This new year heralds a new era for the suburbs, after a 10-year focus on central London and inner-city regeneration. Attention is now turning to commuter territory, with planners taking a keen interest in the 86 acres of green belt land in Greater London that could become housing and parkland.
Spiralling property prices and growing demand for homes make the suburbs a natural hunting ground for the new buyer seeking good value. The welcome news is that several factors are converging to make outer London a better, more accessible place to live.
The Mayor's Outer London Commission
Mayor Boris Johnson has set up an Outer London Commission to revitalise suburbs with new transport and business initiatives, together with more adventurous housing projects that cater for the mix of people living there. Though stereotyped as a place for families, outer London is enormously varied in terms of wealth, ethnicity, jobs, education and culture — a diversity that has not always been catered for by builders.
The commission will focus on large tracts of industrial land, so-called “brownfield sites”. Up to 10 designated housing zones, with tax breaks and relaxed planning rules, will be created. Old Oak Common in west London, Cricklewood in the north, Croydon in the south and Upper Lea Valley in the east are possible locations.
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From £264,995: homes on a old RAF base at Drayton Garden Village near Heathrow (draytongardenvillage.com)
From green belt to garden suburbs
Also envisaged are modern garden suburbs, based on the principles of green belt towns such as Letchworth and tree-lined streets such as Bedford Park in Ealing. Much of the Greater London green belt is at present unused scrubland.
This vision feels like a Fifties flashback, but in those days middle-class homebuyers chose to relocate. Many of today’s movers are forced to uproot because of the shortage of affordable housing. “Whereas in the past, different income groups lived in the same neighbourhood or adjacent ones, central and inner London will increasingly become the preserve of the wealthier,” says Margarethe Theseira of the Centre for London independent think tank.
So the capital will be more economically segregated, with less-affluent people, including young professionals and aspiring middle-class families, living on the outskirts. But will a less integrated London be a worse London? Stephen Howlett, chief executive of the Peabody charitable housing trust, warns against “sleepwalking” into a Parisian-style housing divide with a “doughnut” of uninspiring new suburbs surrounding the capital.
What is needed is well thought-out, high-quality housing with imaginative architecture and what he calls “social infrastructure” — open space, shops, community buildings, allotments, cycle sheds and transport.
Leo Hollis, a self-proclaimed “urbanist” and author of Cities are Good for You, warns against “over-design” and suggests spending less time planning iconic but sterile new structures and more on the spaces between them. “This is where we find the energy, creativity and vitality of the city. Designs must be open-ended, with an element of unpredictability to allow neighbourhoods to evolve over time.”
From £264,995: for flats at low-rise London Square, Ruislip. Call 0333 666 2636
Joined-up commuting and transport connections
Transport strategists are looking beyond Crossrail to help cope with the swelling number of suburban commuters. One objective is better integrated, or joined-up, transport — rail, Tube, bus and even river taxis all connecting with each other to make journeys easier and quicker.
Transport for London (TFL) will next year take over the West Anglia train route from Liverpool Street to Stansted airport and Cambridge. Part of the deal involves upgrading 23 stations along the way. With a 5,500-acre portfolio, TfL is one of the capital’s biggest landowners and has identified 75 sites for property schemes. It is also throwing open stations to grocery and coffee-shop chains and electronics retailers, and expects to introduce a 24-hour Tube service on its main lines at weekends, partly in response to changing commuter patterns triggered by London’s growing night-time workforce.
London's 19 outer boroughs
There is a huge shortage of new homes in outer boroughs, with the biggest shortfalls in Richmond, Merton, Kingston, Redbridge and Enfield. Property prices are therefore likely to continue rising. Based on current policies and housing targets, Paul Cheshire, professor emeritus at London School of Economics, estimates that prices could be 75 per cent higher than now in real terms by 2025.
London has 19 outer boroughs, some extending into the home counties, where commuter towns were created by railway expansion.
In general, house prices tend to decline steadily as travel times lengthen, though Savills has identified 25 “super-suburbs”, including Esher, Kingswood, Chigwell, Chislehurst, Totteridge and Winchmore Hill, where £1 million-plus homes are not uncommon. Yet in many other well-connected suburban areas new family houses are in the £300,000 to £600,000 price bracket, and flats start at less than £250,000.
From £401,500: for homes at Stanmore Place, north-west London, set in landscaped gardens.
Where to buy in the super-suburbs
Outer west London will be a big Crossrail winner and is a good area to buy into before the line opens in 2018. The Hammersmith to Heathrow M4 corridor has traditionally been a key commercial zone, popular with global corporations such as GlaxoSmithKline at Brentford. Over the years, airport expansion has boosted the growth of satellite towns including Hounslow, Hayes, Slough and Staines but they have lacked sparkle as places to live. Now, change is afoot.
National Grid and developer St James have unveiled one of the capital’s biggest new neighbourhoods, 3,750 homes to be built on a former gas works bordering the Grand Union Canal in Southall. As well as new housing, there will be a primary school and a small business village, while the development will integrate with a new Crossrail station at Southall.
Another project is Drayton Garden Village, 775 homes at a former Royal Air Force base less than three miles from Heathrow, while in Ruislip, developer London Square is bringing something fresh to an area dominated by interwar housing — a scheme of 60 flats in low-rise blocks surrounding communal gardens. Prices from £264,995. Call 0333 666 2636
A new transport interchange at Kidbrooke station in Eltham, SE3, providing a 15-minute commute to London Bridge is part of a “new garden suburb” that will eventually have 4,000 homes and more than 10,000 residents. Called Kidbrooke Village, the development is split into four attractively landscaped neighbourhoods and borders Sutcliffe Park, which has a lake and wetlands. Properties are a step up for the area with smart, space-efficient interiors. From £277,500. Call 020 8150 5151.
On the site of an old industrial estate, Stanmore Place is a new 798-home community at the edge of north-west London, in award-winning landscaped grounds with lake, cycle paths and play areas. There is a gym, car club and 24-hour concierge. Prices from £401,500. Call developer St Edward Homes on 020 8952 2853. Nearby Canons Park station is in Zone 5 on the Jubilee line.
From £435,000: flats with roof terraces and panoramic London views in Saffron Square, Croydon.
Croydon has got the bit between its teeth following agreement to redevelop the drab Sixties Whitgift Centre into a £1 billion Westfield shopping mall. The local council has announced plans for 9,500 new homes and is trumpeting Croydon as London’s “third city” (after the West End and Square Mile), a key business location on the edge of the capital, with 27 trains an hour into the centre and a through-the-night service to Gatwick airport.
With the town’s commercial heart getting sorted out, residential developers are stepping in with smart new schemes such as Saffron Square, under way near the Whitgift Centre site. It has 756 homes in five low-rise blocks and a 43-storey tower, with restaurants, galleries, shops and a new public plaza. From £435,000. Call Berkeley Homes on 020 8774 9888.