As The Shard races towards the sky, down at its feet the world is changing. Surrounding streets are feeling the difference as London’s centre of gravity begins to shift.
The new skyscraper at London Bridge falls midway between the West End and Docklands, making this part of the SE1 postcode one of the best-connected places in the capital. While trains bring in commuters from Bedford and Brighton, who then have only a short walk to reach the South Bank or the City, Tube lines connect London east and west and north to south.
Buzzy Borough Market, Bankside and Bermondsey Street are already fashionable hubs neighbouring London Bridge station, despite being still a bit scruffy and pedestrian-unfriendly.
But The Shard is an unmissable presence on the skyline and when it is complete in summer next year, the 87-storey building will give the area Europe’s tallest tower, three times the height of St Paul’s, and a "vertical new town" of luxury apartments, boutiques, upmarket restaurants, smart offices, a spa, deluxe hotel rooms and a public viewing gallery.
The tower and a "sister" lower-rise office block will integrate with a glitzy new station concourse extending into a public piazza, with improved pedestrian routes to the riverside.
It’s a game-changer
More than 12,000 people are forecast to work at The Shard, making it a game-changer for the area, previously a spillover location for Square Mile businesses but lacking real cachet.
Estate agents and analysts predict big property ripples in the immediate vicinity and beyond as The Shard employees target quick-commute districts in the south-east London hinterland for homes.
The Shard apartments themselves are expected to smash price records for this part of London — insiders speculate that values will reach up to £4,000 a sq ft, on a par with the capital’s most elite addresses.
Says one agent: "Audacious perhaps - until you consider how special the building is, genuinely iconic in a cool part of London now on the radar of international buyers."
Floors 53 to 65 (a higher level than the Gherkin) are earmarked for 62,000sq ft of residential space. Sellar Group, the developer, says the exact number and size of apartments has yet to be finalised but homes will have their own lift from street level and will include duplexes with winter gardens.
The steel-and-glass tower is designed by star-architect Renzo Piano who says the building will be "living 24 hours a day and intensify city life". The developer claims: "It’s a public building that will draw many people to it and provide a huge business boost to the area."
Shangri-La, the hotel operator, expects to open rooms to paying guests before the 2012 Olympics, while the internal office and residential fit-outs will follow a little later next year.
London Bridge Quarter is the name of the wider development zone. Southwark council wants to regenerate the run-down, blocked-off complex of Victorian railway arches along St Thomas Street into a new neighbourhood linking with Hays Galleria and Bermondsey Street.
Sellar Group has drawn up provisional plans for three "mini-Shards" that include a lido, cafés, bars, shops and a new school. The 30-acre Guy’s Hospital campus next to London Bridge station is another redevelopment candidate.
© Tony Buckingham
In recent years, Bermondsey Street has moved from "up-and-coming" to "desirable" and The Shard is likely to propel it further. An attractive thoroughfare with a long-standing community of live/workers and artists (the colourful Zandra Rhodes fashion museum and Delphina art gallery are here) has been joined by several new boutiques, a trendy hairdresser and five gastrobars. And there are now six estate agencies vying for business in the area.
It is slightly off the South Bank tourist trail and so appeals more to "knowledgeable locals".
A refurbished park with tennis courts is a popular recreational space, and a mix of handsome Georgian, Victorian and 20th-century buildings line the street. Behind these are deceptively big courtyards, where light industrial premises and warehouses have existed for decades and are now being turned into apartments.
Values typically range between £700 and £900 a sq ft (or from about £350,000 for a one-bedroom flat to £1.25million for a big loft or penthouse), highlighting the potential for an upward shift in area prices if The Shard fulfils its promise.