The sun is shining and the thwack of mallets can clearly be heard above the roaring traffic of the Holloway Road. Welcome to Highbury Gardens, designed by one of Prince Charles's favourite architects and probably the only affordable housing project in London to come equipped with its own croquet lawn.
As you might expect, the scheme is deeply classical in style: no strange shapes or acres of glass and steel here. It also has a tremendous location, and the private flats on the site have already proved a huge hit with wealthy international buyers.
Of the 119 properties on offer, 31 are aimed at key workers struggling to join the housing ladder. Another 31 are being sold privately. Half of those were snapped up during a spring sales drive in Hong Kong, many to parents looking for grand digs for student offspring studying in London.
The project launches in the UK from mid-July, 2011. The rest of the flats are being rented at subsidised rates. On the open market, prices start at £349,000 for a one-bedroom flat, £495,000 for a two-bedroom flat, or a hefty £640,000 for the largest, three-bedroom apartments.
The shared-equity flats cost from £175,000 for a 65 per cent share of a one-bedroom flat, or £197,000 for a 50 per cent share of a two-bedroom flat.
They are currently being aimed exclusively at key workers - nurses, teachers and so on - but by the autumn, when the site is completed, they will be open to all first-time buyers. The only caveat will be that buyers must have a maximum household income of no more than £60,000.
Share the cost but own more
Barry Jessup, director of developer First Base, says the shared-equity structure means buyers will be able to own a larger proportion of their property than in some shared ownership schemes - one of the key criticisms of the shared ownership model.
"It is customer-led," he explains. "A lot of people would like to own as large a proportion of a property as possible." Though buying a larger share means scraping together a larger deposit, the crucial benefit of shared equity is that there is no rent payable on the part of the property the buyer does not own. The payback comes when they sell. If, for example, they buy a 50 per cent share of a flat, they will walk away with only 50 per cent of the profits.
The annual service charge will be around £1,500 for a one-bedroom flat and £2,000 for a two-bedroom flat. But the good news is that thanks to high levels of insulation, fuel bills are expected to be very low. In fact, 20 per cent of the development's energy needs will be produced on-site, with the use of technology such as solar panels, and rainwater will be harvested.
Highbury Gardens was designed by Porphyrios Associates, a firm perhaps best known for its work at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and has been backed by the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, the architectural watchdog set up by Prince Charles to promote classical design. Perhaps inspired by all those Oxbridge quads, the centrepiece is its landscaped courtyard garden complete with a lawn marked out for games of bowls as well as croquet.
"It is proving very popular," says Jessup. "Why did we not go for a contemporary scheme? We just felt that it was very much in keeping with the local environment. It is a conservation area and there are a lot of beautiful buildings and we wanted to make an effort to make sure it would fit in."
In line with the flats' classic brick and stone façade the interiors have been kept neutral, but the spec is decidedly 21st century: underfloor heating, stone work surfaces and Bosch integrated appliances are included in the price.
In terms of location this is a development that is hard to beat. You can see the green expanses of Highbury Fields from some of the flats, and Highbury and Islington Tube and overground stations are only two minutes' walk away.
Mike Basquill, strategic projects director at Southern Housing Group which is marketing the properties, says: "It is a trendy, sought-after area with a lot of local flavour and you have got Upper Street a few minutes' walk away with tons going on. And if you're unlucky enough to be an Arsenal fan it is five minutes' walk away."
* Visit highburygardens.co.uk