Interview: Battersea Power Station’s new head of resi, Meriam Lock-Necrews, on why 2021 is a ‘pivotal’ year

Meriam Lock-Necrews recently joined the Battersea Power Station team as Head of Residential, taking the reins as the £9bn scheme enters a “pivotal” stage. In this exclusive interview with PrimeResi, the former Head of Super Prime Residential Development at Knight Frank shares her insights into London’s shifting property landscape, game-changing developments, gender diversity in the real estate industry, and why 2021 will be “the most transformational year yet” for the Battersea Power Station project.

Meriam Lock-Necrews recently joined the Battersea Power Station team as Head of Residential, taking the reins as the £9bn scheme enters a “pivotal” stage. In this exclusive interview with PrimeResi, the former Head of Super Prime Residential Development at Knight Frank shares her insights into London’s shifting property landscape, game-changing developments, gender diversity in the real estate industry, and why 2021 will be “the most transformational year yet” for the Battersea Power Station project.  

You have described your new role at Battersea Power Station as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’; which parts of the job are you expecting to find the most rewarding – and challenging?

Battersea Power Station is a historic London landmark that is globally recognised and loved.

Its transformation into one of the most exciting new neighbourhoods in London is now well underway and I am delighted to be joining the team at such a pivotal moment in the project’s journey.

This year is undoubtedly the most transformational year yet as we welcome our first residents into the Power Station in the next couple of months, handover the office space to Apple to begin their fitout and see the Northern Line Extension become operational this Autumn.

Lock-Necrews was announced as Battersea Power Station’s new Head of Residential earlier this month

You were formerly Head of Super Prime Residential Development at Knight Frank; what are the major shifts you’ve seen in London’s resi development market during your career?

One of the biggest shifts I have witnessed in the London residential market is the growth and attraction in high quality finishes, resident facilities, and the emergence of thriving new destinations.

At the start of my career there was a significant short supply of high quality and spacious lateral apartments. Historically, HNW and UHNW purchasers sought to invest in traditional golden postcodes where focus was placed on older, traditional mansion blocks. Branded residences, hotel-like services, private amenities in prime central London locations were unknown concepts of living.

UHNWIs had choice and therefore developers had to step up their game

As supply and diverse offering grew, the prime-residential became a more competitive landscape. UHNWIs had choice and therefore developers had to step up their game. In correlation and due to changing economic conditions and strength of sterling in different locations and following in the steps of other major cities such as Hong Kong and New York: character, choice and convenience is a requirement just as important to buyers than the homes themselves.

Battersea Power Station is the definition of a 15-minute city, recognised as a growing and important concept in Knight Frank’s latest Global Wealth Report. A prime example of heritage, residential, commercial, and public offering for all.

Aside from Battersea, which other prime resi schemes have changed the game over the last couple of decades in your opinion?

One Hyde Park was a game changer in terms of a super-prime residential offering. It broke domestic and international pricing records and propelled an offering in London like no other. It was the first of its kind to offer high quality amenities and hotel branded services, attracting purchasers from all corners of the world (including UK, Russia, Middle East and SE Asia), who were prepared to pay a significant premium. However, its modern steel and glass facade didn’t appeal to all buyers.

The Battersea Power Station project incorporates a broad range of architectural and interior styles across the different phases: do you have a favourite part of the development, or a particular residential unit?

Every day I learn a new fact or story that dates back to a different moment of history, whether that be architecturally – having been designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who designed the famous red Telephone Box – or understanding the role that different parts of the Power Station played.

Architecturally, despite many other power stations existing in the UK and overseas, the four chimneys at Battersea Power Station truly stand the test of time.

What I love about Battersea Power Station is that it is a place where heritage meets the modern day; there is something for everyone, and it’s not hard to find at least one element that captivates you.

‘There is nothing quite like Battersea Power Station’ (Image: Charlie Round Turner)

Many have wondered how the scheme is going to create a brand new community from scratch; how is this going, and which initiatives have seen the most engagement from residents so far?

Battersea Power Station is already a place that over 1,500 people call home. We have a thriving community of existing and future residents and are looking forward to welcoming first residents into the Power Station this Spring.

The community is bustling, and it has been encouraging to see how everyone has come together over the last 12 months, which have been challenging for so many. From virtual choirs, residents utilising our resident app to connect and support one another, to donating laptops to local schools and families in the borough through our Power to Connect campaign, supporting our restaurants, cafes and retailers – it is a community that has shown strength and resilience, which can only be encouraging for the future and opportunities that it holds.

Is there anywhere comparable to this new neighbourhood in London – or the world? How would you sum up its importance to the capital?

London is unique and diverse, each destination has its own unique character, vibrancy and appeal. Similarly, there is nothing quite like Battersea Power Station.

