Soho's on the property game

Sexy Soho is cleaning up its act as the colleges move out and home-owners move into glamorous conversions
Lethaby Building
Lethaby Building - a listed Edwardian building in Southampton Row - is part of the Central St Martins College of Art and Design and is earmarked for development
Few, if any, districts of London have as much colour and vitality as Soho. But as a place to live would it be as appealing?

Over the years the attraction of this central London location has been diminished by the very obvious seedy sex trade and threatening atmosphere. For some it is this edgy atmosphere they find exciting. But they have always been in the minority.

Now, after decades of population decline, the area is finding new residents. But the real influx will arrive when Central St Martins College of Art and Design moves out.

Clean-up campaign


A clean-up campaign by Westminster council has encouraged home builders to move into the few locations possible for redevelopment but more may come their way since the death of multimillionaire porn and property baron Paul Raymond, owner of great tracts of Soho land.

Rumours are rife that the portfolio of his company Soho Estates is to be sold off.

Behind the glaring cheap neon lights, much of old Soho is hidden. There is fine architecture — Queen Anne, Georgian and Victorian buildings — that is not immediately obvious, often being tucked away in narrow streets and alleys.

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Increasingly, pockets of property, neglected upper floors above shops and small buildings are being turned into flats and converted from offices to residential use. Some bigger redevelopments are in the pipeline too.

Central St Martins College of Art and Design is being moved to a new university campus at King's Cross, freeing up its former buildings.

The college is a much-loved creative presence in Soho, which remains the main hub for the film and advertising industry.

Former college alumni include fashion designers Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and John Galliano.

A mixed development of live/work studios, offices and homes is proposed for the Charing Cross Road building, which has big factory-style windows — perfect for loft apartments — above an Art Deco entrance.

Houses and flats to rent in Soho
Houses and flats for sale in Soho

Legendary


It was here that Punk legends the Sex Pistols played their debut gig in 1975.

Another site at Southampton Row includes the listed Lethaby Building, which in 1908 was the UK's first purpose-built art school.

By far the biggest development under way is Central St Giles on Soho's eastern edge, where it borders Covent Garden. For years the location, adjacent to Centre Point office tower, has been a scruffy and uninviting patch, comprising a mix of ugly Sixties buildings and pedestrian-unfriendly streets where junkies and beggars would loiter.

From £699,000: a living room in one of the apartments at Bloomsbury Terrace, in Huntley Street, WC1. Through Barratt East London (020 8522 5555)
From £699,000: a living room in one of the apartments at Bloomsbury Terrace, in Huntley Street, WC1. Through Barratt East London (020 8522 5555)
Occupying two acres, the scheme has been designed by celebrated architect Renzo Piano and will include 109 apartments, offices, shops and restaurants around a courtyard.

Londonewcastle, a niche developer whose boutique apartments are popular with creatives and City professionals, will launch the flats later this year. For more information, call 020 7563 1666.

More neighbourhood regeneration is to follow with the Crossrail project. Tottenham Court Road Tube station is the main central London stop on the new route.

Planned upgrades include new entrance halls and improved streetscaping. The Astoria, the famous music venue in Charing Cross Road, is to be demolished, providing another redevelopment opportunity with potential for homes.

Houses and flats to rent in Soho
Houses and flats for sale in Soho

New price record


Lisa Hollands of estate agent EA Shaw says Central St Giles is likely to establish a new price record for Soho, with the address expected to command more than £1,500 a square foot.

£399,950: one-bedroom apartment in former tenement block, at Beaumont Buildings, Martlett Court, WC2. Through EA Shaw (020 7240 2255)
£399,950: one-bedroom apartment in former tenement block, at Beaumont Buildings, Martlett Court, WC2. Through EA Shaw (020 7240 2255)
Prices in Theatreland have raced ahead in recent years and the current market woes are thought to be only a temporary blip.

Lack of supply means demand is never satisfied.

Even ex-council flats sell for as much as £1,000 a square foot. About £350,000 is the entry price.

Affluent media execs and young entrepreneurs are among the new wave of buyers. Flashy, expensive penthouses tend to get snapped up. But the shortage of homes means more buyers are pushing beyond Soho's frontier and into Covent Garden, Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury. These areas are less rowdy and not as in-your-face than Soho but equally central.

Covent Garden continues to spawn new homes, usually small-scale refurbishments of period buildings, including warehouses.

Coming soon is a small scheme at Bedford Court, close to the piazza. At Aldwych, Citibank's former offices have been demolished to make way for a boutique hotel and 92 flats. An old fire station at West Central Street is now an apartment scheme, with prices from £450,000. For more information, call EA Shaw.

The Mercers' Company, one of the area's main freeholders, is renovating its Long Acre estate, which includes 90 flats let on assured shortholds.

Houses and flats to rent in Soho
Houses and flats for sale in Soho

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