78% of people never come out of the station – that congestion is just people transferring from the Overground to the Jubilee Line.

 

So the very glib answer is that if we give them a reason to get off at Canada Water Station by building workspaces here, we solve the ‘interchange problem’. Shoreditch, Hoxton, Euston, Croydon, New Cross, Crystal Palace and Peckham have become places where work is happening.

 

But that is a bit glib. How did Canada Water Station suddenly become congested? That was not predictable: the whole of the London Overground groupthink did not predict [ridership] to be anywhere nearly as high.

 

[Former London transport commissioner] Peter Hendy said to me, “In 2004, the growth projection for the East London line and London Overground were laughed at as being too optimistic, that passenger growth was never going to be like that.” They forced the investment through and growth has exceeded any calculations.

 

That’s a huge point of education for Canada Water and for other parts of London.

Bridges and areas such as Maritime Street mean it’s possible to walk a 5km circuit in Canada Water
Bridges and areas such as Maritime Street mean it’s possible to walk a 5km circuit in Canada Water
It's surprisingly suburban and leafy
It's surprisingly suburban and leafy

 

That growth in the Overground was driven by a lack of affordable housing. How does that relate to what’s happening here?

We’re building significant amounts of new homes. But also, if you’re an employer and you want to employ anyone under the age of 35, they will find it easier to get here than to Marble Arch or King’s Cross, because they will be living off the Overground or Jubilee lines. Developing workspace here will be the driving force of making this a much more urban space.

 

How do we design Canada Water to be adaptable and carry on dealing with these changes? There will be some places where you have to get off your bike, but generally, I want to be able to cycle and walk everywhere. I want traffic to be slow and reduced.

 

I don’t think cars are going to disappear and I don’t want them to disappear – they do provide an element of ‘cityness’. Some personal traffic on roads and high streets is quite good, as long as it’s not going fast or is too polluting. Putney High Street is terrible because the pavements are narrow and always full – you feel like you’re about to die of pollution. But go to other places where there is no traffic and it feels very sterile.

 

It’s just about getting that balance: the right pavement width, the right traffic speed, the right places to pull in. A lot of the traffic in London does not actually want to be there – it’s trying to get from one side to the other – so we don’t want that in Canada Water. Hopefully, there will be electric cars and they will be slower and fewer.

 

But cars are not all suddenly going to disappear.

 

Retail sits at the heart of many regeneration projects, but it’s been a turbulent year for retail, with several high-profile bankruptcies and questions about the future of the high street. What are you considering for this development and is retail the right way to activate a place?

 

“Everyone knows retail is changing, just as transport is changing. But whether it’s a gallery, cultural space, music or retail, people still want to walk in the public realm and see stuff going on and wander in”

 

Everyone knows retail is changing, just as transport is changing. But whether it’s a gallery, cultural space, music or retail, people still want to walk in the public realm and see stuff going on and wander in. I don’t think that’s going to change.

 

What retailers say to me – and at British Land we’ve got a lot of retail – they ask me to put their operation in a great place. What does that mean? That means either there are lots of customers already there, so they’ve got a captive audience, or you’ve created a great space that attracts people to come there for other reasons.

 

If it’s a great place, it’s safe, you can take your elderly relatives there, and your kids. “What are we going to do at the weekend?” “Let’s go down onto the waterfront – there’s always something going on there, like at the Southbank.”

 

We’re going to try to do that at Canada Water. We’re going to have people working there every day and make amazing public realm to attract people when they aren’t working.

 

Then the businesses have got to figure out why someone would come to their shop, rather than buying online. Are they going to have films or events? Are they going to become restaurants in the evening?

 

I think the smart retailers and landlords are thinking not only about the place but also the product. They’re thinking about how that product can be used more than eight hours a day. Could they co-occupy? Could they use shops for homework clubs in the evening? Could someone sleep in the shops?

 

Some of these crazy ideas are starting to be thought about, where retail has been suffering.

 

They also want flexibility. They don’t want to sign up for a 25-year deal. They might say, “We’ve got this great idea – here’s the business plan,” and the landlord might say, “Great! Come in here for nothing and we’ll have 20% of your great idea.”

 

The early occupiers of King’s Cross went in on zero rent, 80% of turnover, because we were confident and wanted to layer in a bit of comfort that they weren’t just going to sit there and have an empty restaurant and be paying us rent. They hit the turnover cap within three months of opening.

 

We’re looking at how we can structure the deal financially, whether they’re selling clothes, cauliflowers or culture, to help entrepreneurial businesses succeed and pay us to build the stuff in the first place and manage and look after it.

