If you want to understand the appeal of London’s Primrose Hill, an expensive enclave just north of Regent’s Park, simply take a stroll through the area.
Among the matrix of pretty streets and squares, you will see desirable, four-storey Victorian terraced houses neatly painted in pastel colours; G-Wiz electric microcars parked next to Porsche Cayennes; lampposts carrying makeshift signs for local book clubs and spinning classes; and, in Regent’s Park Road, about 30 small shops, half of them cafés or restaurants, with not a chain store in sight.
Primrose Hill’s unique selling point is that it is a small settlement near the centre of a world city. It may be just five minutes’ walk from gritty Camden Town or a 10-minute drive from Selfridges but “village” is the word you hear from local residents and estate agents alike.
“There’s very little traffic, parking is relatively easy, the ‘High Street’ is unspoilt by big-name stores, it’s very attractive and there’s a genuine village feel,” says Hamish Gilfeather, of agents John D Wood, who sums up the area as “quiet, safe and relaxed”.
Unsurprisingly, house prices are high and, according to Gilfeather, 20 per cent up on early 2013. “Our buyer profile consists of the usual bankers, brokers, traders and lawyers. Due to our proximity to Camden there are also film, music and other media-based buyers,” he says.
There is growing international demand, too. The new Le Collège Français Bilingue de Londres in nearby Kentish Town and the proximity of the London headquarters of BNP Paribas at Regent’s Park have attracted French buyers, while the American School in London in St John’s Wood, a short walk further north, has attracted growing US interest in the area.
Yet buyers of all nationalities have limited choice because Primrose Hill is such a small area. Most of the older houses in the centre are large and, after being separated into self-contained apartments in the 1980s and 1990s, many have been renovated and returned to their original state as large family homes.
The most sought-after homes look on to Regent’s Park or south towards central London: the area is about 250ft above sea level so some homes have spectacular distant views.
Savills is marketing a detached, six-bedroom house on Regent’s Park Road for £13.5m. The property has a substantial private garden and direct views over Regent’s Park.
A double-fronted, five-bedroom house on Wadham Gardens has been put up for sale for the first time in more than 50 years. The property, which has a 78ft rear garden, a garage and additional parking, is available for £9.5m through Knight Frank and Winkworth.
These prices are high and show that “best in class” examples fetch about £2,000 per sq ft. That is twice the cost of homes in nearby Camden Town, but substantially less than many parts of prime central London. As a result, agents say they are now handling growing numbers of buyers priced out of the centre of the capital and seeking to upsize.
“We’re starting to see purchasers who would previously want only to live in Mayfair, Knightsbridge or Belgravia. They now consider Primrose Hill to be an established address. They want a larger property with green views in a more tranquil setting,” says Alicia Lindsay of Savills.
The gradual process of Primrose Hill being regarded as part of prime central London by estate agents has not pleased everyone. Savills estimates that one in 10 of its clients is looking for a second home, a figure that is not high by prime central London standards but many more than Primrose Hill has seen in the past.
Some local shopkeepers complain that increasingly wealthy local residents now escape to their country houses at weekends, or move to other homes around the world for months at a time, thereby reducing demand for fresh groceries and accelerating a change to more cafés and fewer food shops. In a sign of the changing demand, a betting shop recently opened in the area.
There is also concern that Primrose Hill’s village atmosphere could be disrupted by HS2, the proposed £50bn high-speed train link between London and Birmingham. If the project goes ahead, it is planned to start at Euston, two miles away, and tunnels would go under Primrose Hill. HS2 contractors have already contacted locals to discuss the possible construction work, to the alarm of some who fear it may hurt house prices.
Primrose Hill library, a widely-used cultural hub, is also under threat. As well as lending books, the facility hosts social events, childcare groups, IT tuition, fitness sessions and adult education classes.
Since it was closed by Camden Council in 2012, the library has been run by the local community and, as posters in shops testify, is heavily reliant on the area’s famous residents for staging fundraising events, including the former UK foreign secretary David Miliband, TV news anchor Jon Snow and writer Helen Fielding, the creator of Bridget Jones.
Still, as a property investment, the area is strong. Savills says capital values are now 30 per cent above their 2007 levels and it expects a further 20 per cent growth by the end of 2017.
This may, of course, add to the area’s attraction for buyers seeking a new real estate hotspot. And if the recent history of central London is a guide – King’s Cross and Soho, for example – such buyers may not demand “old school” services like the locksmith’s shop, shoe store and newsagent which at present share street space with Primrose Hill’s many cafés and bars.
If these facilities are lost, some of the area’s idiosyncratic character may go with them, which means that stroll through Primrose Hill’s streets could become less fun in future.
● 257 crimes reported in Camden Town/Primrose Hill in February 2014
● Housing stock is small, so homes for sale often attract competitive bids
● The area is popular with artists and film and television celebrities
●Much of Primrose Hill is within 15 minutes’ walk of a Tube station
What you can buy for …
£1m A two-bedroom apartment in a converted Victorian house
£5m A large terraced house in the centre of the village
£10m A large villa with a garden and views over Regent’s Park