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King’s Cross is one of the largest redevelopments in Europe. After 20 years of planning, six years of building and over £550m spent, the impact of the investment has been astounding. Fifty new buildings have been created along with 1,900 new homes, 20 new streets, 10 public parks and squares, 26 acres of open space, 3.4m square feet of work space, 500,000 square feet of retail space, a new university, a new hotel and now over 30,000 new people working, living or studying within the 67 acre site. The new redevelopment area is so large that it has even been given its own postcode - N1C.

At the very core of the project was the huge redevelopment of Kings Cross Station and the decision to move the Eurostar terminal from Waterloo to St Pancras in 1996. This programme driver not only facilitated the wider renaissance of the area, but also transformed the site into a major transport hub for the city – continuing to connect London to the North as far as Scotland, but also to Mainland Europe via The Channel Tunnel.

King’s Cross posed a classic regeneration challenge. In 1996, when the decision to develop the scheme was made, the area required a fresh identity to encourage a healthier neighbourhood and a more attractive destination. Only a decade before, King’s Cross was suffering from years of decline. This was a central London area that should have had high land value, yet business and residential rents were some of the lowest in London, and commercial stock remained mostly unchanged since the 19th century. Run-down and with a reputation for crime, prostitution, strip clubs, drugs and beggars, Kings Cross was shunned by big business and investment and considered a ‘no-go zone’ for many.

It hadn’t always been like this. During the Victorian era, Kings Cross was a thriving industrial transport hub. By the late 20th Century, however, the area known as ‘the railway lands’ had become a series of disused buildings, railway sidings, warehouses and contaminated land. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was so awash with artists, prostitutes and drug dealers that it became London’s largest red-light area. Capitalising on this very notoriety, nightclub owners in the ‘90s turned the area into London’s clubbing heartland.

To create any long-lasting development plan for Kings Cross, there were other important issues to consider. Any redevelopment would also have to factor in the conservation of over 20 historic buildings and structures within the area. This included: the Granary Complex, which once held Lincolnshire wheat for London’s bakers; The German Gymnasium, designed by Edward Gruning; Gasholder No.8; the Coal Drops, Midlands Goods Shed, the Stanley Buildings, Fish and Coal Buildings, Gasholder Triplet, Regeneration House, West Handyside Canopy, Great Northern Hotel, and of course St Pancras and King’s Cross Stations. The design plan would, therefore, have to be heritage-led and ensure new structures were sensitively built around a mix of these important heritage buildings.

This created its own problems, since some older structures, such as King’s Cross Station’s historic barrel-vaulted roof, were often riddled with asbestos and dangerous lead-based paint.

Other constraints included tunnels, tracks, service pipes, the canal, contaminated ground and even a gas governor that, if wrongly housed, could explode. The site is also restricted by viewing corridors, and rules that prevent new buildings interfering with views of St Paul’s Cathedral - in this case, from Parliament Hill and Kenwood House. This meant that there could be no towers on the site, except on its northern end.

Work would also have to be undertaken on a 24/7 basis in a high-risk environment because of significant interface issues with the travelling public and train operators. A robust central site communication and co-ordination strategy was therefore a prerequisite to ensure all sub-contractors working in close proximity to each other were safe and in the right place at the right time.

The regenerated brownfield site also had to be developed using sustainable means to bring lasting environmental, as well as economic and social benefits from the project. This meant that spaces between buildings had to carefully thought through, buildings had to be designed with the health and wellbeing of people in mind at all times, and efficiency targets, such as achieving a 60 per cent carbon reduction by 2050 had to be factored in to all projects.



The first attempt at comprehensive redevelopment, to plans by Norman Foster, was killed off by the recession of the early 1990s. With an expected 63 million passengers passing through the combined King’s Cross–St Pancras interchange by 2022, the landowners and Argent King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership (KCCLP)- the newly appointed development and asset manager - outlined, in a 2001 consultation document that King’s Cross should ultimately prove an attractive place to work and live, be safe, easy to understand and easy to navigate. Argent had at least some time to deal with the scheme’s various complexities, as building the development couldn’t start until completion of the Eurostar line in 2007. Then came another recession, which nearly scuppered the whole project.  Through a combination of equity and bank loans, however, the project went ahead.

Argent’s initial idea to understand the location and its issues before asking architects to design anything had its chief executive, Roger Madelin, consulting all interested parties. This was not an easy task, and Madelin apparently went around by bicycle, talking to 7,500 different people, in 353 different meetings.

Before the master plan was drafted, Argent drew up its vision for King’s Cross in a document titled Principles for a Human City. The document outlined Argent’s intention to provide the conditions to improve and enhance urban life as the key for economic development.

The document - initially developed in 2001 - followed workshops involving Argent’s three master planner practices and other stakeholders. It also responded to a vision outlined in 1997 by LCR, Camden, and the King’s Cross Partnership (established by the U.K. government to fund regeneration) that set out emerging principles for development.

Principles for a Human City concluded that the scheme should be designed around people. Its ten principles therefore stated that King’s Cross and the development team would: offer a robust urban framework; provide a lasting new place; promote accessibility; provide a vibrant mix of uses; harness the value of heritage; work for King’s Cross and work for London; commit to long-term success; engage and inspire; secure delivery; and communicate clearly and openly.



The development team undertook almost 4,000 meetings during the consultation process.

