What a rip-roaring 20 years it has been — encompassing five British prime ministers, the dotcom boom, a currency crisis, the biggest banking crash in living memory, the spectacle of the London 2012 Olympics and the shock of the UK’s Brexit vote. And each of those events had its impact on the capital’s property market.
It has also been a period of huge physical change in London, with high-profile urban regeneration sparking the return of city-centre living. New residential quarters have been created, especially in the east, while dramatic high-rise architecture has transformed the skyline. At the same time, transport upgrades, such as Tube extensions, have brought run-down and forgotten areas in from the cold.
So the capital’s property map has been redrawn, but through it all there has been a constant factor — the inexorable rise in property values.
Property pioneers who gamble on new frontiers and up-and-coming areas almost certainly reap rewards over time for bold investments — evidenced by the most successful areas, which we are highlighting today. If you have owned your property over the past 20 years, you will be happy with your return.
Marylebone: less nouveau riche than Notting Hill
For most of the 20th century Marylebone was the genteel, low-profile home of actors and doctors, its high street more like that of a county town than an urban thoroughfare moments from Marble Arch.
Neglected by its landlords Howard de Walden during the Eighties, by 1995 the high street was in crisis. Half the shops were empty or let to charities, property values were going backwards and businesses were leaving.
Rethinking its masterplan in 1996, the estate skilfully converted a rat-infested stable block at the northern end of the high street into The Conran Shop and an acclaimed restaurant. Then came Waitrose, followed by specialist food and furniture stores, fashion boutiques and quirky independent traders.
Most of Marylebone is a conservation area and about half the buildings are listed. Prized Georgian architecture and swish new builds attract affluent home buyers and A-list celebrities. The estate has kept control by buying head leases and now owns 80 per cent of the high street compared with only 20 per cent two decades ago.
Marylebone has evolved into the quintessential London village: less nouveau riche than Notting Hill, less patrician than Belgravia and more animated than Knightsbridge. It’s a place with a varied community of residents and businesses that give it charm and individuality.
Sands End: once cut-off, now connected
The now-desirable riverside neighbourhood of Sands End in Fulham is a triumph of development in a seemingly unpromising, cut-off corner of London. Despite the negatives of a large tract of industrial land, gasworks and train tracks, it has been transformed into an enclave of coveted flats and houses.
The turnaround began slowly in the Nineties when nearby Chelsea Harbour was built alongside a muddy inlet, and developers looked at the waterfront strip to its west with different eyes.
Housebuilder St George, backed by then-Mayor Ken Livingstone, launched 1,600-home Imperial Wharf, pledging to pay for a new train station and install a riverbus pier to connect this new quarter to the rest of the city.
Today Sands End is a new inner suburb, a destination as well as a place to live, with riverfront bars and restaurants, hotels and small businesses, and a lively hinterland that stretches to trendy New King’s Road, packed with galleries and boutiques.
Imperial Wharf includes a 10-acre park, while the waterfront promenade connects with Chelsea Creek — where apartments are being built alongside new docks and waterways — and the new micro neighbourhood emerging at Lots Road Power Station. Chelsea Island, another new scheme, has 89 flats in blocks with communal roof gardens designed by “couture florist” Neill Strain. From £925,000. Call Hadley Property Group on 0800 540 4377.
Borough: where the stall was set out
Two decades of regeneration along the historic South Bank has shifted London’s centre of gravity and catapulted the SE1 postcode into property’s premier league. It all began at Borough Market. In the mid-Nineties, the once- thriving fruit and veg market looked like a disused film set, eerily Dickensian, with redundant wharves and warehouses and decaying railway arches.
Market trustees came up with the brilliant idea of turning it into “London’s Larder”, a throwback to its Victorian heyday. Vinopolis blazed a trail by opening a specialist wine and whisky centre, while developer Oakmayne was the first to spot the area’s potential as a place to live by refurbishing wharves into smart loft apartments. In the blink of an eye, Borough went from fringe to fashionable, not just the buzzing, atmospheric market but the wider area, too.
It is a superbly central address, both for the City and West End. Located alongside upgraded London Bridge station, the area has become a huge business and tourist hub, drawing 50 million people a year. And it is set to move up a notch in status.
A game-changing £300 million project is bringing dozens of Covent Garden-style fashion boutiques, an art house cinema, private members club, loft offices and flats built on a three-acre site that includes a network of magnificent vaulted Victorian railway arches.
Borough might still be considered good value for money. Typically, new homes start at about £500,000 and range between £800 and £1,300 a square foot, lower than most Zone 1 districts. Brandon House, with 77 flats and townhouses priced from £735,000, is the area’s latest scheme. Call 020 3437 1101 for more.