Internationally, Dubai Marina captures a similar bustling atmosphere

Internationally, Dubai Marina captures a similar bustling atmosphere to Battersea Power Station; full of life, restaurants, shops, and a sense of warmth and community.

New buildings and developments are powerful and attractive, but it is the community that is interwoven into the development’s blueprint that makes it a place. The success of a place isn’t by how beautiful and high quality the apartments are, it is actually about how inviting the new neighbourhood is. Bustling local high streets, independent and boutique coffee shops, a selection of bars and restaurants, parks and green spaces that become your back garden – these are the things that purchasers around the world are looking for now.

Has the pandemic driven any changes to the scheme’s residential amenities or shared spaces?

There haven’t been any notable changes to the amenities or shared spaces, but what has become apparent is the popularity of the riverside location and the amount of open green space on offer for residents to enjoy. The proximity to Battersea Park has also become even more pronounced as a key attribute of the project.

In light of Brexit and Covid travel bans, how have international sales fared over the last year? And how do you think the 2% overseas buyer SDLT surcharge – which comes into play next month – will affect demand?

Despite Lockdown restrictions, Battersea Power Station Development Company has achieved over £150 million of residential sales in the last 12 months, which is testament to the continued appeal of the project both in the UK and worldwide.

It’s not every day people will be offered the chance to buy a part of London’s history. Battersea Power Station has always attracted significant interest from the domestic market, including downsizers, young professionals and families. International interest has also remained strong, despite the travel restrictions and we are confident that the pent-up demand globally will be realised in the coming months as these restrictions ease.

Purchasers will choose carefully when making a commitment and will want to purchase the very best-in-class product, in unique destinations

There is no question in my mind, that overseas buyers will continue to view London as a safe haven, and global appeal will remain. The SDLT surcharge for overseas buyers will play its part, but ultimately the UK is still highly competitive when it comes to property taxes relative to the rest of the world. Purchasers will choose carefully when making a commitment and will want to purchase the very best-in-class product, in unique destinations, and we feel that Battersea Power Station is very well positioned to meet this demand.

The Power Station is obviously an iconic – and very Instagrammable – building. How effective is social media proving in the sales and marketing process? Which channels have been delivering the best results?

Instagram is great for showcasing beautiful destinations, and it’s fantastic to see ‘coverage’ growing organically from residents, local community, and visitors. It confirms that Battersea Power Station is a place loved by many, not just those who are building it. By far the best performing Instagram posts are images of the Power Station!

Anchor tenants don’t come much bigger or better than Apple; how much of a factor has this been for prospective residential buyers and tenants?

Apple’s decision to locate their London Campus at Battersea Power Station was clearly a huge signal that the area was destined for transformation. We have seen a knock-on effect with interest from young creatives and entrepreneurs wishing to rent or buy here and there is a sense that Battersea Power Station is becoming a creative, tech quarter which is great. We are looking forward to handing over the 500,000 sq ft office space in the Power Station to Apple in the next few months for them to begin their fit out.

By definition, off-plan buyers face a lengthy wait before they can get their hands on their new home; how do you best manage this process – and their expectations?

For the most part, buyers who are purchasing off-plan appreciate there will be a bit of a wait until they can move in as that is the nature of buying off-plan. That said, we do our best to keep all of our purchasers updated with regular newsletters, presentations and communications to ensure they are fully up to speed not only on their own apartment but on the Project as a whole. We share pictures, videos and offer them the chance to come down and see the progress for themselves, as it is important they y feel part of this exciting journey.

What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve heard?

Never compare yourself to others. Focus on what you do, and what you do best, and do it with conviction to the best of your abilities.

Do you think attitudes towards gender have changed in the property industry since you began your career, and what in your opinion could be done to move things forward?

Yes, I do think attitudes have changed but only in line with the attitudes on gender in general. There is plenty of work left to do within our industry (which is notably male dominated) especially at the senior levels and there is a long way to go before this changes.

I am pleased to see that gender diversity at Battersea Power Station is given the due recognition it deserves, with a much higher than average number of females in senior roles, including myself, the Deputy CEO, Head of Legal, Head of Sustainability and Head of Brand.

Women bring a different perspective to this sector – we think differently, we operate differently, and we approach things differently

Women bring a different perspective to this sector – we think differently, we operate differently, and we approach things differently. The property industry isn’t one size fits all, and females provide a different perspective, which is becoming increasingly important in building a successful business but more importantly, a healthy culture.

In celebration of International Women’s Day earlier this month, we showcased and honoured a round-up of leading women – and their stories – who have helped to form and transform Battersea Power Station over the years. As a female I am thrilled to stand alongside these women – and my female peers – in ensuring Battersea Power Station is a place and destination for all to enjoy, live, visit and thrive.