It's a game changer: Camden is first council to build homes to sell

Camden council is leading the way, going into business as a house builder - a move that is likely to be embraced by other councils struggling with housing shortages.
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Camden council is making its debut as a house builder, launching new homes for sale on the open market under its own name. The move, a symbolic break with the past, is likely to be embraced by other councils struggling with housing shortages. 

A torchbearer of long standing for architect-led public housing, Camden tomorrow launches 273 flats for sale at the revitalised Maiden Lane Estate in King’s Cross. This is the first batch in a project set to bring 3,050 new homes to the borough, including in Bloomsbury and Holborn.

The “Scandi-style” apartments are well-crafted, restrained, crisp and contemporary, with big windows and balconies, while the buildings are eco-friendly and energy efficient, with “living” roofs that encourage biodiversity. A 24-hour concierge service is promised, and cafés and low-cost office space for start-up businesses are part of the mix. Prices start at £450,000 and rise to £685,000. Shared-ownership options are also available. Call 020 3320 8220.

The Government is encouraging councils to examine their land and housing assets and has relaxed rules outlawing residential development. Camden and Hackney are the first councils in the country to build and manage homes for private sale and shared ownership.

Camden’s Community Investment Programme allows  it to sell off land and bulldoze estates to raise £403 million. Proceeds from private sales are ploughed back into neighbourhoods in the form of new low-cost housing, better public and green space, new shops and community facilities. The new projects hark back to “iconic” housing designed by Camden’s celebrated architects’ department in the Sixties and Seventies, when modernism ruled.

Maiden Lane Estate was an avant-garde, low-rise scheme of concrete houses and flats on the northern boundary of the vast King’s Cross railway complex. The location, then joyless and isolated, is now part of a swish new business district and cultural quarter.


The estate quickly became run-down and was nicknamed Alcatraz. The architecture was blamed but that was an easy target — a not-dissimilar scheme in Hampstead overseen by borough architect Sydney Cook, of Brunswick Centre fame, is listed and coveted as a place to live. Some residents, including those who exercised the Right to Buy, say the estate’s demise was due to council neglect and poor management.

Architect PRP’s new design seeks to recapture the spirit and aesthetic of the original Seventies estate, with sleek, white, linear blocks of varying height to complement the cluster of buildings at neighbouring King’s Cross Central.

Due for completion next summer, the homes are being sold by Savills, which has named the scheme XY, a reference to Maiden Lane’s position on the “x and y co-ordinates” between King’s Cross and Camden stations. “It’s all about connections and a coming together — past and present,” says the firm’s Peter Sloane.

In the pipeline: the redeveloped Bacton Low Rise estate at Gospel Oak will have homes for private sale, shared ownership and affordable rent

Other private sale projects in the pipeline include Bourne Estate in Clerkenwell, Tybalds Estate in Holborn, Abbey Road, just north of St John’s Wood, Bacton Low Rise estate at Gospel Oak and Agar Grove, Camden Town.  Homes are also being created at redeveloped Centre Point, the Sixties West End office tower. 

With an average house price of £806,414, Camden is the third most expensive London borough. The new council-built homes are being sold for market value but they are pitched firmly at “ordinary” middle-income Londoners.

Properties at Maiden Lane are likely to be a big hit with buyers, firstly because of the design quality and secondly because of the hot location. When complete, King’s Cross Central will have 23 new and refurbished office buildings, 20 new streets and 10 new public spaces, a community of 45,000 people, enlivened by the site’s Central St Martins university campus.

Regeneration is rippling out all the way to Camden Town. Lively Caledonian Road, known as “The Cally”, is the spine of this area. An imaginative redevelopment of a factory workshop and stable block, called 400 Caledonian Road, has created 23 low-energy homes plus office studios. 

Compulsorily purchased as part of the Eurostar tunnelling project, the premises had been empty and decaying for several years. A pair of adjoining Victorian townhouses have also been restored. Prices start at £400,000. Call Currell on 020 7354 6705.

This patch butts up against Barnsbury conservation area, a pretty enclave of garden squares, cottages and ivy-clad pubs, much of which is excluded to through traffic.

From £500,000: 85 loft-style apartments at Carlow House have been converted from a London Underground warehouse near Camden High Street. Call 020 7620 1500

For many years, Regent’s Canal and its linked industry was a drawback for Camden Town, as was the area’s close proximity to King’s Cross. Today, however, both the waterfront and train tracks have become positives. Canalside regeneration has prettified the area while the Eurostar terminal has put Paris two hours away.

This district is one of the few places in London where bohemian prosperity and urban edginess happily co-exist. Its colourful street markets attract 25 million visitors a year and there is a wider development plan for the creation of Canal Lock Village, which will include flats and a covered market with rooftop pavilions linked by walkways. The council has also agreed an  overhaul of Camden High Street, while overcrowded Camden Town Tube  station is to get a £200 million facelift.

Locals working in the creative sector, including fashion, film, theatre, music and web design, are prepared to pay the price for good-quality architecture and thoughtful interior design, an incentive for developers to push up standards.

Carlow House, a handsome conversion of a former London Underground warehouse, will have 85 loft-style apartments with glass-walled “winter gardens” for year-round use. Prices from £500,000. Call developer Galliard on 020 7620 1500

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