King's Cross: a star is born
Even the most optimistic of regeneration gurus could not have predicted the awesome changes at King’s Cross. Two decades ago, the district wrapping around the train station was blighted by coal yards, railway sheds and disused freight depots.
It was a place for kerb-crawlers and crack addicts, rough and dangerous with no property market as such. Now it is home to an entire new district, costing £5 billion to build, complete with its own new postcode, N1C.
There are 2,000 new homes, 20 new streets, 10 new public spaces, 20 restored heritage buildings, oceans of new office space including a European HQ for Google, shops and restaurants plus a campus for Central St Martins college of art and design, an architecturally stunning 21st-century “warehouse of ideas” for 5,000 students.
Once written off by many, this part of London now offers diversity, vitality, commerce and creative kudos. The latest homes to be unveiled are spectacular flats built within the listed frames of 19th-century Gasholders. Prices from £810,000. Call 020 3504 6933. King’s Cross is joined at the hip with St Pancras, rejuvenated by the Eurostar terminal and conversion of the old Midland Grand Hotel into luxury flats. A former engineering yard next to the station is now Regent Quarter, a smart enclave of homes, design studios and small business premises in cobbled courtyards.
Regeneration is also spilling over into Caledonian Road. XY Apartments is a collection of 273 sleek Scandi-style homes on the site of former Maiden Lane council estate. From £545,000. Call Savills on 020 3320 8220.
Canary Wharf: maturing into a lively spot
A new London district was born in the Nineties when Canary Wharf suddenly emerged as a rival to the City financial centre. Quickly the area cemented itself into the consciousness of Londoners and today is synonymous with the geographical entity we call Docklands.
Having established itself as a flourishing commercial zone, Canary Wharf is now out to prove it is also a first-rate place to live, with an ambitious construction programme bringing thousands of new homes, most ready for occupation in 2018-2020. Crucially, you can buy off-plan today and move in when Crossrail, seen as a game-changer for the area, is up and running.
For many people, this part of Docklands is an alternative London, one that has more in common with downtown Chicago or Singapore than Kensington, Putney or St John’s Wood.
Yet there is no doubting that Canary Wharf has acquired critical mass and is maturing into a lively district. More than 800,000 people a week are attracted to its 300 shops, bars and eateries, five retail malls, gyms and concert venues.
Certainly more homes are needed for Canary Wharf’s expanding workforce, which has risen from 8,000 20 years ago to more than 130,000 now.
Developers are also adding a new level of luxury and glamour to entice buyers from other parts of London because despite its allure for global banks, Canary Wharf has yet to attract the capital’s movers and shakers.
Spire London aims to plug this gap. When complete in 2020, the 771ft tower will be the tallest residential building in western Europe, with 861 flats. Call CBRE on 020 7519 5900.
Bayswater: bye-bye seedy B&Bs
Bayswater has regained much of its Victorian cachet. That era saw grand terraces and squares of stucco mansions built to fill the acres between Hyde Park and Paddington station.
The district went downhill after the Blitz. Poky bedsits, seedy B&Bs and backpacker hostels took over — but its architectural fabric remained intact and in the mid-Nineties, after the phenomenal rise of neighbouring Notting Hill, people began to recognise Bayswater’s potential. Tony Blair snapped up a Connaught Square townhouse.
First it was niche developers creating spacious lateral flats that cost half the price of those in Mayfair and Belgravia. Later came big projects such as The Lancasters, originally a terrace of 15 houses, redeveloped into 75 opulent, highly priced new residences behind a listed Belle Époque-style façade that’s said to be the longest in Europe.
Momentum is ongoing with a facelift of bustling Queensway, the once-grand but now faded thoroughfare at the heart of the area. Royal Opera House architect Dixon Jones has been hired to draw up a masterplan to transform the sea of shabby souvenir shops, bureaux de change and fast-food takeaways into a prestige retail boulevard, with Whiteley’s department store becoming a rival to Harrods.
New homes include Garden House — 58 flats in a terrace along one side of Kensington Gardens Square. Owners have direct access to the square through a central lobby backing on to the gardens. These homes are rich in character, while “smart” tech controls blinds, mood lighting and home entertainment. From £995,000. Call 020 7408 5155.
Peckham: put on the map by a car park
Once riot-prone, this edgy south-east London district has moved from up-and-coming to bohemian hotspot. Cool young kids descend on the clubs and cafés, gigs and galleries, rooftop bars and foodie night markets.