To get the ball rolling and avoid stylistic bias, Argent assembled a design team of three: Allies and Morrison, Porphyrios Associates and Townshend Landscape Architects.

Argent submitted outline planning applications to Camden and Islington in May 2004. In consultation with the two London boroughs, as well as stakeholders such as the mayor of London, English Heritage, and local people, plans were revised to reflect larger numbers of three- and four-family homes, a new proposal for the Stanley Building (a former Victorian housing block for workers), and provision for health and education facilities, green energy provision, and more open green space.

A core challenge facing Argent was to organise complex landownership information across the large site, which required a good solicitor and a map of all the information in an easy-to- use system that could be viewed by employees to avoid expensive legal problems emerging in the future.



The development team regarded the gaining of planning consent as its biggest challenge since sites like King’s Cross were part of a wider debate regarding how the city should grow.

Outline planning permission for the main site was finally granted in December 2006, after six years of negotiations.

According to the Urban Land Institute, the permission was innovative because it allowed 20 percent flexibility to vary the mix of uses within the total floor space. Therefore, total permissible mixed-use development floor space use was 8 million square feet across the site, with up to 4.9 million square feet of offices, 494,000 square feet of retail, and 508,000 square feet of hotels and serviced apartments. Up to 2 million square feet for homes was also provided for, and the remainder was to be dedicated to nonresidential institutions and leisure.

Housing was an important ingredient in gaining approval. The need for additional homes, particularly affordable housing, with good transport links, was a key principle of the mayor’s strategy at the time, and King’s Cross was identified as a strategic housing site. Of the 2,000 homes on site, 42 percent would have to be affordable.



While the master plan provided a unifying physical vision for the site, it was also a framework that accommodated change, enabling King’s Cross to adapt to social and technological trends as they emerged over the 15-year building process.

The lynchpin of the plan was that public areas would account for 40 percent of the completed site. A lot of thought was consequently put into thinking about the spaces between buildings and how people would use these spaces.

Carillion, BAM Construct, BAM Nuttall and the Kier Group were appointed as the key contractors.

KCCLP’s mission was to create different patterns of use throughout the site. It wanted to offer both interesting buildings and open spaces. In fact, almost 40 percent of the site is dedicated to open space and Argent worked with English garden designer, Dan Pearson, on planting schemes to ensure that these spaces would prove popular places for workers, local inhabitants, students and commuters to visit.

To avoid dead zones of activity, all ground-floor units would be leased to different occupiers from those on the floors above. This enabled the majority of Pancras Square to include restaurants, cafés, and wine bars at ground level.

Some older buildings had to be removed to help revive others, such as the refurbishment and reuse of the Granary Building. These decisions were often unpopular with some interest groups, and it took time to defend certain plans.

To regenerate the area effectively and tackle previous issues with prostitution, drugs and crime, new health care and education facilities were built, and affordable housing and busy public spaces all had a positive impact to help rid the area of it’s past infamy.


Future King’s Cross represents one of the most sustainable major developments in the United Kingdom. From energy-efficient initiatives to the re-use of heritage buildings, green transport policies and three BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ buildings, sustainability is evident in all aspects of the King’s Cross regeneration.

The scheme has installed a combined heat and power plant, the largest of its kind in the country. Each building is connected to the centre, and as a result, there is no need to have any boilers in the buildings themselves. This aims to reduce energy bills by five percent.

Solar panels, ground-source heat pumps, and solar thermal system are also being used to meet a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions. The site has 97,000 square feet of green or brown roofs which provide space for wildlife and fauna habitats, as well as offering natural cooling and insulation. Buildings have also been constructed with dense materials that help combat seasonal temperature extremes.


The regeneration of King’s Cross has been remarkable. An essential part of its success of has been the balance of power between developers and local authorities – in this case, Camden Council. The area’s landscaped public squares and gardens, spectacular fountains, new homes and office space, thriving retail and restaurant community, important transport connections and it’s proximity to Regent’s Canal and the world’s largest library have all helped to attract important new tenants.

The University of Arts London, Google, Louis Vuitton, Universal Music, Havas and the Guardian have all relocated here over the past few years, substantiating just how a well-coordinated master plan, innovative approaches and best practices can turn one of the most notorious and deprived areas of London into one of it’s nicest. King’s Cross has certainly gone from zero to hero in just over 10 years and is an exemplary Cinderella story in global urban development.


Colombo is Sri Lank's commercial capital with over 2.3 million residents. It is heading for rapid growth as a megacity at a potential cost of $40 million over a 15 year period.

According to Foreign Affair's issue reports: 

“The government’s goal is nothing less than to build a creative, inclusive and innovation driven metropolis fuelled by a knowledge-based prosperous and sustainable economy. Their hope is that it will attract more international investment, foster long term growth and contribute to achieving the ambitious national development agenda that should see Sri Lanka become a high-income economy by 2030”.

This case study is written by air law expert Dr Ruwantissa Abeyratne, and the necessary aviation requirements to support Colombo's journey to becoming a megacity.

Read on for the full case study.


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Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne

Dr. Abeyratne is President/CEO of Global Aviation Consultancies Inc., Montreal and also Senior Associate, Air Law and Policy, Aviation Strategies International Inc., Montreal. He is former Senior Air Transport Officer and Senior Legal Officer of the International Civil Aviation Organization. Dr. Abeyratne is a Fellow of both the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport.

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