Londoners cannot have failed to notice the city’s latest landmark building rising to the heavens.
Strata - a spectacular skyscraper nearing completion at Elephant and Castle - is going to be Europe’s tallest apartment building, dwarfing Big Ben and the London Eye.
With its dramatic rooftop wind turbines and chequerboard façade, the tower itself is a remarkable feat of construction - but the fact that it is being built at a time when the property sector has faced its worst crisis in living memory is a big vote of confidence in the return of London’s all-important property market.
Certainly the development is welcome news for the much talked about £1.5 billion regeneration of Elephant and Castle, which had been in danger of stalling.
The 43-storey Strata has 399 apartments, all quietly launched off-plan at the peak of the boom in spring 2007. Many flats were snapped up by eager investors and owner-occupiers who had the vision to realise that on completion the building would be a dramatic addition to the capital’s skyline and a sought-after address in a central London location.
Brookfield, Strata’s Australian developer, had a point to prove. It had recently taken over Multiplex, the construction company caught up in the controversy over delays to the new Wembley stadium. Brookfield was determined to deliver a world-class building on time and not to be saddled with a "white elephant".
Penthouse gardens in the sky
The first release of flats at Strata were priced to sell - from about £200,000 - and duly sold. As the building became a head-turning physical presence, prices began to nudge up, eventually averaging £615 a sq ft, and much more - up to £1,073 a sq ft - for the higher apartments with arguably the best views in London.
There are still flats for sale on the top floors. A one-bedroom duplex on the 41st floor costs £850,000, while a three-bedroom penthouse of 1,863sq ft costs £2.5 million, which equates to £1,342 a sq ft. Penthouses have an enclosed double-height glazed winter garden.
North-facing flats on the "nose" of the building are the most expensive. These have floor-to-ceiling windows and panoramic views of the River Thames and the City. The south-facing flats look out over a sweep of London (stretching from Crystal Palace to Richmond - a view rarely seen).
Show flats will be ready later this year, ahead of the building’s completion in spring 2010. Apartments have smart contemporary design and are space efficient. A sprinkler system normally used in office buildings has been used for the first time in a residential block. This avoids the need for a fire-wall corridor between main doors and open-plan kitchen and living areas, resulting in a significantly larger flats.
More flats are likely to find their way on to the market post-completion when investors either choose to resell or fail to complete because of mortgage problems. Rental demand will be strong because of Strata’s record height, architecture and location, says Mike Bickerton of estate agent DTZ. "People will want to live there."
On a clear day all is revealed
Standing at the top of the building on a wonderful blue-sky late-summer day, what is immediately striking is how central Elephant and Castle is.
The South Bank, the Square Mile and the Palace of Westminster are within a comfortable 20-minute walk, making Strata flats ideal crashpads.
Strata sales may have set a new price threshold but Elephant and Castle is still the cheapest area in the congestion charge zone, adds Bickerton. "Clever buyers will see this as a medium to long-term investment opportunity. Prices will accelerate as the market returns to normal and regeneration takes hold."
Though redevelopment of the famous pink-coloured shopping centre at the heart of the 170-acre, 5,200 new homes regeneration zone has been put on hold, Southwark council has kickstarted regeneration at 10 other sites and work is under way on 610 flats in a partnership with five housing associations.
Down on the ground, streetscape improvements are progressing. Transport for London has agreed to the replacement of a busy roundabout and hostile pedestrian subways. St Mary’s churchyard, next to the handsome Metropolitan Tabernacle, has been given a makeover. Developer First Base is sponsoring a design competition to upgrade the public realm around Amelia Street, where it is building a 164-home scheme called Printworks, due for completion next spring. To register, visit www.printworks-elephant.com .
Waiting in the wings is Oakmayne Plaza, a mixed-use scheme of 374 homes that will overlook a new market square, shops, cinema and restaurants.
Strata is an unmistakeable sign of the area’s rising fortunes but homebuyers will have to wait quite a bit longer for the full benefits of regeneration to bear fruit - at least five years and perhaps 10.
DTZ: 020 3296 3837.
Strata: call the developer, Brookfiled, on 020 7408 8411.