Tube and train upgrades provide the single biggest boost to property prices, catapulting a district from dire to desirable in five years and doubling house values. Homes in the revitalised King’s Cross/St Pancras area, now Europe’s busiest transport hub, have done just that since 2007.
So where should home buyers be looking now? One answer lies in grandly named Park Royal City, in a plan unveiled this week by architect and London master planner Sir Terry Farrell. It refers to 99-acre Old Oak Common, bigger than the whole of the Royal Docks in east London, and known for not very much except its railway depots.
Once a green expanse, it lies north of Wormwood Scrubs and the Westway but only three miles from Oxford Circus.
Insiders are already scouting this hidden district of north-west London where a giant transport interchange is planned that will link with Crossrail and HS2, the proposed “electric spine” between London and the North, a project given momentum by the Government’s £9.4 billion package of rail infrastructure investment announced last month.
Much of the land is owned by public sector bodies and is disused. Hammersmith and Fulham council believes regeneration will have a huge impact on surrounding areas such as Acton and Harlesden, and the ripple will spread to Shepherd’s Bush and White City, north Kensington and Chiswick.
The Farrell plan
Terry Farrell’s plan is for 12,000 new homes and 20 million square feet of office and commercial space. He says: “Few people know where Old Oak is, or realise it is so close to Oxford Street. It’s the next Canary Wharf and Stratford combined but on the west side of London with easy access to airports, the Channel ports, provincial cities and to all parts of metropolitan London.”
Commuters from Old Oak Common will be able to travel to Birmingham in less than 50 minutes, to Canary Wharf in 20 minutes and to Heathrow or central London in 10 minutes.
“Even without HS2, we believe Old Oak’s unparalleled accessibility will support a dramatic change in the attractiveness of this area,” adds Farrell.
Land values are estimated to double from about £700 million to £1.4 billion once the detailed planning framework is in place.
New station by 2020
A beauty parade of potential developers is under way. The council wants the new station to be up and running by 2020, two years after Crossrail is due to start and well before the scheduled opening of HS2 in 2026. The masterplan is likely to be built over 30 years, a similar time-frame to Canary Wharf.
Close to Old Oak Common is the 1,200-acre Park Royal business estate, an unsung commercial hub on the perimeter of central London. For decades, it has been a manufacturing and distribution base for companies serving the capital’s businesses (a third of all food consumed in London comes through there).
As well as having good road and train links, a branch of the Grand Union Canal passes through it, providing an opportunity for waterside living. Guinness used to be transported in barrels along the canal to Paddington for distribution to pubs.
The brewery, designed by Sir Giles Scott, of Battersea Power Station fame, was considered an architectural masterpiece by some, but had a certificate of immunity from listing granted by government. Diageo, the drinks conglomerate which owns the land, is redeveloping the site.
More than 100 apartments have been built on the site of a former social club for Guinness employees. Homes are positioned at the back of the estate, away from the busy A40 road, and overlook a 20-acre nature reserve with lakes, waterfalls, bridges and cycle paths.
Harlesden was once avoided but slowly its potential is becoming recognised. It has some handsome Edwardian houses (as well as rough council estates) and a few streets (Springwell Avenue, Cholmondeley Avenue) are described as “Kensal Rise borders” to entice Ladbroke Grove trendies.
New people are moving in, including junior City workers and young Londoners in search of housing association fair rents and shared-ownership deals. They find a lively melting pot area. Agents look hopefully at the major office developments emerging at Park Royal but it is Old Oak Common that will cement regeneration here.
Old Oak Estate, dating from the Twenties, consists of houses grouped around greens, in the garden-suburb layout and is surprisingly countryfied. Even Wormwood Scrubs, despite the prison compound, is an attractive open space incorporating a nature reserve — Shepherd’s Bush’s forgotten green lung.
Helping the neighbours
Plans were unveiled last month for 1,150 homes at White City, already boosted by Westfield and redevelopment of the BBC campus. Called Brickfields (because the site used to supply bricks to the rest of London), the development will have a garden square the size of a football pitch and a 32-storey tower.
Imperial College is building a new campus at Wood Lane, including a centre of excellence for medical and academic research. Former BBC wardrobe departments have been turned into The Costume Store, a block of 730 “suites”, mainly for students at the nearby London College of Fashion. Built by Berkeley First, a public art gallery is to be incorporated into the 18-storey tower. Rents start at £160 a week. Hamptons estate agent reports that Shepherd’s Bush prices have jumped by more than 10 per cent in a year.
Developers are targeting young families and career professionals. An industrial estate off Goldhawk Road is being transformed into an open courtyard complex of 64 mews houses, townhouses, apartments and loft offices for creatives.
Its restrained architectural style is at ease with the gentrified Victorian terraces of Brackenbury Village, which it borders. Robert Soning of the developer Londonewcastle compares this emerging pocket to parts of Islington: “We are bringing something fresh — smart, contemporary-design homes in a secure, gated setting that is ideal for families.” Call 020 7543 1888.
More modern townhouses, with integral basement garages, have been built at Napier, on Bromyard Avenue, Acton. Prices from £975,000. Call 020 8811 2336.