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A group of tourists huddle outside Tower Hill station on a wet winter evening, waiting to retrace the steps of one of London’s most notorious serial killers. “This year marks the 125th anniversary of the Jack the Ripper murders,” says Donald Rumbelow. The historian has been a Whitechapel tour guide for the past 20 years, telling the stories of the area, “the crimes and the mysteries”, he says. “A lot of Whitechapel has been transformed by redevelopment in that time, but there are small areas that are as they were in 1888.”
Whitechapel has always had high levels of immigration. In the late 19th century, for example, it was primarily a Jewish quarter. Today about 40 per cent of the area’s population is of Bangladeshi origin, according to the Office for National Statistics. Many of the road signs around Brick Lane – a street renowned for its curry houses – have Bengali translations under their English names.
Now, with the Crossrail train line set to open in 2018 and a flurry of new construction projects, leading property agents and developers speculate that Whitechapel is on the cusp of its biggest change yet. “Once the Whitechapel Crossrail station opens, it will become an important transport hub,” says Grainne Gilmore, head of UK residential research at Knight Frank. “Residents will be able to reach Heathrow directly in just 41 minutes and the commute to Canary Wharf will take under five minutes.”
Research by Knight Frank calculates the expected price increases for properties within a 10-minute walk of new Crossrail stations across London. Although the biggest price rises will be around Farringdon and Tottenham Court Road (about 31 per cent on today’s prices), the figures show that, by 2018, homes within a 10-minute walk of Whitechapel station could be 26 per cent more valuable than they are today, a growth trajectory that outperforms the rise of prime central London by 6 per cent.
Three new developments under construction within a 10-minute walk of Whitechapel station include Altitude, a 35-storey tower due to be completed in January 2014, Cityscape, and Goodman’s Fields.
Cityscape, on Commercial Street, comprises 128 units, with prices ranging from £315,000 for a studio to £800,000 for a three-bedroom apartment. “We’ve sold 125 of the 128 [units], so we’re now 98 per cent of the way there,” says David Campbell, group sales and marketing director of Telford Homes, the developers behind Cityscape. The remaining units – all three-bedroom homes – are available through Telford and are priced between £717,500 and £770,000.
Homes at Cityscape were launched in March to UK buyers, but Campbell says “about 65 per cent of buyers at Cityscape are from overseas – predominantly Hong Kong, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur – and all are buy-to-let investors”.
Goodman’s Fields, a seven-acre, mixed-use development of 920 units, has higher prices and a higher rate of owner occupation than Cityscape. “About 60 per cent of our sales [so far] have gone to UK buyers, with most of them looking to live in,” says Piers Clanford, managing director for Berkeley Homes northeast London. Ninety per cent of the 200 units in phase one of the project have sold and the prices for these units – from £499,950 for a studio to £4.5m for a penthouse – are more in keeping with prime central London than the current local stock.
The development, which is due to open to its first residents in 2015, features 120,000 sq ft of commercial and hotel space, various gardens and a health centre, gym and cinema – elements that Clanford thinks the area has previously lacked.
A further 72 units at Goodman’s Fields were launched on November 21 and are on sale via Berkeley Homes.
Existing housing in Whitechapel is a mixed bag and the area is known for its high-rises and ex-council stock, but Fyfe Mcdade is selling an attractive three-bedroom house on Sydney Square for £875,000. In neighbouring Spitalfields, where houses generally command higher prices, a modernised Georgian townhouse with three bedrooms is on sale for £3.25m through Modern House agency.
“Currently Whitechapel is very much location over lifestyle, but we expect that to change very rapidly,” says Matt Leitch, Docklands development manager at Savills. “The proposed new mix of residential, retail and ‘public realm’ space will really bring the location to life.”
The redevelopment efforts fit in with the ambitions of the local authority, Tower Hamlets Council, which has spent £150,000 bringing to the draft stage a regeneration master plan called Whitechapel Vision. With delivery scheduled for 2025, the plan – which will see the completion of seven new public squares and green spaces, a new campus for medical students and an improved and expanded street market – also takes account of the new housing developments, the completion of Crossrail and the recent £650m expansion of the Royal London Hospital on Whitechapel High Street.
How life in Whitechapel will alter with this scale of development is open for debate. Iwona Blazwick, director of the Whitechapel Gallery, which is credited with helping to launch the careers of several renowned British artists, from David Hockney to Gilbert and George, is optimistic but also has some concerns. “There is in Whitechapel and around Brick Lane an incredibly fragile ecosystem of small business owners, artists and creatives,” she says. “So long as the developments do not price these people out, then I think it will be beneficial to the area . . . but if we drive them out, London as a city will be much the poorer for it.”
● Within walking distance of the City
● The area has several good schools
● The Whitechapel Gallery displays world-class contemporary art
● Heavy traffic on Whitechapel Road
● The area around Whitechapel station has a higher crime rate than average, with 60 crimes reported during October
What you can buy for . . .
£350,000 A two-bedroom apartment in need of modernisation on Cavell Street
£600,000 A spacious two-bedroom warehouse-style apartment near Whitechapel station
£1.2m A new two-bedroom penthouse apartment at Goodman’s Fields with a balcony, concierge and residents’ facilities