The local council has also woken up to Peckham’s charms. Rye Lane, the main shopping street, has been designated a conservation area to protect heritage buildings from zealous developers. The train station is getting a facelift and the zone around it upgraded, with a new town square created and derelict railway arches brought back into use as shops and business premises.
Disused coal sidings are being transformed into an elevated “greenway”, a one kilometre-long park terminating at Kirkwood Nature Reserve.
Peckham’s multi-storey car park —which came to prominence when a cocktail bar and concert venue were installed there — is being turned into 50 affordable art studios and workshops plus pop-up stores, galleries and events spaces.
Peckham splits into three definable sub-areas: the northern patch around much-improved Burgess Park; the bustling town centre and the quieter and leafier southern section embracing Nunhead, Peckham Rye and Bellenden conservation area.
More than 2,000 new homes — both public and private — are in the pipeline as part of an Area Action Plan.
The first of these are at Wood’s Road, where apartment blocks clad in warm brick have their own green space and also face on to Cossall Park.
Prices from £450,000. Call 020 3437 1273 for more details.
Stratford and The Olympic Park
Regeneration of Stratford was a slow burn in the Nineties but what looked like being a marathon turned into a sprint when London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics.
More than £13 billion has been spent on infrastructure and new facilities, making Stratford a new mini city. The 500-acre Olympic Park is the largest recreational space to be created in Europe for 150 years. Westfield shopping centre is part of the biggest mixed-use regeneration project ever undertaken in the UK.
Thousands of homes have already been built, while another 10,000 are in the pipeline. A new £850 million cultural quarter is bringing a new Victoria & Albert Museum, campuses for University College London and London College of Fashion plus a 600-seat theatre and choreography school for Sadler’s Wells.
The former Olympics press and broadcast centre has been turned into the Here East cluster of creative and digital companies, while relocation of Transport for London and the Financial Conduct Authority is bringing another 5,500 jobs.
One project, Manhattan Loft Gardens, softens Stratford’s hard urban face as well as setting a new standard in terms of housing quality and architecture. The shimmering 42-storey skyscraper has 248 apartments and incorporates open-air sky gardens. Harry Handelsman, its renowned developer, modestly calls it a “thing of beauty”.
Interlocking single-storey with double-height apartments has allowed for more than a dozen property types, from studios to penthouses. Prices from £615,000. Call 020 7620 3803.
Dalston: building out from the station
At the turn of the century buyers willing to invest in future growth saw that Dalston offered an opportunity.
The catalyst was the East London line extension that brought the Tube to Hackney for the first time. Dalston’s new train station became a key interchange, funnelling commuters entering London from north and south, but heading for the East End and City, away from the main central London rail termini, which are heavily congested.
A new town centre with 550 homes, shops, a library and public square was built around the station, and soon Dalston’s gritty streets and derelict canalside were gentrifying, attracting young Londoners priced out of Shoreditch.
It’s no longer a cheap City-fringe address but it still offers good value for a vibrant Zone 2 postcode. Fifty Seven East is the pick of the new developments, a 15-storey cylindrical tower with sweeping views of the City.
Prices from £565,000. Call Cushman & Wakefield on 020 3296 2222.
Clerkenwell: Loft living’s birthplace
If you tell one of Clerkenwell’s bearded, skinny jean-wearing brand consultants that 20 or so years ago this ancient parish was an industrial quarter, you are likely to get quizzical looks. Before the early Nineties, most of London’s 29,000 printers worked in EC1, alongside metalworkers, clockmakers and jewellers. Then with startling suddenness, the area fell almost silent, leaving a sad streetscape of industrial buildings that nobody wanted. The trades and crafts that had flourished over the previous two centuries died or departed as technology changed.
Islington council had to face the fact that the area’s commercial space was largely redundant, but here was a conversion waiting to happen. Warehouses and factories make spectacular homes, and so London’s “loft movement” was born, taking its cue from similar districts in New York. Traditional housebuilding went out of the window. Developers unashamedly sought out buildings with a raw edge and popularised a relaxed, metropolitan way of living within bare brick walls, ushering in a new urbane lifestyle that continues to this day.
Clerkenwell is now one of the smartest places in London to live and work. Alongside designer homeware stores and art galleries are hip private members clubs, bars and noted restaurants. The neighbourhood is set for another boost when the Crossrail station at Farringdon opens in 2018. Estate agents have stretched its boundaries east and north, while design-creep is spreading from the heartland towards the boundary with Angel, where City University’s campus radiates out from Northampton Square, and Sadler’s Wells Theatre lures culture vultures from other parts of London to see dance of every kind.