Walk down St Thomas Street near London Bridge station and you discover why some people believe this part of central London is so special.
Seconds from the Thames and a few minutes’ walk from the City, the street has an “old London” feel. There is the old-fashioned Bunch of Grapes pub, the rumble of trains, a family café selling all-day fry-ups, and Rooney’s boxing gym around the corner.
Then you look up and “new London” fills the skyline. The Shard, western Europe’s tallest building, is a conical mirror-glass tower described by its developer as “a vertical city”, and now a symbol of the change overtaking the London Bridge area.
The shadow of this building extends over one of central London’s most mixed residential communities, on the south bank of the Thames just half a mile from the Bank of England.
There is a maze of streets, lanes and culs-de-sac containing early 19th-century alms houses, stone cottages built 50 years later for Church Commissioners to allocate to poor families, and council flats built in the 20th century. These are cheek by jowl with fashionable converted warehouses occupied by affluent professionals and modern blocks with concierge services, gyms and parking.
Property prices are similarly varied. At Butler’s Wharf, a mixed-use complex of former warehouses three minutes’ walk west from London Bridge station, a 2,160 sq ft three-bedroom apartment overlooking the Thames costs £3.25m through Cluttons. A two-bedroom flat with a private terrace on the fifth floor of a new block on Borough High Street is £625,000 through Urban Moves. A two-bedroom former council flat in nearby Crosby Row is £339,500 through the online agency www.halfapercent.com.
Some fear the Shard and its likely occupiers are the start of a process that will end this mix, turning the area into another “prime” location such as Docklands or Canary Wharf.
The Shard’s 95 storeys, 1,016ft structure and 1.3m sq ft of internal space will contain a five-star hotel, restaurants, 10 luxury apartments, and offices. A more modest 17-storey sister building called the Place will open in spring 2013 and the two towers will be joined by a plaza that is part of an already-completed revamp of the London Bridge station concourse.
At the Shard’s July launch, Irvine Sellar, chairman of the developers Sellar Property Group, said the apartment’s sizes, specifications and prices would not be revealed for some months. A spokeswoman for the group admits it “is still in the design stages for the residential element”.
For the Shard’s opponents, such as Simon Jenkins, a cultural commentator who lambasted the building in a British newspaper on its launch day, this is “egomaniacal architecture” paying “no heed to its surrounding context in scale, materials or ground presence”. On a more basic level, London property experts don’t believe the Shard will immediately lift values for London Bridge’s residential area.
“We’ve heard rumours of £4,000 per sq ft for residential units. There are reports of some being worth £50m. If prices are this high it’ll have little impact on general prices as this is a super-prime product,” says Carl Davenport of Chesterton Humberts estate agency.
David Adams, who runs the London office of international super-prime estate agent John Taylor, says: “I doubt there will be overnight revitalisation [of London Bridge]. One Hyde Park [new apartments four miles away in Knightsbridge] sells for £5,000 to £7,000 per sq ft, but the buildings next door with the same views and local amenity sell for between £1,800 and £2,500 per sq ft. Existing buildings are not benefiting.”
What the Shard may eventually achieve – as part of a decade-long regeneration project – is a change in wider public perception of the area.
James Hyman of Cluttons says: “The Shard is helping transform London Bridge’s image from transport hub to leading commercial centre. [It] has cemented London Bridge as a financial and professional services centre to rival both the City and Canary Wharf.”
Another imminent change may be tenure. Until now, the area has been a favourite with tenants in private and social sectors, and local lettings agents say up to 80 per cent of top-end purpose-built private apartments are rented, a much larger proportion than in most parts of central London.
Helen Penfold, of Hamptons International, says: “Rental demand for one-bedroom flats has led to pied-à-terre purchases, which have been upgraded to two- or three-bedroom flats as professionals realise how much the area has to offer.”
Further work on London Bridge station is under way as part of a £6bn improvement of services through central London; Borough Market, a food centre dating from 1755, is being expanded; when the Shard’s viewing platform opens to the public in February, it is predicted to attract more than 1m visitors a year.
No one knows how this will affect a housing market where long-standing local families and millionaire international buyers take advantage of some of the best value sales and rental prices anywhere in central London – for the moment, at least.
2012 crime totals in Southwark, the Shard’s borough fell by 4.7 per cent from 2011 levels
Of 418 crimes reported in north Southwark in October 2012, 195 were for antisocial behaviour
Slow demise of traditional local shops and businesses
Stamp duty thresholds at £1m and £2m deter purchases of top-end apartments and houses
Wider range of property types than in many other parts of central London
What you can buy for …
£500,000 A two-bedroom, 800 sq ft apartment in a converted factory
£1m A two-bedroom, 1,100 sq ft modern apartment with parking
£5m A four-bed duplex apartment within half a mile of the Shard