Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Brave new world

I just hope the reality lives up to the hype. In the soon to be defunct frequent travellers lounge at Waterloo, I notice that Info – the magazine of the French Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain — is leading on Kings Cross: The Construction Game.

Inside the editor Delphine DeWulf writes: “The development represents a wealth of opportunities that many Chamber members have started to grasp.”

And they won’t be alone. For the magazine cites figures from the London Development Agency from March 2006, which reveal 740,000m2 of development; 173,000m2 of residential; 47,000m2 of hotels/apartments. There will be 250 businesses (including the Guardian) and 50 eating places.

Eating places sounds a little vague to me. A fish and chip shop is an eating place. But what the hell this is the largest city centre brownfield regeneration project in Europe.

And just to think in a few short months I’m going to be a regular part of this groovy wonderland.

Richard Brown, chief executive of Eurostar, says that my chums will want to be meeting me off the train.

“St Pancras International itself will be a ‘destination’ in its own right where people will want to go rather than just transit through,” he coos. “Inspired by New York’s Grand Central Terminal, there will be a 90-metre champagne bar – the longest in Europe, specialist shops, restaurants, and a farmer’s market full of wonderful produce.”

Problem is my mates aren’t the champagne bar types. Maybe I could instruct them in such ways. Maybe they’ll come flocking to greet me as I emerge from my 135-minute surge through northern France and south-eastern England.

But I soon realise that friends coming to St Pancras to meet me just because it’s St Pancras is as likely as me arriving at the terminus and making a beeline for the farmer’s market.

It’s odd what constitutes a selling point these days. I’d never have thought a farmer’s market would be the thing to lure people just returning from France or just about to set off there.

While the viability of the outlets is yet to be gauged, what is certain is that a chunky slice of London is on the cusp of renegotiating its own status within the metropolis and within the European context.

If London is 1 hour 51 minutes from Brussels and 2 hours 15 from Paris, then these become daily commutable distances. More so for the Belgian capital. Of course then there’s the chance to link up with the mainland European rail networks.

But there is a word of warning. Jackie Herald, a garden designer at the London-based Extra Room says: “It’s vital that the established international business community and increased values of property do not displace either the strong local residential community or young creative entrepreneurs that give the area its character and potential.”

A look at Herald's website suggests this is a person who has a wide range of experience throughout the world.

And this is the dilemma about regeneration. Is it just a stalking horse for gentrification?

At the moment Kings Cross is one of the murkier parts of London. It’s red light district providing the backdrop for many a TV drama and of course Neil Jordan’s film Mona Lisa which starred Bob Hoskins and Cathy Tyson.

If the area becomes well scrubbed where do the elements perceived as dirtier go?

They’re unlikely to be rolling into much of the 173,000m2 of residential development because those pieces of real estate are doubtless going to cost a couple of hundred thousand pounds.

I’ll be intrigued to see the amount of space allotted to the hoi polloi. The Kings Cross we’ve grown up with in London runs contrary to the zone that’s being promulgated.

Eurostar’s glitzy blurb for St Pancras International says France and England are getting closer. True. But what’s it doing to London?