The battle of the giants is under way on the Albert Embankment as starchitects Richard Rogers and Norman Foster go head-to-head to produce neighbouring tower blocks.
© Rex Features
St James Homes has asked Britain’s two most famous architects to create housing schemes to replace Eastbury House and Hampton House — a pair of nondescript office blocks overlooking the Thames.
The aim, claims the developer, is to knock Jeffrey Archer off his penthouse perch. For more than 20 years the Tory peer has had the best address at Albert Embankment — a spectacular top-floor riverside apartment stuffed with artworks, and with an unrivalled view of the Palace of Westminster.
Now he is to be joined by up to 3,500 neighbours in new schemes along an often-forgotten strip made up mostly of redundant offices between Vauxhall and Lambeth Bridges.
The regeneration has been given impetus by the promised extension of the Northern line to Vauxhall, and the relocation of the US Embassy to nearby Nine Elms. A major rethink of traffic-clogged Vauxhall Cross is also planned, where an ambitious design by another major architect, Terry Farrell, will involve a new high street and public square.
Already under construction in the Vauxhall zone is Parliament House, a 24-storey tower with 101 flats from Telford Homes. Call 020 3538 3156.
Tycoon Jon Hunt, who made £370 million selling estate agency chain Foxtons, wants to build another tower on a Texaco garage site across the road from Lord Archer’s pad, and a former London Fire Brigade HQ is to be redeveloped into 265 luxury apartments and new shops. Renamed Florian Place, the listed frontage will remain, with new blocks and a piazza created behind. Amenities will include extensive roof gardens, a club room and tennis court. Call Native Land on 020 7349 7228.
An investor's eye
For many years Albert Embankment has been less enticing than its central riverside location might suggest. One reason is the gritty tract of land lying behind the railway tracks back from the river, where a few grim council estates give the area an edgy feel.
However, change is afoot here, too. Reincarnated railway arches have become trendy retail spaces and restaurants, with hostelries such as Zeitgeist, an authentic “German” pub on Black Prince Road that attracts many of Germany’s London-based expats.
Steve Reed, leader of Lambeth council, looking down from council offices in nearby St George Wharf, sees a confused and congested strip of land below and is painfully aware that the community deserves better.
He says he is mindful of the perils of getting into bed with developers who are only interested in building high-priced flats. This can lead to social division, with a ghost town of smart riverside apartments owned by absentee millionaires emerging alongside poorer districts abandoned to their fate. As a result at least 40 per cent of the new homes will be affordable, including shared-ownership and co-operative housing schemes.
For now, Vauxhall property values are lower than other central riverside districts. People looking to buy in this area are often young but also include politicians who want a Division Bell address within easy reach of the House of Commons.
Vauxhall straddles the congestion charge boundary. Albert Embankment, is in the zone and has the potential to be a more expensive address than Nine Elms, which is outside the zone, where new-build flats are selling off-plan for more than £1,200 a sq ft.
St George Wharf, a cliff of riverside apartments not loved by everyone, is the dominant presence in Vauxhall centre (resales from £420,000). The Tower, going up alongside, is targeting buyers with bigger budgets. Its 223 private flats are priced from £720,000. Parliament View and Salamanca Court are popular developments closer to Lambeth Palace. Damien Hirst has snapped up a gallery/warehouse space close to Spring Gardens, while avant-garde artist Jo David has set up in a 15,000sq ft premises near Oval cricket ground.
Tucked-away Bonnington Square has a close-knit community of residents, a legacy from the Seventies when the houses were occupied by eco-squatters, who kick-started gentrification. There is a community garden, deli/café and a boutique B&B. Victorian houses cost from about £800,000.
Fentiman Road, by Vauxhall Park, has good-value, four-storey, mid-Victorian houses popular with barristers and City types. Prices from £850,000, according to estate agent Daniel Cobb.
On Black Prince Road, the old Beaufoy Institute, a handsome Victorian school owned by Lambeth council, is a gem awaiting redevelopment.
The patch around Vauxhall Street is remarkably run-down for such a close-in area. Lambeth Walk’s Victorian streetscape was marred by redevelopment in the Seventies, but parts of it are being restored. Small businesses and galleries are moving into refurbished shopfronts, and over-the-shop accommodation is now becoming available.
The biggest boost could be provided by the Northern line extension from Kennington to Battersea, via Vauxhall. Planning permission has been granted and two new stations could be open by 2016. The Vauxhall station will be at the junction of Wandsworth Road and Wilcox Road, currently a Sainsbury’s car park, and integrated with a new 239-home tower. The other station will be alongside Battersea Power Station.
© Adrian Lourie
Homebuyers who commit to the area at this early stage in its transformation could reap big rewards down the line, though bullish developers are factoring into prices today the improvements to come, meaning off-plan values can still be quite high.
Over at Nine Elms, regeneration is gathering pace. Two major projects were approved last week — including redevelopment of 60-acre New Covent Garden Market where 2,491 homes will be built. New homes are about to be launched at Ballymore’s Embassy Gardens, alongside the site of the new US Embassy, which is expected to open in 2017. Call Savills on 0800 404 9009.