Argent boss Roger Madelin gives a grand tour and voices his frustrations at the obstacles facing sustainable developments
One event I attended at Architecture Week was a tour around the land north of King's Cross train station, due for a massive facelift over the next decade under developer Argent. Our guide? None other than Argent head honcho Roger Madelin.
Turns out he’s very far from the public stereotype of a property magnate - dry, softly spoken, witty and approachable; he charmed the 15-odd walkers before the two-hour trot around the 67-acre site, called King's Cross Central, had finished.
Madelin is intent on creating something a little more ambitious than the standard identi-kit regeneration project (mixed-use, public space, blah blah blah). He wants to attract different types of retail tenants (not the usual suspects), open a children's museum to encourage families to visit and bring a range of new name architects to work on different parts of the scheme.
He talks of retaining the area’s 'gritty' feel - as well as making loads of money out of the scheme - and creating markets and a local atmosphere. "We're looking to create an artisan area somewhere on the site, but we haven't quite worked out what that means yet," he quips.
Starting with an overview at the Argent project office, we move to the existing industrial buildings on the site which will be retained, and then to the nearby development by P&O - the Regent Quarter, which Madelin feels is not an unqualified success (it fails to permeate well with the neighbouring King's Cross area, he cites).
We conclude between King's Cross station and St Pancras, and I pipe up with the obligatory sustainability question on on-site energy generation. Madelin reckons developers of city centre sites are winning the argument with the GLA over that body's 10-20% demand for onsite generation for all new schemes – it’s unworkable.
“The concentration should be on building the best and most efficient buildings possible,” he asserts, “rather than opting for a ridiculously high amount of relatively untried renewable technologies completely crowding out the site.”
Madelin added a couple of interesting points on the environmental side. An energy ambition by the London Climate Change Agency, who with EDF are vying to buy the ESCO partner at King's Cross Central, want to create a private wires network on the site. According to Madelin, this isn’t legally possible. "If you generate more than one megawatt, you have to connect to the main grid and offer it for sale to general customers," he says. Hence a regulatory issue that is hampering new ideas.
When it comes to transporting materials and products to the site there are two obvious more environmentally friendly solutions - rail and the canal which runs through the middle of the site. The first is completely off limits - it's at complete capacity due to passenger demand. The latter, claims Madelin, is also some way off being a realistic alternative to the road. It's a shame that a developer with a lot of ideas for more sustainable working is hitting so many brick walls.
Phil Clark blogs at www.zerochampion.com