The City of London's new 'ring of steel': promise of higher-level security and late-night shops and bars puts the Square Mile's walk-to-work homes in the spotlight

Stylish new-build homes and conversions offering better value than Westminster or Kensington and Chelsea are attracting buyers to move into London's historic financial district.

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A new “ring of steel” security cordon proposed for the City of London aimed at protecting the Square Mile’s skyscrapers, workers and residents from a terrorist attack, comes at a time when a swelling number of people want to live within the financial district’s ancient walls.

A low profile ring of steel encircling London’s financial heart has been in force since the IRA bombing of Baltic Exchange, Bishopsgate, in 1992. This modern version of the mediaeval City’s perimeter wall and gates has continued to evolve almost unnoticed, yet it marks perhaps the most radical shift to the urban realm of any part of London for decades.

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History: Leadenhall’s famous Lamb Tavern opened for business in 1780 

Stretching from Aldgate to Strand, the ring of steel covers more than six miles of streets, many now pedestrian-only, complemented by police sentry boxes, barriers and bollards, surveillance cameras and subtle obstructions such as architectural planters, statues and fountains that block road access and unauthorised entry.

Remarkably, two thirds of streets that used to lead into the City have been closed to traffic and today there are barely more than a dozen ways of driving into the area.

While a lane for delivery drivers, the City’s enclave-status is proving a boon for residents. Street crime and burglaries are low by London standards, and though a few locals complain of “living in a fortress”, in general the ring of steel is welcomed.

Walk to work residents putting in long hours are keen for more homes at a time when the Square Mile is making itself a  better place to live with high-quality shops, restaurants and bars staying open later in the evening and at weekends.

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Lunch break: City staff enjoy the sunshine outside the Gherkin

City homes normally make sound investments with values quite a bit lower than the best addresses in Westminster borough, or Kensington and Chelsea. And  a fresh wave of new builds is bringing much more variety for people who want to live in the area rather than just crash down for weekdays.

Old meets new

Landmark Place, a new waterfront scheme between historic former Billingsgate fish market and Tower of London, raises the bar by offering unmistakably modern apartments with spectacular views.

Comprising a pair of interconnecting blocks rising to 11 storeys, over 80pc of the buildings’ external surface area is glass. The 165 apartments include penthouses with vast roof terraces. Glazing wraps around the corners of the buildings, widening the vista from double-aspect flats with recessed balconies.

An archaeological dig of the site revealed evidence of old Roman baths, a forerunner of the glass-encased spa complex developer Barratt is putting in. There will also be residents’ lounge, business suite, cinema room and 24-hour concierge staff. Completion is due in 2018. Prices from £862,500 to £4,016,000. Call 020 3475 1020.

City planners are still pushing for new high-rise office buildings to halt the defection of banks and law firms to Canary Wharf - three office skyscrapers have been given the green light in recent months - but they are also encouraging more homes outside the core banking zone, towards Spitalfields in the east and Fleet Street and Chancery Lane in the west, where the Corporation’s jurisdiction reaches.

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From £995,000: flats in converted Victorian warehouses at Pinks Mews

Pinks Mews is a scheme of 35 apartments lining either side of a cobbled mews behind listed Staples Inn. Invisible to passers-by, the gated cul-de-sac of Victorian warehouses, originally owned by the Worshipful Company of Dyers, is a conservation area in its own right and is so quiet and private that even local estate agents were unaware of it. Apartments built behind the retained facades cost from £995,000 to £2.65m. Call CBRE on 020 7240 2255.

Fun for all the family

Tina Evans, group director of estate agent Frank Harris, says the City should appeal to families too, despite the scarcity of houses.“The Square Mile is littered with heritage and has much culture on the doorstep for residents to explore and enjoy.”

Among the attractions are London Museum, Barbican Arts Centre, the Guildhall, libraries, fascinating churchyards and secret gardens, while schools include two independent primaries - Charterhouse Square and St Paul’s - and two high-achieving secondaries - City of London Girls’ School and City of London Boys’ School. And for healthcare there is Bart’s, a leading teaching hospital.

Royal Exchange’s luxury fashion boutiques rival those in Old Bond Street, while One New Change is a mini-Westfield, a shopping mall with a vast public roof garden offering views of St Paul’s Cathedral.

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£725,000: a creative refurbishment of a 19th-century building at Cloth Court

A four-bedroom mews house with roof terrace at Barbican is one of only eight built. Price, £2.3million. Call 020 7600 7000. 

Or there is a rare semi-detached period house, formerly a rectory, for sale on Ironmonger Lane, close to Bank of England. Price, £5m. Call Savills on 020 7578 6200.

New builds with historic foundations

  • Concrete lovers have a rare chance to buy a brand new home in an original Barbican block. Listed Blake Tower is a former YMCA hostel, purpose-built in the 1960s in Brutalist style, and now reconfigured into 74 flats by architects Conran & Partners. Prices from £695,000. Call 020 3430 6920.
  • Barts Square is a redevelopment of the historic hospital complex bringing 235 snazzy homes, new-builds and conversions, priced from £815,000. Call Savills on 020 7726 8995.
  • A creative refurbishment of a 19th-century building at Cloth Court, a medieval lane alongside Smithfield Market, has resulted in smart and space-efficient duplex homes priced from £725,000. Call 020 7600 7000.
  • Fleet Street, the old newspaper-industry district, squeezes into the City boundary. Here, the former premises of Georgian map-maker Robert Sayer  has been turned into five neat and compact apartments priced from £585,000. Call 020 7843 9500.
  • Chancery Quarters, formerly solicitor offices on the border with Holborn, has 35 new apartments. Prices from £825,000. Call Knight Frank on 020 7861 5468.

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