City homes in London's Square Mile

It's the most important Square Mile in the world and one man, resident Peter Rees, is responsible for its shape and skyline. His mission is to share the City with more of us, he tells David Spittles
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St Paul's Cathedral
They City's impressive architectural landmarks include St Paul's Cathedral and the Wren spires
From his City flat with a view over the Thames, Peter Rees has a delightful 10-minute walk to his office at Guildhall taking him past architectural landmarks that include St Paul's Cathedral, a host of Wren spires, and City newcomer One New Change, a glittering new shopping complex on the corner of Cheapside. And Rees rules over it all.

He is the City of London's chief planning officer, the man responsible for the shape and skyline of the modern Square Mile, arbiter of buildings such as the Gherkin, The Heron apartment block that is under way close to Barbican, and the proposed Walkie Talkie tower on Fenchurch Street.

His mission is not only to protect the area's historic fabric and its reputation as a leading financial centre, but to make it a convivial place in which to live as well as work. Rees wants the City to attract home buyers, shoppers and tourists: to be a rival for the West End. This has involved bringing back a "sense of neighbourhood" to the City's complex commercial and residential pockets.

"It gives me great pleasure that I can now buy bread in Bread Street," he says. This has not been possible since the Great Fire, but Rees is a customer of fashionable Le Pain Quotidien bakery-patisserie near Paternoster Square.

Peter Rees
Peter Rees, the City's chief planning officer, aims to make the area a more friendly place to live
"I can't yet buy milk in Milk Street," he admits. "But that's my aim - we're working on it." One of his buzzwords is "placemaking", by which he means the art of linking up spaces between buildings and pedestrian routes - 90 per cent of all journeys in the City are made on foot - providing public areas where locals can relax. There are, surprisingly, 150 parks and gardens.

When he took the job 25 years ago, the image of the City was a place populated by the bowler hats hurrying to work across London Bridge and leaving at 5pm. One of the changes during his quarter century has been the emergence of an evening restaurant and bar scene, and a wider and better choice of shops - notably Royal Exchange, with its luxury fashion boutiques.

Walkie Talkie office building
The controversial 37-storey Walkie Talkie office building proposed for Fenchurch Street
Another surprising (and successful) stat is the head count. It has more than doubled - from 4,500 residents in 1985 to 11,000 today - and it continues to grow, even though new homes play second fiddle to new offices and shops.

Rees, an architect by training, says there is capacity for another 2,000 or so homes, which are likely to come from boutique redevelopments and conversions rather than new high-rise buildings in the core banking area. "Sites with potential for office development always have priority."

Rees reveals to Homes & Property (and worth noting by the property hotspot hunters) that target areas for new homes in the City include the charming Georgian enclave around Carter Lane, south-west of Ludgate Hill; the former Fleet Street newspaper district, where it borders Temple; and towards the Square Mile's boundary with Spitalfields.

New Street, opposite Liverpool Street station, is already a residential hub. This pedestrianised lane has a terrace of recently restored Georgian freehold houses, reinstated after decades as offices, and a listed warehouse built by the East India Company that is now split into 14 splendid lofts.

Tapestry lofts on New Street, London
£1.4 million: Tapestry lofts on New Street, a mix of modern interiors and historic detail. For more details, call Savills (0845 474 1771)
Called Tapestry, the lofts mix modern finishes - ash floors and doors, glass walls - with the historic fabric of vaulted timber ceilings, cast-iron columns, exposed brick and cargo doors.

They are big apartments - from 1,400 to 3,500 sq ft - with an open-plan living space, concealed storage, walk-in wardrobes and utility room. Prices start from £1.4 million. A Conran restaurant will occupy the ground floor. Call Savills on 0845 474 1771.

Residents’ pride

Tight supply means City homes normally make sound investments; yet values are still quite a bit lower compared with the best addresses in Westminster borough or Kensington and Chelsea.

Rees, 61, admits the City does not suit all - families are thin on the ground though more are moving into Barbican, which was listed in 2001 and is adored by its fiercely proud residents.

"Actually, the City's ideal for younger and older people because it's close to facilities but reasonably quiet. It makes sense for people to move to the suburbs to raise a family but for downsizers to come back when they want to be close to healthcare and entertainment."

The actual Square Mile runs from Chancery Lane in the west to Aldgate in the east, from the Thames in the south to Chiswell Street in the north.

The Grand Cafe
The Grand Café and Bar at the Royal Exchange is part of the changing social scene
Most City homes are smaller apartments (often weekday crashpads priced from £350,000) but estate agents report that an increasing number of buyers are looking for a wow-factor main home in the City.

City Corporation's emphasis on business means the area is a clean and safe place to live. There is even a low-profile "ring of steel", with police sentry points at various access roads: a modern version of the medieval City.

A survey in June last year found that City residents are the happiest in Britain about where they live (a 92.4 per cent satisfaction level), beating leafy Richmond into second place.

From blitz to City ritz

Created out of the ruins of a Blitz bombsite, Barbican covers 40 acres smack bang in the middle of the Square Mile and has 2,113 homes - about 4,000 people, roughly half of the City's residential population. Property ranges from studios, to spectacular penthouses and five-storey houses. In total there are 21 blocks and three skyscrapers.

Designed as a small walled town (echoing the old Roman city) it was an upmarket council estate where homes were rented to "City professionals" and key workers, which at the time included barristers and bankers as well as postmen and milkmen.

The Heron
£455,000: The Heron, in Ropemaker Street, will have 284 new luxury apartments and opens in 2013 (0844 544 4210)
Today, 94 per cent of homes are privately owned. Service charges for a two-bedroom flat are about £2,000 a year. Some Barbican flats have original kitchens and bathrooms and other fixtures and fittings - that is one of the attractions - but often interiors look tired.

The Heron, being built on Ropemaker Street, is a sleek skyscraper with 284 luxury apartments. Completion is due in summer 2013 and part of the site will be brand-new premises for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Prices from £455,000. Call 0844 544 4210, or email

Frobisher Crescent is an original Barbican block previously used as offices. The striking semi-circular building has 69 new flats and offers the "best of both worlds", says developer United House, with updated interiors and that distinctive concrete exterior. From £390,000. Call Hamilton Brooks (020 7606 8000).

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