Bankside is about to get the ducal seal of approval, and a stunning complex of penthouse homes will make it a top London address, says David Spittles
© Paul Raftery
Surely, when the Duke of Westminster, with his estimated £7 billion fortune from 300 prized acres in Belgravia and Mayfair, ventures south of the river for the first time to invest in a neighbourhood, he must know something about it that you ought to know, too.
The Duke’s property estate, Grosvenor, has targeted buzzing Bankside, the area between Blackfriars and Southwark Bridge, with five glass-façade towers - or "pavilions" - rising to 24 storeys and containing 229 apartments with "winter gardens" (enclosed balconies).
They are being built next to Tate Modern, which is rapidly becoming a trophy address for wealthy, culture-vulture international buyers. Designed by Richard Rogers, the scheme gives Bankside the rubber stamp of approval and fast-tracks it as one of the sought-after addresses in London.
These "signature" high-specification homes cost from £550,000 (in excess of £1,200 a square foot) and set a new price level for the area, though Bankside remains much cheaper than Grosvenor Estate’s central London heartland. Most of the apartments are bigger than average homes with up to four bedrooms. Spectacular duplex penthouses will be for sale nearer to the project’s completion in 2012.
The regeneration of Southwark’s waterfront, with its walks and river views, has been a carefully orchestrated plan that is paying off. Tate Modern, the Millennium Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe, Borough Market, City Hall and the gleaming office complex next door have helped shift SE1 into London’s centre of gravity.
Upmarket estate agent Knight Frank now includes the South Bank in its prime central London index, the first time an area south of the Thames has been covered. Previously, the index monitored only the established desirable districts of Chelsea, Kensington, Knightsbridge, Notting Hill and St John’s Wood, where prices typically range from £1,500 to £3,000 a square foot.
Grosvenor’s introduction to the area came via niche developer Native Land, its joint venture partner for the Bankside project.
Though the South Bank has long been associated with arts and entertainment, it has not always been a popular place to live. In Elizabethan times, actors and theatres - most notably Shakespeare and his Globe - headed there to escape City of London regulations and the area became the capital’s playground, and original red-light district.
In later centuries, it became a commercial district, allied to the printing industry and the docks. Then 20 years ago, regeneration started to nibble at the edges of an area that stretches from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge.
Fashionable loft-living arrived in the mid-Nineties but Bankside’s transformation as an acceptable address dates back to Tate Modern’s opening in 2000. This put Bankside on the world map.
As an arts and culture destination, the South Bank is unrivalled in London with international acclaim. It is also location heaven. Within a 15-minute walk of Bankside are four major rail terminals and nine Tube stations. A new ticketing office for Blackfriars station is being built at Bankside.
Previously, Southwark was a spillover location for City businesses but it is now a preferred address for financial services and media companies.
The Shard of Glass
Coming soon is the super-tall Shard of Glass. This "vertical village" will have offices, shops, a hotel and apartments and turn the London Bridge area into a new business quarter.
Developers are continuing to stalk the area for land. Warehouses and railway arches back from the river are turning into trendy restaurants, studios and galleries. Creative hubs are forming in Borough and Bermondsey, where media-sector firms and live/workers are settling.
Another of the area’s attractions is its successful integration of mixed uses big and small businesses, leisure, the arts which gives it genuine vibrancy and variety.
In an attempt to capture the spirit of this new-era location, Grosvenor and Native Land have named their development NEO Bankside, stressing that the scheme’s architecture is right for an area moving on.
"The high-quality urban design is in the tradition of Giles Gilbert Scott [architect of the original Thirties power station before it became Tate Modern], Christopher Wren [St Paul’s Cathedral] and Norman Foster [Millennium Bridge]," says Native Land boss Alasdair Nicholls. The apartments will also overlook architect Herzog & de Meuron’s striking new extension to Tate Modern alongside the Turbine Hall entrance.
NEO Bankside’s five angular blocks become higher as they step back from the river.
A small block of 33 flats at the rear is earmarked for affordable housing. Each of the other blocks will have an external elevator and double-aspect apartments.
The planning deal with Tate Modern and Southwark council involved the acquisition of a small plot where a controversial 32-storey tower had been proposed by another developer. This space will be used as a temporary marketing suite, later becoming part of the public concourse around Tate Modern, in keeping with Richard Rogers’ belief that the buildings should integrate with the public realm, though the development’s communal gardens will be closed at night.
The lowest block is 12 storeys and 11,000 sq ft of boutique retail space is planned. Unusually for Grosvenor, the homes are being sold on virtual freehold 999-year leases. Call 020 7349 7228.
Watch out for The Bear Pit, a small scheme of 25 apartments next to Shakespeare’s Globe theatre where the "sport" of bear-baiting used to take place. A show apartment will open in autumn and completion is due in spring 2010. Prices range from £350,000 to £2.5 million. Estate agent Frank Harris claims that more than 100 would-be buyers have already registered. For more information, call 020 7620 3400.
River-facing two-bedroom flats at Benbow House, a 10-year-old apartment block by the theatre, can cost up to £1 million, according to estate agent Cluttons (020 7407 3669). Cheaper flats are available at Falcon Point, a former local authority estate occupying an enviable position on the riverfront promenade. Prices start at about £350,000.
The early settlers
Lesley Craig, an illustrator, and John Knight, a photographer, are Bankside pioneers. They moved in 1996 when it was still relatively undiscovered.
"We moved from a traditional Victorian house in Clapham because we fancied a change in a new area. We got to know Bankside by visiting a pub, at the time the main attraction on the riverside. When we told friends and family we were moving here, they had no idea where it was," says John.
- © John Knight
The couple bought a 940 sq ft apartment at Bankside Lofts, the area’s first private development.
"When Tate Modern opened, the area changed overnight, with thousands of people visiting, and that’s still the case. There’s been continual development but it’s all come together incredibly well. We liked it before it was our secret but it’s better with people visiting and tons of new bistros and wine bars."
Property values have more than doubled in the past decade. Some people are surprised that Bankside is not more expensive. Perhaps this is because it is not obviously gentrified, says Lesley. Their apartment is on the market for £630,000 through Chesterton. Call 020 7357 7999.