King’s Cross has emerged as one of London’s most remarkable success stories in terms of redevelopment. Over the past two decades, this once underused industrial site has been completely revitalized and transformed into a vibrant hub, boasting new streets, parks, residential areas, commercial spaces, cultural institutions, and even a university.
What sets King’s Cross apart and makes it truly special is a combination of factors that converge harmoniously in this location. Its strategic positioning, excellent connectivity, picturesque canal-side setting, rich heritage, thriving cultural scene, a bustling business community, and a strong sense of local camaraderie all contribute to its uniqueness. However, it hasn’t always been this way.
From its humble origins as a rural idyll, King’s Cross underwent numerous metamorphoses over the years, eventually evolving into an industrial heartland. The completion of the Regent’s Canal in 1820 marked a significant turning point, linking King’s Cross to the industrial cities in the north and facilitating the influx of goods and industry to the area.
However, it was the advent of the railways in the mid-1800s that truly propelled King’s Cross into prominence as a crucial industrial and transportation hub. It became a gateway for coal, grain, potatoes, and other commodities arriving from the north of England, which were then distributed further afield. To delve deeper into the history of King’s Cross, one can explore additional resources.
Following World War II, the area experienced a decline, and by the late 20th century, the “railway lands” had become a symbol of neglect and decay. Derelict buildings, disused warehouses, contaminated land, and abandoned railway sidings characterized the landscape. Despite its reputation as a nightlife hotspot and a haven for artists and creative organizations, King’s Cross grappled with problems such as crime, unemployment, and a generally poor-quality environment.
However, the dawn of the 21st century brought about significant changes that paved the way for a new chapter in the history of King’s Cross. Although initial plans for redevelopment fell through, the decision in 1996 to relocate the Channel Tunnel Rail Link from Waterloo to St Pancras served as a catalyst for change. The landowners, London & Continental Railways Limited and Excel (now DHL), made the decision to undertake the development themselves.
In 2001, Argent was selected as the development partner, marking the beginning of a multi-year process involving extensive studies and consultations with the local community, government entities, and other stakeholders. These efforts culminated in the formulation of a development vision known as “Principles for a Human City,” which provided the foundation for the subsequent masterplan.
The masterplan, prepared by Allies and Morrison, Porphyrios Associates, and Townshend Landscape Architects, received outline planning permission in 2006. This permission encompassed the construction of approximately 50 new buildings, 20 new streets, 10 major public spaces, the restoration of 20 historic structures, and the potential for up to 2,000 new homes.
In 2008, Argent, London & Continental Railways, and DHL established a joint partnership called Kings Cross Central Limited Partnership, thereby becoming the sole landowner at King’s Cross. Infrastructure work commenced in June 2007, with full-scale development beginning in November 2008. Initial investment primarily focused on the restoration of the Victorian buildings that once comprised the Goods Yard.
In September 2011, the Granary Complex became the new home for the University of the Arts London, and sections of the development opened their doors to the public for the first time.
Since then, King’s Cross has undergone a remarkable transformation. Restaurants have flourished, the iconic Great Northern Hotel has been meticulously refurbished, and residents have flocked to the area. The historic Coal Drops have been redeveloped into a distinctive shopping destination, attracting renowned companies such as Facebook, Universal Music, and Havas, and with the upcoming opening of the huge new Google HQ, there is going to be even more people looking to rent apartments in King’s Cross, and new luxury apartment buildings like the Enclave building on Camley Street are sure to be unveiled over the coming years.
A plethora of new public spaces, including Granary Square with its stunning fountains, Lewis Cubitt Park and Square, and Gasholder Park, have been unveiled, adding to the charm and allure of King’s Cross. Today, it is a beloved part of London, drawing both locals and visitors from near and far.
In January 2015, the UK government and DHL announced the sale of their investments in the King’s Cross redevelopment to Australian Super, the largest pension fund in Australia, operating exclusively for the benefit of its members. This move further solidified the confidence and investment in King’s Cross as a thriving and prosperous urban centre.
The King’s Cross transformation is a testament to the power of visionary planning, community engagement, and strategic partnerships. What was once a neglected and forgotten landscape has been reborn as a vibrant and dynamic neighbourhood, contributing to the tapestry of London’s diverse urban fabric. King’s Cross stands as a shining example of urban rejuvenation and the limitless potential of revitalizing neglected spaces into thriving communities.