No matter what dramas rock the global financial markets, it seems there is never a shortage of City workers anxious to live within easy walking distance of offices in the Square Mile.
This is not only because of the culture of long working hours prevalent in the financial sector but, in housing terms as in many other respects, the City’s needs are different from the rest of London. No one getting up at 5am and going to bed at midnight is looking for community life much beyond that found in the local wine bar.
So while residents elsewhere in the capital agonise over the performance of local schools or the impact of a new Tube line, in the City other things matter.
Bonuses are always a talking point, and how to spend them. And in a confined district, where there are relatively few property sales, or opportunities, the bonus keeps the local property market alive - even in a sliding market, not everyone slides.
Tight supply means City homes make sound investments. Traditionally, local planners have been unenthusiastic about residential development, especially in the core banking area, judging this a brake on office-building, which could damage the area’s status as a dynamic financial centre.
But this line is being relaxed, and the residential population is rising - currently standing at about 8,000 households.
© Glenn Copus
Planners are still pushing for modern high-rise offices to halt the defection of banks and law firms to Canary Wharf. However, they want to energise the City by sprucing up the retail and leisure scene. Inevitably, more people will want to live in the City as it becomes a better place to relax during those precious hours off.
Strictly speaking, the Square Mile runs from Chancery Lane in the west to Aldgate in the east, from the Thames in the south up to Charterhouse Street and Chiswell Street in the north.
Several residential schemes are in the pipeline, with others nearby in Smithfield, Finsbury, Spitalfields, Bishopsgate, Clerkenwell and the old newspaper district of Fleet Street — providing doorstep homes for City workers.
The area’s biggest and most spectacular development launches next week. Called Bezier, after the Frenchman who pioneered the use of “smooth curves” in engineering, it is a suitably rounded piece of architecture with two circular glazed towers providing 200 flats.
Andrew Palmer, director of property consultant DTZ, calls Bezier “the residential equivalent of the Gherkin”, adding that such sparkling new high-rise design is a rarity so close to the City’s historic heart.
Looming over Old Street roundabout in EC2, Bezier will help smarten up a scruffy patch that is one of the main gateways into the City and only a five-minute walk to Finsbury Pavement and the Broadgate office complex.
Tudorvale, the developer, is promising “signature interior design and fantastic views”. The new buildings rise to 16 storeys. A protected terrace along Leonard Street is being converted into loft spaces. It is an early off-plan buying opportunity. Construction will start in March and completion is due in 2010. Prices from £345,000. Call 020 7710 8037.
Just to the east is Shoreditch Triangle, a trendy quarter with lofts, bars, restaurants and creative businesses, which makes a diverting alternative to the pinstripe Square Mile. Here can be found Pegaso, another eye-catching scheme - 56 apartments built around landscaped courtyards, moments from Hoxton Square. Oracle, the developer, is offering a furniture pack worth £20,000. Prices from £350,000. Call estate agent Stirling Ackroyd on 020 7749 3801.
Despite its prosperous image and medieval street pattern, the City does have some scruffy and windswept corners where the streetscape is uninviting. Most of the best new homes are tucked away down narrow lanes and alleys and beside heritage buildings.
‘The best new homes are tucked down narrow lanes and alleys beside heritage buildings’
Worth investigating within the Square Mile is Number One Lamb’s Passage, a scheme of 80 flats being built on the site of a former squash club, close to the Barbican. Prices from £350,000. Call developer Nicholas King on 01494 811800.
Sir John Lyon House is a redevelopment of a faceless office building near St Paul’s. There are 70 flats, some with views across the river to Tate Modern. Prices range from £430,000 to £815,000. The address is High Timber Street. Call estate agent EA Shaw on 020 7240 2255.
Coming soon is Frobisher Crescent, a horseshoe-shaped terrace of nine storeys above the underground arts complex at the Barbican. Until 2005, the building was occupied by City University Business School but has been sold by freeholder City Corporation to developer Modern City Living with a planning preference for residential. A listed building, it has a distinctive concrete exterior and a domed roofline. Internal refurbishment will create several dozen modern flats on 150-year leases.
The Fleet Street area has acquired a new identity since the newspaper industry moved out in the 1980s. Law and accountancy firms were the first to settle there, fuelling demand for pied-à-terre flats.
Like the City proper, it has prized heritage buildings - the Inner and Middle Temple area forms London’s oldest live/work estate. Some period buildings once used as offices are reverting to residential use.
“We’re tipping it as a future hotspot,” says Lisa Hollands of Covent Garden estate agent EA Shaw.
‘I had no trouble finding a tenant’
Former national newspaper photographer Maurice Conroy knows the Fleet Street patch better than most and sees it as a buy-to-let opportunity.
He lives in Chelsea and previously invested in Pimlico but, when the latter jumped above £1,000 a square feet, he decided to look for a new undervalued area offering investment potential. “More people are realising just how central Fleet Street is,” he says. “There is a steady drift of development east of Covent Garden towards Holborn and the City. The area is close to the river and unusually quiet at weekends.”
Last August, he bought a 300sq ft studio at Clifford’s Inn, Inner Temple. He paid £250,000 and receives £1,300 a month in rent.“It’s a respectable rent and covers the mortgage but I’m looking for capital appreciation over the medium term, too. I had no trouble finding a tenant. The property looks out on to the grounds of King’s College library, formerly the Public Record Office, and is very tranquil. But it’s not a ghost town.
Because of its roots, being inhabited by barristers and so on, the area has more refinement than some other City-fringe districts, such as Shoreditch.
“My plan is to build up a small portfolio of studio flats kitted out like hotel rooms.”