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New and old housing at Harbourside in Bristol

It is Saturday morning and Clifton village is full of shoppers perusing boutiques and seeking refreshment in one of the many independent coffee shops. This Georgian jewel of a location has long been the prime address in Bristol.

Just over a mile away is Harbourside, a regeneration district set in a bend of the river Avon. It has been filling up with flats and offices over the past two decades, and is busy with people browsing the craft market.

Estate agents believe Bristol is on the cusp of a recovery which could lead the property market of southwest England out of recession. But will it be Clifton’s stone town houses or Harbourside’s modern apartments at the vanguard of this trend?

Citywide, property prices rose 5.1 per cent in the year to December, stronger than the 4.4 per cent rise recorded in England and Wales and the 3.6 per cent increase seen in the southwest, according to Savills/Land Registry figures. However, prices remain 5.4 per cent below 2007 levels – hardly a stellar performance but better than both the southwest (down 9.1 per cent) and England and Wales as a whole (down 7.9 per cent).

Adam Challis, head of residential research at Jones Lang LaSalle, believes Bristol will see stronger growth, of an average 5.5 per cent a year, over the next five years. “Bristol is very much the standout region in the southwest,” he says. “It has a broad-based city economy with a decent balance of white- and blue-collar and public and private sector [jobs]. We see a strong, stable economic recovery growth story.”

The highest value real estate is concentrated in the west of the city. This includes Clifton, where the average price is £394,899, up 29 per cent on 2007 according to Savills. Further out is Stoke Bishop, where families go to find detached homes on large plots. Here the average price is £456,000, up 18.3 per cent in the same period. Between them lie family-friendly Redland and bohemian Cotham with average prices of £354,909 (up 6.3 per cent since the peak) and £309,868 (up 5.1 per cent) respectively.

Adam Lock, a senior manager at Hamptons International, says these prime areas are experiencing price rises thanks to a lack of supply coupled with sustained demand from inside and outside of the area.

A budget of £1m in Clifton would buy a three-storey, four-bedroom townhouse. Knight Frank has a seven-bedroom, Georgian terrace house on the market for £1.32m.

Neighbouring Redland is popular for its more affordable period housing and quality state schools. On the market with Leese & Nagle is a six-bedroom, Grade II-listed Georgian house at £785,000. In Stoke Bishop a £1m budget would typically purchase a five-bedroom house with a good-sized garden, says Lock.

When the original Victorian homes were being built in Stoke Bishop, Harbourside – or Canon’s Marsh as it was known then – was still the hub of Bristol’s busy working harbour, filled with warehouses, railway yards and goods sheds. In the 20th century, however, cargo ships began using larger ports and the docks closed in 1977.

The turning point came when Lloyds Bank built a new headquarters in the area. The development by Arup Associates was completed 20 years ago. Since then a science museum, shopping square and hundreds of new homes have been built. In 2005 the developer Crest Nicholson began work on a 16-acre housing-led development which is now close to completion with a 170-apartment scheme named Invicta. It is selling two-bedroom properties from £280,000 and three-bedroom apartments from £585,000.

Apartment in the Invicta development

George Cardale, who runs Savills’ new-build and harbourside department, estimates that about 800 homes have been built in the area since 2005. Buyers include a sprinkling of first-timers, but have generally been downsizers looking for a central, low-maintenance flat. A typical two-bedroom property would cost about £250,000. The same demographic also often uses the capital released from selling family homes to buy investment properties, tempted by annual yields of about 5 per cent.

However, the potential of Harbourside has not as yet led to price growth. The development lies in the city’s Cabot ward where prices remain 2.4 per cent below peak levels at an average £228,000, and have only grown by 8.8 per cent over the past decade.

Part of the reason, says Cardale, is that the strong supply has damped price growth, although he feels that “front row” homes with a water view outperform with a 20 per cent premium. Inland, however, the other problem is that of atmosphere and identity. Critics say that the low-rise, high-density housing lacks personality and is unsuitable for families.

Challis agrees that Harbourside is on a “slower, longer burn” than Clifton. “At the moment some sections are quite quiet and empty in the evening, which is the antithesis of what you would want. However, the overarching trend towards city centre living is very strong and in the medium to long term it is absolutely positioned to start to outperform.”

James Toogood, a partner at Knight Frank, agrees that Bristol’s equity-rich suburbs are at present a safer investment for buyers, but feels there is room for growth in old and new Bristol. “At the moment the market is about mindset. People want their money to be safe and secure and property is their largest asset. But this is not to diminish the potential of the Harbourside because everybody loves to live by the water.”


Buying guide

● Train journeys from Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington take about one hour and 45 minutes

● In the year to October there were 92.3 crimes per 1,000 Bristolians

● Bristol is a growing city. Over the past decade its population increased by 38,000 residents or 9.7 per cent

What you can buy for . . . 

£250,000: A two-bedroom flat close to Bristol’s harbourside

£1m: A 1930s family house with five bedrooms in Stoke Bishop

£2m: A top-of-the-range Georgian house in Clifton

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