* A previously hidden canal basin with nine acres of water is at the heart of the new “quarter”, which will bring residential skyscrapers, loft offices, bars, restaurants and a community boat club
* Areas to benefit will include Hoxton, Clerkenwell, Islington, EC1 and King's Cross
A once unloved and dowdy district between Angel and the City is stepping out of the shadows with a £1 billion makeover, bringing hundreds of glamorous new homes for geeks and bankers. For generations, world-famous Moorfields Eye Hospital has been the main reason to visit City Road, an ugly duckling thoroughfare that straddles three London boroughs.
Lined by low-rise commercial premises serving Square Mile businesses, it is set to become a masterplanned “corridor of skyscrapers” designed by architect bigwigs including Terry Farrell and Norman Foster. Close proximity to a prosperous banking community has helped seed regeneration but the emergence of a “silicon city”, a burgeoning cluster of hi-tech and digital companies based around Old Street roundabout, has been the game-changer. Below the City Road is a fibre-optic highway reaching all the way to King’s Cross, where Google’s European headquarters is under construction.
The outbreak of residential development follows the opening up of a hidden canal basin. During its Victorian heyday it was one of the main canal centres in London, marking the halfway point on the Regent’s Canal running between Little Venice and Limehouse. Remarkably, the basin was partly concreted over during the Eighties to provide land for an electricity sub-station but today the nine-acre expanse of water is at the heart of a new “quarter”, with apartments, loft offices, bars, restaurants and a community boat club.
A new public square forms an entrance to the basin at City Road and provides a spectacular vista of the calming water. And streetscaping improvements along City Road will turn it into a Continental-type boulevard with pavement cafés.
Angel of the north
Young City professionals and Shoreditch designers are the mainstay of this new district. “They like new, modern apartment buildings and being able to walk to work,” says Nick Davies of estate agent Stirling Ackroyd.
“Prices are rising but it’s still at least 10 per cent cheaper than prime Islington and good value for such a well- connected area with lots going on.” Flanked by Hoxton on one side and Clerkenwell on the other, it is surprising that the area — postcode EC1 — is only now taking off.
Raul Cimesa of estate agent Knight Frank says the new wave of high-quality developments is a step up for the area and will attract buyers from more expensive riverside districts such as Bankside.
Canaletto, launching in October, is the first of the new skyscrapers — a sleek, 31-storey glass-and-steel tower designed by celebrated Dutch architects UNStudio. It will have three storeys of amenity space, including a spa and private cinema, below 190 apartments, plus a Manhattan-style “club lounge” and garden terrace higher up the building. Completion is due at the end of 2015. To register, call 020 7608 1825.
Fronting another side of the canal basin is Lexicon, comprising three buildings, including 36-storey Silicon Tower — in total 307 apartments, 69 for shared ownership.
The Eagle, rising in City Road, has 276 apartments above a retained five-storey Art Deco building. Call Mount Anvil’s Eagle House development on 0845 077 9550. Prices start at £435,000. Folio, in Micawber Street, where several old boozers have been transformed into fashionable gastro-pubs, has 108 homes — apartments and houses — in low-rise blocks. Prices from £650,000, equivalent to £850 a square foot. Completion in 2015. Call Notting Hill Housing association on 020 7251 8499.
A canalside industrial estate at 250 City Road has been acquired by Berkeley Homes for redevelopment into a new “waterside neighbourhood” with 1,000 homes, offices and hotel. Knight Frank predicts City Road residential values will jump from £1,000 to £1,500 a square foot by 2016 on the back of the fast-expanding silicon city, a government-backed initiative.
Nearby King’s Cross Central is another “digital hub” but only 900 new private homes are being built at the 67 acre-site, which will have 20 new office buildings where thousands of people will work.
It is easy to forget that the City’s eastern fringe was a semi-industrial belt barely 20 years ago. In 1990, most of the capital’s 29,000 printers worked in Clerkenwell, alongside metalworkers, clockmakers and jewellers. Shoreditch was famous for rag-trade sweatshops. Beyond expectation, the pace of change has accelerated since the onset of the 2008 banking crash. Whereas the fringe used to be in the shadow of the City, it is now in the spotlight.
The eastern side of the canal basin falls into Hackney borough and has a grittier feel. This is where Jamie Oliver opened his Fifteen restaurant, giving apprenticeships to out-of-work youngsters. Shepherdess Walk is one of the best addresses, with authentic lofts available at The Factory, a decade-old development by Manhattan Loft Corporation. Urban Spaces is selling a 1,481sq ft loft for £945,000. Call 020 3324 7610.