Young London families are reversing the trend to move out of the city to buy a house - preferring to live in a flat with a central location. Builders, quick to spot this cultural shift, have responded by launching new apartment blocks with on-site nurseries.
© Graham Hussey
The traditional British view has been that flats and children don’t mix. But with the average London house now costing £654,758 (and who wants to live in an average house?) many of us have been forced to rethink.
I am one of the many rethinking. I had assumed I’d be in a house by the time I reached my mid-thirties and had a child. However, as neither my husband Eifion nor I earn a City-size salary, we and our 20-month-old son, Ellis, live in a three-bedroom flat. We could, of course, move out of lovely Crouch End to somewhere less central and less pricey, but for me the benefits of a house do not outweigh living somewhere I love, close to my friends and a good pub.
Besides, there are other upsides. We’re on the ground floor, so Ellis doesn’t risk tumbling down the stairs when I turn my back. And without stairs, which take up a third of the space in most houses, there’s less vacuuming to do. We also get to live two minutes from a Waitrose — we could never afford to own a house so close to one.
Picking up on the trend, developers are marketing new city-centre schemes incorporating nurseries and play areas. One such developer, Mount Anvil, has two new sites with nurseries. Its all-apartment development Central Square in east London has two-bedroom flats starting at £590,000, while Highbury Park, its scheme in north London, is due to launch in September, with two-bedroom flats likely to start at £480,000.
“We are noticing a mind-shift,” says Brian De’ath, sales director at Mount Anvil. “It has been driven by price — the jump from flat to house is now far greater than it used to be.”
Housebuilder St George has an on-site nursery operated by Bright Horizons (www.brighthorizons.co.uk), a soft play area and Montessori school at its Chelsea Creek project in SW6 (next to Imperial Wharf and sharing its facilities) — a scheme with no houses, only flats.
The Berkeley Group is also planning a nursery at its 374 Kensington High Street apartments, due to launch later this year.
PR Patrick Southwell, 31, and his wife Rhiannon, 32, live in a two-bedroom flat in Queens Park with their son Macsen, who is nearly two. “The intention was to find a house but prices were too high,” says Patrick.
“So we bought a large one-bedroom flat with a terrace in 2007 for £269,000, then converted the galley kitchen into a second bedroom when our son came along, building a kitchen into the living room.
“We absolutely love Queens Park, and even if you’re in a small property, it doesn’t mean you have to feel cooped up. We’re often out and about doing things we would never be able to do if we were out of town. We make compromises but get a lot in return.”
Chartered surveyor Helen Cizain believes that living in the spacious Camden flat she shares with her husband, Jean Francois, who works for a bank, and their two children, is better than living in a house.
They originally owned a three-bedroom flat in the building, then bought the neighbouring flat in 2010 and incorporated it so they now have five bedrooms. “London is a global city and it’s not very realistic to expect a huge house with a big garden in a central location,” she says.
“Anyway, stairs take up so much space. I think living in a flat is better: I feel secure when my husband is away, and we have a nice big terrace, which measures 300 sq ft, where the children can play - and we would never have got a garden that big if we bought a house here in Camden.”