The cult pirate radio station Rinse FM first broadcast (illegally) from a tower block on the Crossways Estate, Bow, an especially menacing corner of east London.
In those days — the mid-Nineties — any outsider who was brave, or foolhardy, enough to venture on to the decaying estate built only 20 years earlier, would have been confronted by intimidating gangs of youths grouped silently on gloomy walkways, the only sound being the crunch of crack vials beneath their feet.
The Crossways — known locally as the Three Flats — was a prime example of post-war social housing gone horribly wrong, all graffiti, grime and crime, though it also produced a particularly rich seam of musical talent: Rinse FM, now licensed and lauded, provided an early outlet for local lads-made-good Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder.
Today, thanks to a £150 million regeneration scheme, the Crossways is history. The E3 estate has been reinvented as Bow Cross West and redesigned courtesy of architects Aedas, the award-winning international practice.
The question is: given its past would you want to live there?
On the plus side, its three 25-storey blocks are in the process of being comprehensively and creatively refurbished and reclad in a deliberately unintimidating pastel palette of yellow, green, pink and purple tones. A series of modern low-rise buildings are going up around them and tree planting is set to make the place positively leafy.
When work finishes, in late 2013, there will be 680 homes on the site. Just over half will be let to low- income families nominated by Tower Hamlets council; 200 are being sold privately, and 100 sold on a part-rent part-buy basis, with priority given to people living or working in the borough and earning less than £60,000 a year.
Buying into Bow Cross is certainly affordable. The full market price for a one-bedroom flat is £160,000 and first-time buyers can opt to purchase a 25 per cent share for only £40,000. Though they will have to secure a mortgage — currently the biggest barrier to home ownership — at that price even a 25 per cent deposit is just £10,000. They would also need to pay £300 a month in rent for the portion of the property they do not own, plus £100 a month service charge, bringing monthly costs in at less than £600, depending on the mortgage deal.
Two-bedroom flats start at £215,000, so a 25 per cent share would cost just under £54,000, plus monthly rent of just over £400. The flats are surprisingly high-spec with oak flooring, down lighters in the open-plan living rooms, and smart chocolate-oak kitchen units. The kitchens come complete with a full complement of white goods, and there are built-in wardrobes in the airy main bedrooms (en-suite in the two-bedroom flats).
Communal facilities include a playground, football and basketball pitches, and a sports pitch. There is direct access via a new street network to Bow Church Docklands Light Railway station, while Bow Road Tube station (District and Hammersmith & City lines) is in easy walking distance.
Location-wise, Bow Cross is also a bit of a winner. It is just off the up-and-coming Bow Road, which has plenty of cafés and bars, there is a Tesco supermarket close by, and both Canary Wharf and the City are easy commutes.
The Olympic Park is 10 minutes away by train, as will be the new Westfield shopping centre at Stratford, due to open this summer. Victoria Park is a 15-minute walk and Mile End Park is also within easy reach.
Yet despite all these plus points, can a former sink estate shake off its past, even with millions lavished upon it? Mark Thompson, managing director of Swan New Homes, which took over the estate from Tower Hamlets in 2004, believes so — and buyers certainly appear undeterred.
Thompson points out that 65 per cent of the private flats were sold out within three weeks of their launch last month, and there are only 12 shared-ownership flats currently available — with a further 50 due to launch in 2013.
“You can get neighbours from hell in any social setting,” he points out. “From our perspective the previous design of the estate, with its tower blocks and enclosed walkways, was only conducive to chaos.
“You can design out all those issues, and if you walk around now at 7pm it is a calm and balanced community.”
Only about 20 of the original Crossways residents have opted to return to the estate, so the formerly volatile mix of personalities has been dissipated.
For information on property at Bow Cross West, visit bowcrosswest.co.uk.