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July 6, 2012 9:17 pm
The rate of new housebuilding may have slumped across most of Britain, but in Bath it is booming. According to Savills, development activity in the city is at its highest since post-second world war reconstruction. One of the catalysts for the construction of today’s new homes is the value attached to Bath’s historic architecture, the rows of stone Georgian houses that grace its crescents and squares and that helped it earn World Heritage status in 1987. These properties and the city’s other attractions – the spa, universities, schools, theatres, parks and proximity to the countryside and commercial centres such as Bristol – have made it a sought-after place to live.
Developers are building homes to cater for the demand. Bath’s prized Georgian homes are a finite commodity, so a developer specialising in historic restoration projects has seized an opportunity to bring Somerset Place, one of Bath’s five Georgian crescents, back into residential use after it was converted into a hostel by Bath College of Domestic Science in the 1950s, and used latterly for offices, seminar rooms and student accommodation by Bath Spa University. Property developer SIAHAF is investing £60m in turning the stretch of Grade I-listed houses back into homes, making it Bath’s most expensive restoration project ever, according to Luke Brady, residential director at Savills Bath.
In many buildings, the university blocked off doors between rooms to make self-contained offices, knocked through walls and boxed in staircases to free up hallway space. Today, two architectural studios, ORMS and Paul Davis & Partners, are restoring the interiors to their original state, revealing cornicing and period fireplaces as they go. Nine buildings will be converted back into five-storey houses and six mews houses will be built behind the crescent, replacing existing postwar properties.
Seven buildings in Somerset Place were damaged in the second world war and, while 1950s architects restored their Georgian façades, the interiors were redesigned with extra floors slotted into the back halves of the buildings to make use of the space. These buildings, and a new section planned for the western end of the crescent, will become 20 apartments, including four laterals accessible by lifts. The project is scheduled for completion in 2014. The crescent houses, which range from 3,100 sq ft to 5,700 sq ft, are for sale at prices starting from £2m.
Rob Jones-Davies, buying consultant at Middleton Advisers, says more high-end developers may restore buildings for residential use if Somerset Place sells well. “It is a bellwether project. There are developers in London who will be watching this with interest, because there is an appetite to do this type of project in places like Oxford and Bath.”
The desire to revert Georgian properties once carved into flats back to their original layout is popular with residents too. And the financial incentive is strong, because a restored house is worth more than a set of individual flats. On Great Pulteney Street, a six-storey house would be worth £2.5m as a single property, but only £1m-£1.5m collectively if chopped into flats, says Brady.
New developments are also being built. The former Stothert & Pitt engineering works had been derelict for 25 years before Crest Nicholson received outline planning permission to create 2,281 homes on the 44-acre site. Straddling the river Avon, Bath Riverside will include a new school, cafés, a restaurant and two parks when complete in 18 years. Of the 50 homes released for sale so far, 37 have been sold at prices starting at £525,000 for a three-bedroom house. The first residents moved in last year.
Opposite Bath Spa station, 99 apartments have been built as part of the Residence at SouthGate by Multi Development. A shopping centre was knocked down to make way for six neo-Georgian buildings, which are separated from each other by pedestrian streets. The flats occupy the upper floors of four buildings, with shops on the lower floors, while retailers fill the other two buildings. Seventy-four of the apartments were built for sale with prices starting at £160,000, while 25 were constructed to be low-cost housing. To date, 60 per cent of the apartments for sale have found buyers, with a large proportion from the Middle East and east Asia, who are purchasing homes for their children studying at the city’s two universities.
Despite strong overseas interest in SouthGate, most prime residential buyers – those looking for properties valued at £1m or more – are Londoners wanting to relocate from the capital. Brady says 60 per cent of his agency’s buyers either live or work in London. Most are families who want their children to be brought up in Bath because money goes further in its housing market.
These buyers are taking advantage of the widest gap in prices between London and Bath ever to have existed, says Brady. Savills research shows average prime residential prices in Bath at between £500 and £600 per sq ft while, as of June 2012, in prime central London prices stood at a record high of £1,700 per sq ft.
Like London, buyer demand is strongest for properties located at the best central addresses, which, in the case of Bath, are its finest Georgian streets such as the Royal Crescent and the Circus. However, fine residences can still be found in Bath’s hinterland. Eight miles from the city centre, Knight Frank is marketing Rosewood Manor, a Grade II-listed Georgian manor house with 11 bedrooms in one hectare of grounds, at a guide price of £3m.
In the next 12 months Brady expects Bath’s residential market to remain stable, as it has done during the past year, with the city’s most expensive homes being those most in demand.
“I don’t expect prices to fall,” he says. “Transactions will stay the same and the top end of the market will continue to outperform the lower end. It will continue to mirror what London does.”
● Attractive Georgian homes
● Roman Baths, Abbey and other cultural attractions
● Good transport links
● Lots of tourists
● Poor air quality
● Traffic congestion
What you can buy for ...
£100,000 A Georgian studio flat above a shop in the centre of the city
£1m A four-bedroom neo-Georgian villa on the edge of the city
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