Bridging the divide: new bridges set to transform riverside living - but they are dividing London communities

Planned new Thames crossings may unite north and south but they are dividing London communities. Will they enliven dull districts - or cause chaos in the capital?

New bridges — for cyclists and pedestrians — across the Thames in central London are set to change the character of the riverside districts they will serve. Transport for London says the crossings will amount to vital new infrastructure for the capital — though many residents’ groups fear new bridges will disrupt and distort their neighbourhoods. 

Following initial planning approval for the much-anticipated Garden Bridge between Temple and Waterloo, the next new crossing, between Nine Elms and Pimlico, appears to have moved a step closer. Dozens of rival designs have been published ahead of a shortlist to be unveiled in July. Construction could start at Nine Elms in 2018, subject to agreement over the precise location of the bridge.



High hopes for crossing
The Garden Bridge, a mile or so to the east, takes its inspiration from the High Line, an aerial park planted on a former railway track in New York. The £170 million crossing will span the Thames between Temple and the Southbank Centre. Planners like the idea because it will enliven the  relatively quiet zone by Temple and dovetail with new residential developments, such as 190 Strand, with 206 apartments, the largest in the area for more than a century. Prices from  £1.22 million. Call St Edward Homes on 020 3051 1022. But the Nine Elms to Pimlico bridge is not having such a smooth ride.

TfL’s preferred route, backed by Wandsworth Council, is for a south-of-the river landing point close to the new United States Embassy at Nine Elms, and a north bank landing point by  St George’s Square on the Pimlico waterfront.

Up to 30,000 new homes are earmarked for the Nine Elms district, dominated by Battersea Power Station, and the bridge would provide a quick and convenient link through Pimlico to Sloane Square and Belgravia as well as to Victoria train station. A projected 18,000 cyclists and pedestrians a day would use the bridge, according to TfL, turning a relatively quiet patch of  Pimlico into a bustling zone, though possibly creating a rat-run.
One of the alternative designs submitted for the Nine Elms to Pimlico bridge

Bridge ‘to nowhere’
Edward Reeve, chairman of FREDA, an umbrella group representing 25 Pimlico residents’ associations, says it is a flawed proposal — a bridge from “somewhere to nowhere” — and a waste of public money.

“We don’t believe the case for the bridge is proven. Most of the projected users would be diverted from existing bridges. And where would people be heading to anyway? St George’s Square is not a destination in the same sense as St Paul’s Cathedral or Tate Modern, which are linked by the Millennium Bridge. It’s been suggested that people will walk across the bridge from Nine Elms to get to Pimlico Tube station, yet two new stations are being built on the south side.”

He adds that because the landing site on the north side is a constrained space and would require high steps or  long ramps, the bridge would cause horrendous car congestion along the Embankment and also ruin Pimlico Gardens, the only green space along this riverside strip.

Such objections may smack of nimbyism, but for the time being at least, Westminster City Council is also opposing the bridge “on the grounds of its visual and environmental impact”. But ultimately the decision over whether to build the bridge is likely to rest with the London Mayor, and with TfL, which will pay for it.

St George’s Square is Pimlico’s  poshest address, a long and narrow rectangle of imposing cream-coloured stucco townhouses facing the Thames alongside sprawling Churchill Gardens council estate, itself a conservation area with 1,600 homes, many now privately owned, and Dolphin Square, the 1,250-apartment complex built in the Thirties.

This part of Pimlico used to belong to Grosvenor Estate (the land was sold off in the Fifties), and though it bears a superficial resemblance to neighbouring Belgravia, it has never been quite as smart.

Grosvenor’s architect Thomas Cubitt laid out the handsome terraces, wide, straight streets and squares. For much of the 20th century, it lost its attraction, with houses clumsily split into small flats and bedsits or converted to B&Bs.

The turnaround started in the Seventies, with the opening of Pimlico’s Victoria line Tube station, and gathered pace during the next decades, with many refurbished houses reverting to family occupancy or transformed into luxury apartments, especially those within the so-called Pimlico Grid, an enclave of blocked-off streets and cul-de-sacs that is remarkably peaceful because of the absence of through  traffic.

£4.25 million: for a six-bedroom house in St George's Square, Pimlico's poshest address, where prices have recently spiralled. Through Jackson-Stops & Staff

Property price boost
In recent years, Pimlico property values have spiralled. A six-bedroom house on St George’s Square is on the market for £4.25 million, through Jackson-Stops & Staff, while Douglas & Gordon is selling a townhouse in Charlwood Place for £3.15 million.

Swish purpose-built developments are also appearing. Riverwalk, at Millbank, replaces a Sixties office building and brings 116 apartments in two undulating blocks, one 17 storeys high, connected by a central podium. The site includes Locking Piece, a bronze sculpture by Henry Moore. Two-bedroom flats cost from £1.75 million, while the largest penthouse is priced at £25 million. Call Knight Frank on 020 7861 5499.

Chelsea Barracks in the pipeline
On the horizon is high-profile Chelsea Barracks, a prized 13-acre chunk of land between Pimlico Road and the river, where the first phase of 600 upmarket homes is under way.

Surprisingly, perhaps, Pimlico has a wide social mix, with well-kept private, council and charitable housing plus there is a growing number of young private renters living around the lively hub at Warwick Way, just south of  Victoria station. As well as a place to live, Nine Elms is set to become a giant recreational and retail hub, and is certain to attract many visitors from north of the river, perhaps reinforcing the case for another bridge. Since 2011, the average value of a home has jumped from about £800 a sq ft to £1,400 a  sq ft, while river-facing penthouses are fetching more than £2,000 a sq ft.

Flats at Battersea Power Station cost from £495,000 for a studio, rising to £3.2 million for a four-bedroom townhouse. Call 020 7501 0678. 

Nine Elms Point, a Barratt development of 737 homes, has two-bedroom flats starting at £883,000 (call CBRE on 020 7182 2477), while One Nine Elms has 436 flats priced from £795,000. Call Strutt & Parker on 020 7629 282. Completion is in 2018. With many more flats becoming available it is possible that prices may plateau in the short term at least — one reason to compare resales with off-plan prices. Estate agent Garton Jones has a number of resales priced from £699,000 to  £2.9 million. Call on 020 7735 1888.

‘New bridge will be a seamless link to Pimlico and Hyde Park’
The first new residents at Nine  Elms cannot wait for a new bridge to be built. Linda and David Phillips bought an apartment at Riverlight, a scheme that comprises six striking waterfront pavilions with external lifts encased in glass. David, 44, an oil industry executive, and his wife want the flat so they can spend weekends and holidays in central London. 
The couple’s main home is in Shenfield, Essex. 

“We like to make the most of the arts and entertainment options — museums, the theatre, good restaurants and shopping,” David says. “Nine Elms is so well placed for this and the new bridge will provide a seamless link to Pimlico and on to Chelsea and Hyde Park. “We’ll be able to stroll to Sloane Square and Kings Road in less than 20 minutes. “The bridge just adds to the convenience of living here.”

Riverlight itself has a new arts venue, StudioRCA, a collaboration with the Royal College of Art, plus a  spa, gym, library, club lounge and café, and is the first of the new developments to complete. Only a few apartments remain for sale, priced from £800,000. Call  020 7870 9620.

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