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August 3, 2012 7:58 pm
Apart from Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, and several Landseer lions, anyone buying a home on Trafalgar Square will have few immediate neighbours. Unless you count the Queen and the discreet community of St James’s to the west, or the more diverse population in Soho and Covent Garden to the north and east.
Called Trafalgar One (despite its address being 62-65 Trafalgar Square), a new redevelopment will consist of four lateral apartments and one duplex penthouse when it is completed in January 2013. Originally the London headquarters of the Canadian and Pacific Railway Company, this commercial-to-residential conversion may be the first of several on Trafalgar Square, a part of London not usually known for its domesticity.
Julian Mercer, director of Trafalgar One developer BMB Property Investments, says such conversions provide an opportunity to draw buyers. “There are a lot of tourists but not enough residents and it gets quieter at weekends. If there were more people living in the area, it would benefit the local shops, bars and restaurants.”
The diversity of shops, bars and restaurants is one of the area’s attractions. Dining choices range from the Savoy Grill to the lesser-known cafés and bars in the backstreets of Soho. The local theatres are world class, and the National and Portrait art galleries are within a three-minute walk.
The apartments, which will sit behind the building’s original 19th-century stone façade, start at £5.5m, although the costs of the larger apartments and the penthouse have yet to be released. This puts Trafalgar One at roughly the same level as neighbouring St James’s. There, with its better-developed residential character, two-bedroom flats start at about £4.7m.
“[Trafalgar One] is a bit expensive for a location that isn’t yet an established residential area,” says Camilla Dell of Black Brick buying agency. “However, I think it will appeal to Asian buyers, particularly as they are often more open to new areas and don’t necessarily have to be in Kensington, Mayfair or Knightsbridge.”
The area may make a good investment. Residential property prices in central London have increased 47.3 per cent since their post credit crunch low in March 2009, according to research from Knight Frank, and are now 12.1 per cent higher than their previous peak in March 2008.
Further planned redevelopments near Trafalgar One include the unusual and, depending on your point of view, bizarre conversion of Admiralty Arch. A three-arched building on the south-eastern corner of Trafalgar Square, Admiralty Arch is the gateway to the Mall, the pink-coloured avenue that leads to Buckingham Palace. Owned by the Cabinet Office, the building is being sold leasehold, its value estimated at £75m. With the government currently processing bids – an outcome is expected in the next few weeks – it is unable to comment on the eventual use of the building, though many in the property industry have speculated that it will be turned into a high-end hotel and apartments.
Whoever wins the bidding, converting Admiralty Arch will be far from straightforward: the building has Grade I-listed status and its proximity to Clarence House and Buckingham Palace demands heightened security measures. If the building were to end up being converted into apartments, agents think the price would be £4,000-£5,000 per sq ft – possibly more, if concierge services were included. Originally built in 1912 as a memorial to Queen Victoria, Admiralty Arch has been used as a residence for naval officers and, more recently, as grace and favour apartments for politicians.
If Admiralty Arch feels too exposed to call home, Covent Garden is only a 20-minute walk away. Once the 17th-century aristocratic “des res” of choice, the area fell in and out of fashion until it became a successful commercial district in the 1980s. Now it is beginning to return to its residential roots, with more homes being created. Developer Capital & Counties (CapCo) recently converted a former Victorian bank, called The Henrietta, into four upmarket apartments. The 2,300 sq ft/three-bedroom penthouse, with views over Covent Garden’s piazza, sold for £6.25m and the remaining three apartments are priced between £4.85m and £5.25m.
Meanwhile, neighbouring Soho is only marginally less expensive. The sex shops that once dominated the area have given way to independent boutiques, restaurants and cafés, plus conversions of apartments back into houses and vice versa. EA Shaw is selling eight two- and three-bedroom apartments in a converted hat factory from £925,000. One-bedroom flats in Soho and Covent Garden let from about £500 per week and from £700 per week for a two-bedroom flat.
Sarah-Jane Curtis of CapCo says: “It’s nice to get a mix of residential. It’s putting the heart back into an area.” However, just how much “heart” is put back is debatable. According to Savills, a third of homes in central London – including Soho and Covent Garden – are now primarily owned as investments or holiday homes. These properties are rarely used, and any sense of community is often lost. Rob Hill of agency Greater London Properties says: “A lot of these flats are not lived in and, as a neighbour, you can end up living alone in a posh ghetto in Soho or Covent Garden, where the rents have been driven up because there is no supply.”
● In the heart of London
● Stunning views of landmarks
● May be an appreciating asset
● Limited community
● Very busy with traffic and tourists
● Despite being surrounded by public spaces, homes can feel isolated
What you can buy for ...
£100,000: A designated parking space costs £80,000
£1m: A two-bedroom apartment
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