 

How do you choose your retailers?

I choose my retailers if I like them and their ideas, if they want to work with us and be collaborative and share in success. I like people with good ideas. They’re not all going to work. We had a retail strategy at King’s Cross, but we need to take it to the next stage here at Canada Water.

 

“I think the smart retailers and landlords are thinking not only about the place but also the product. They’re thinking about how that product can be used more than eight hours a day. Could they co-occupy? Could they use shops for homework clubs in the evening? Could someone sleep in the shops? Some of these crazy ideas are starting to be thought about, where retail has been suffering”

 

And what’s the next stage?

It’s a ‘one-in-five’ theory: one in every five retail spaces is someone who hasn’t done anything before but has a nice idea and you want to give them a chance to do something different. Also, one in five is where they’ve probably got one or two spaces already, they’re good at this, but let’s give them a step up and take it to the next level.

 

Every third one is probably more of a visitors’ attraction, whether it’s a museum or a gallery. Also every one in three is probably a multinational that says, “I want to do the same thing I’ve done everywhere else.”

 

One of the criticisms we had from workers in King’s Cross is that there was nowhere to get a sandwich, only a Waitrose.

We don’t have a bloody wall up around King’s Cross – you can cross York Way and go to the Pret a Manger just opposite The Guardian. It’s probably the best performing Pret a Manger per square foot of any rent they pay. But actually, for the loads of people who can’t be arsed to walk more than 20 yards, they can go to the Pret in the station or the Starbucks. All the multinationals are at King’s Cross.

 

Yes, but they did mention it. I think it’s something to do with a campus mentality at King’s Cross.

There is 150,000 square feet of retail in the station – they don’t have to cross York Way for that. My customer service for people like that is: “Just fucking get your arse out a bit more.” What do they expect? Pret a Manger at their bloody desk?

 

“I’ve got three emails from lady architects and I’ve promised that we will give them a chance”

 

But there is a crossing and a 10-minute walk to the station for people up near Central Saint Martins.

Should there be a Pret in Central Saint Martins? There is one in York Way and there is one in the station. But if there was one in Central Saint Martins, it would do a storming trade.

 

I don’t want to be rude but when I first went into Central Saint Martins, although I quite like the big cafe set up there, it’s hard running a cafe and being consistently good. Pret a Manger has a good model but King’s Cross won’t put one in Coal Drops Yard. Central Saint Martins could put one in and King’s Cross couldn’t stop them, could they? But then Pret get slagged off, don’t they?

 

Will you work with any female architects in Canada Water? There’s been some criticism that only one female-led practice worked at King’s Cross.

I’ve got three emails from lady architects and I’ve promised that we will give them a chance. We don’t have a women shortlist. But there are some great architects out there. We will have a series of limited design competitions.

 

Is a place for everyone a place for no one?

No. In a place for everyone, you can find a place that is just for you. Take King’s Cross. The chairman said to me on a sunny day, “Isn’t this getting a bit too much with the fountains? What are you going to do about it?”

 

I said: “Put more deckchairs out.”

 

Look, if you don’t like the kids running about, you can go to Gasholder Park. King’s Cross is for everyone, but you can find your own place. That’s key – you’ve got to make these places so that everyone feels welcome.

 

What’s happened at Stratford is in some sense wonderful, but it’s not for me. Wherever you want to go, you get funnelled through Westfield.

 

What is the secret to great placemaking?

It has to be a dialogue – that’s how things happen in the UK. The more you can create an intelligent, informed, trusting dialogue, the more likely you are to come up with and deliver the best solutions.

 

I really learned that in Birmingham and Manchester, where both cities would almost greet you at the train station and ask, “How can we help?” The planning system really works up there.

 

London is a little bit more challenging, but there are really good characters here, whether they are politicians from Camden, the Greater London Authority or Transport for London. These are professional people who are passionate about the built environment. If you can get them around the table, it’s also going to be more fun.

 

Listen to the podcast by clicking on the link and sign up to The Developer Weekly to be updated when new episodes go online.

 

 

 

Transcript by Lewis Duncan

 

Find out more

www.canadawatermasterplan.com

 

Roger Madelin is head of Canada Water development at British Land. He is a former director of Argent, where he was responsible for the King’s Cross Central development. He is an honorary fellow of RIBA, an honorary fellow of the University College of Estate Management and was awarded a CBE for ‘services to sustainable development’ in 2007

 

John Sturrock is a photographer of construction and regeneration projects

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