From derelict to designer: new homes in London's conservation areas

With housing supply historically low, conservation areas are no longer new build-free zones. Peckham town centre is the latest area to join more than 1,000 districts in the capital with special conservation area status.
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Peckham town centre in south-east London is the newest conservation area to join more than 1,000 districts in the capital with this special status. Up to 50 buildings along Peckham High Street and Rye Lane are also to benefit from Heritage Lottery funding, with vacant or derelict space being brought back into use for housing.

Across London, conservation areas are rising in number as inner-city regeneration gathers pace. Councils see the benefits of conservation areas and are supporting them as part of a wider strategy to upgrade up-and-coming neighbourhoods with run-down period architecture, and to ensure that any new homes built within the designated boundaries are of sufficient architectural quality.

With housing supply historically low, conservation areas are no longer new build-free zones, despite the efforts of energetic locals who try to keep developers at bay.

Initial opposition to new homes often stems from fear of change rather than change itself, according to Sebastian Kelly of Shaw Building Group, which has been working with the local amenity society on a project in Camberwell Grove conservation area.


Best of both worlds
A meticulously designed new terrace drops neatly into Grove Lane, which survives virtually intact as a street of splendid Georgian houses.

Behind the façade are eight large, thoughtfully designed apartments — six three-bedroom homes and two four-bedroom duplexes — finished to a high standard. A five-bedroom end-of- terrace house is also for sale.

Says Kelly: “We have worked painstakingly with local amenity groups, liaising about specific design details such as external facings, to make sure their neighbourhood is preserved and enhanced for future generations.”

The prices are pretty high-quality, too. From £1,399,950. Completion is scheduled for spring next year. Call estate agent Caddington Blue on 020 7407 9427.

Buying a sensitively designed new home in a conservation area brings the owner the best of both worlds — the privilege of living in an area of special architectural character or historic interest as well as getting the benefits of a new build with flexible living space, energy efficiency, structural guarantees, lower maintenance, better security, and perhaps a garage or parking space.

There is a premium to pay for this location and quality build, as much as 50 per cent, but resale values hold up well in conservation areas, which even in the middle of the bustling city are often tree-lined, quiet enclaves where traffic management cuts down jams and pollution. Usually the sense of neighbourhood and community is stronger, and residents have the opportunity to enjoy a heritage area.

New homes do not always mimic the original architecture, or blend in seamlessly. But local planners try to ensure homes at the very least have architectural distinction.

A Georgian gem in Islington
Few London districts have the authentic, village-like charm of the kind found in the conservation area surrounding River Street, a Georgian gem in Islington.

In 1609, Sir Hugh Myddelton, an enterprising goldsmith and engineer, undertook the cutting of an artificial channel from the spring waters at Amwell in Hertfordshire to Clerkenwell on the fringe of the old Roman walled City of London, a distance of 40 miles. King James took a half share in the project and in 1613, the New River, as it is still called, reached its termination point, New River Head, at Rosebery Avenue, providing  London’s first organised supply of clean water.

The site much later became the magnificent headquarters of the Metropolitan Water Board, forerunner of Thames Water, and now a coveted enclave of flats.

Being a significant landowner, New River Company laid out an estate of wide streets that has endured and gracefully evolved. Today, it is a central London heritage neighbourhood with a strong community and a family-friendly infrastructure of parish church, primary school, health centre and a collection of independent shops, bars and eateries. Yet King’s Cross St Pancras and the Crossrail superhub being built at Farringdon are only a 15-minute walk away.

River Street Mews, a scheme of six new townhouses, forms a charming architectural intervention. Brick cladding complements the listed boundary wall that encloses the site, while modern design elements such as projecting bay windows with grey-black aluminium frames and glass louvres are a crisp counterpoint. Prices from £1.85 million. Call estate agent Thomson Currie on 020 7226 0000.


From £965,000: homes at Macaulay Walk, Clapham Old Town, a former Victorian optical lens factory. Call 020 7795 4600

New homes in the old town

Clapham Old Town, the original Georgian quarter between the High Street and the commons, was left behind during the Eighties wave of gentrification, but it is now making up for lost time.

A redeveloped Victorian optical lens factory, transformed into 97 homes and called Macaulay Walk, justifies the often-overused description, “urban oasis”. 

The complex sits in the middle of  a conservation area and combines loft-style apartments in converted warehouses plus new-build blocks, penthouses and a pair of new lookalike Victorian villas, along with in-keeping office studios aimed at architects and graphic designers. Prices from £965,000. Call Savills on 020 7795 4600. Shared-ownership apartments are also available through housing association Network Living on 0300 373 3000.

Living in a conservation area can be a double-edged sword because of restrictions on making changes to the property, warns Mark Hutton of estate agent Douglas & Gordon. He cites The Sisters conservation area in Battersea, where a lot of owners want to extend their property but find themselves up against tight guidelines.

“Also, the boundaries of conservation areas can change and there are cases of owners living in a property for some years who then find themselves unexpectedly constricted by planning regulations.”

Postwar architecture is often reviled but Lansbury conservation area in Poplar, east London, has a special place in the capital’s architectural history, being the location of a “Live Architecture” pavilion during the 1951 Festival of Britain, which promoted new  thinking in design and the built  environment.

Developer Bellway was bound to pay homage to this legacy when conceiving New Festival Quarter, a new apartment complex set across four buildings. Prices from £374,995. Call 0845 459 5020.


From £1.85 million: loft shells at the old Loud & Western laundry in Sands End, Fulham, with utilities in place. Call 020 7731 9400

A clean sheet
Loud & Western, a former Edwardian laundry in the Sands End riverside conservation area in Fulham, is being split into generous loft shells with ceiling heights of up to 16½ft. External works have been carried out, including new roofs, windows and doors, while terraces have been created and all the key services — such as gas, electricity, water and cable connections — are in place, ready for new owners to move in and make their mark on the place. Prices from £1.85 million. Call Savills on 020 7731 9400.


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