London’s West End £20bn upgrade
Evening Standard

London’s West End £20bn upgrade

David Spittles

Centre Stage

If Almacantar boss Michael Hussey had his way the new Crossrail station at Tottenham Court Road would be called Centre Point, to celebrate its location as the geographic epi-centre of London.

“Imagine arriving at Heathrow and boarding the train to Centre Point, that would be really cool,” says Hussey.

Transport for London ruled out a name change because of “logistical challenges”, but Hussey insists redevelopment of the Sixties office tower and the sweeping away of the pedestrian-unfriendly zone around it is a historic moment for London.

“It will be a very different place to the past, no longer an “ostracised island.”

Conceived by car-obsessed planners, the tower was in the middle of a gyratory system and had a massive car ramp at the base of the building, a space soon to  be reborn as a new piazza integrated with the Crossrail station, shops, cafes and restaurants, with a new square.

We are making it a focal point and helping to reconnect it with the rest of the West End.”

High up the building, there is a sense of sanctuary from the bustling streets below. And, of course, the views are amazing. Priced from £1,825,000, apartments have been designed by architect Conran & Partners in elegant retro style. There will also be a spa, gym, 30-metre swimming pool, cinema screening room and 24-hour concierge. Call 020 7535 2826.

The West End is in the throes of a huge makeover that includes a long-awaited renovation programme. The district stretching from Covent Garden to Marble Arch is recapturing the residential allure it lost to commerce, with £20 billion of improvements. As with so many London areas, Crossrail, scheduled to open next year, has been the major catalyst.

New stations at Tottenham Court Road and Bond Street are sparking a wave of cleanly curated flats along with new offices, shops, pedestrian-friendly plazas and public spaces.

For the first time since the Blitz, the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus have fallen dark. This autumn a £30 million state-of-the-art curved screen will feature live video streaming, with weather reports, sports, news — and one spectacular advertisement at a time.

Historically, the West End was built as a series of palaces, expensive townhouses, theatres and fashionable arcades. The aristocracy fled during the Second World War and it turned into a commercial district with relatively few residents. The current revival is encouraged by a demand for Zone 1 living from Londoners keen to enjoy city life, but reluctant to commute.

Depending on the exact location, West End homes can be cheaper than those in central London’s more established residential neighbourhoods such as Chelsea and Kensington, starting just below £500,000. The area has always appealed to creatives such as film and fashion executives and young entrepreneurs, who like the lively vibe of this stimulating area. But more surprisingly, downsizers from the country are moving in for their share of the action promised by theatres and new restaurants. Designer flats are springing up in unlikely pockets, including the Soho backstreets.

New flats in historical ‘blue plaque’ streets

Tour guides point out Great Newport Street and the blue plaque property where artist Joshua Reynolds lived between 1753 and 1761, along with the “policeman’s coat hook”, a curious relic used in ages past by traffic officers to hang up their capes.

The Colyer is a new scheme of 14 flats set behind two handsome Victorian buildings that were offices. John Robertson Architects faced the challenge in this conservation area of creating a spectacular glazed penthouse. The solution was a variation of the traditional Mansard roof, with 32 vertical brise-soleil panels that conceal the glazing from street level. From £950,000 to £3.75 million. Call CBRE on 020 7420 3050.

Wardour Lofts comprises four two-bedroom flats carved from a former printworks. These homes recreate a “lived-in” look, with robust but warm, earthy industrial features such as steel girders, exposed brick walls, reclaimed oak floors and vaulted ceilings. From £2,195,000. Call CBRE (as before).

Coming soon is Royalty Mews, a cobbled retreat tucked away off Dean Street, where an intricate metal art installation heralds the entrance and doubles as a bespoke external stairway to four exquisite flats set behind a cool matt black brick exterior.

Fashionable addresses

Former fashionable addresses in St James’s are also back in vogue. Inspired by Jermyn Street’s tradition of bespoke British tailoring and fashion brands, Beau House, named after Regency dandy Beau Brummell, offers flats with interiors that boast bronze and leather finishes, fine cabinetry and marble. From £2 million. Call 020 7240 2255.

In Regent Street The Crown Estate has spent years carefully restoring its precious Nash architecture. Now it is  working on the bland side streets either side of Haymarket, currently dominated by souvenir shops and chain restaurants. The makeover dovetails with a major upgrade of Leicester Square and aims to create smarter  shops with apartments above.

The Corinthia Residences have been created at the top of a deluxe hotel, moments from Trafalgar Square. The auspicious address was once the Ministry of Works. From £7.95 million. Call 020 7861 1740.

Other big local landowners such as Shaftesbury, Derwent, Capco and The Mercers’ Company are working with local authority planners to create micro zones of boutique housing and shops. Rathbone Square, Fitzrovia, replaces an ugly postal depot and creates a new pedestrian route through the site plus substantial public space. Its two L-shaped buildings have 142 homes, offices and shops that gel with the surrounding network of 18th-century streets. Facebook is opening its European HQ there.

Even Oxford Street, so indelibly linked with shopping, is becoming a place to live. New West End Company, an umbrella group of business and property owners backed by Westminster council, has devised a £1.5 billion masterplan to transform the bustling thoroughfare into a clean, tree-lined, more pedestrian-friendly boulevard adorned with public art. New “gateways” are planned for Marble Arch, Tottenham Court Road, New Bond Street and Langham Place, and there will be 12 side street “oases” for alfresco dining and boutique shopping.

Flats are being created above street-level shops. Park House, a capsule-like structure opposite Selfridges, includes high-line apartments with their own entrance on quiet North Row in Mayfair. Call Knight Frank on 020 7861 5489.

Developer Land Securities is working up plans for a £200 million, 90-home scheme at the opposite end of Oxford Street, where revamped Centre Point, the listed concrete office tower being converted into 82 apartments by Almacantar, will be completed this summer. Call  0207 535 2826

Back at the westernmost end of Oxford Street, Marble Arch Tower is to be replaced by Marble Arch Place, with 54 flats, offices, shops and a new Odeon cinema. Artist Lee Simmons has been commissioned to create an installation for a new civic space. Another 76 flats and a new petrol station are being built at a linked Edgware Road site.

Sprucing up its enclave is The Portman Estate, owner of 110 acres — 69 streets with 650 buildings, four garden squares and more than 1,000 homes — immediately north of Oxford Street. More than £240 million will be invested during the next six years. A scheme at 62 Seymour Street has yielded 10 smart flats and a former police section house has made way for 24 more.