David Cudd's Reviews
I can vividly remember speaking with a professional property investor who’d reserved several apartments in the Nine Elms area. He’d handpicked several properties in the two standout schemes being marketing several years before completion – Embassy Gardens by Ballymore and Riverlight by St. James – Berkeley Group. He ended up completing on two apartments in Embassy Gardens and four apartments in Riverlight believing the riverside location gave it the edge. It was upon completion he realised he’d made a mistake.
That conversation stands out in my memory, I can even remember where I was at the time – the Savills Head Office ground floor café. I’ve always found it interesting to listen to buyers purchase decisions. The angles people find to invest are often very different, but the result is always aiming to be the same. Profit.
It was this investors’ opinion that Embassy Gardens was in fact the best-in-class development in the area. He explained how he wished he could reverse his decision instead buying four in Embassy Gardens. Now the development is completed I understand why. This isn’t to down talk St. James’ Riverlight scheme. Instead it’s a testament to the delivery and attention to detail Ballymore give to all their developments.
When I first viewed Embassy Gardens I couldn’t believe what Ballymore had delivered for a buying price of circa £850psf (blended). As I understand it the pricing was not easy to calculate. Essentially, from a residential perspective it was an entirely new part of London. There weren’t any comparable schemes to cross reference against. Add to that fact once Phase 1 was completed the greater regeneration story still had years to play out. From a buyer’s point of view words like ‘speculation’, ‘punt’ and ‘risk’ immediately spring to mind although, for those who did make the investment, Ballymore have delivered a scheme they can be extremely pleased with.
The first aspect of the development to strike me was the exterior. The main tower stands out amongst the crowd. A cubic, modular design – dare I say a contemporary take on 60’s brutalist architecture. It might not be for everyone but it’s certainly not boring. I now understand the design is strongly influenced by the commercial buildings of the 1930s in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. I’ve not seen the views from the top of the main tower (Ambassador Building) personally although I’m told they’re spectacular – looking back down the Thames and onto the City.
The main entrance lobby is vast. Marketed as the ‘Grand Lobby’ it certainly lives up to its name. Double heighted, exceptionally wide with comfortable seating dotted all around you. Whenever I’ve visited the concierge team are always helpful and polite. I’m not sure on the materials used, it doesn’t really matter, the overall feel is luxury and it hits you instantly. Further facilities on the ground floor include a cinema, business room, library and meeting rooms. As you work your way up the building it becomes even more exciting. On the mezzanine floor a huge gym is equipped to satisfy even for the most avid fitness fanatic, his and her changing rooms are located close by and supported with a yoga studio. The first floor houses treatment rooms, steam room, sauna and one of my favourite private residents swimming pools anywhere in London. What makes this one special is not just the fact it’s located on the 1st floor (so many are in basements) allowing for an abundance of natural light but it’s also indoor / outdoor and keenly reinforced with several chillout beds & loungers. It seems Ballymore thought of everything. Adding one final string to the facility bow of Phase 1 is the Eagle Apartment which acts like a resident’s lounge with additional seating, a bar and pool table.
What’s even more unbelievable is the facilities don’t end there. Completion of Embassy Gardens Phase 2 and with it the opening of yet more private resident amenities has recently been delivered. Access for residents living in Phase 1 is guaranteed and that allows use of the 10th floor ‘Sky Pool’ which connects two of Ballymore’s new ‘Legacy Buildings’. Suspended 10 floors in the air this is a world first. Adjoining the Sky Pool is ‘The Orangery’ which has a Soho Members Club feel about it and in many ways creates an extension of any resident’s apartment. It’s the perfect spot to relax and enjoy a coffee anytime of the day.
The apartments themselves are inspired by the classic 1950’s style of the Manhattan loft in the creative use of space, materials and detailing. Tall ceilings, open floor spaces and floor to ceiling windows create an attractive and generous sense of proportion; materials such as marble and oak parquet flooring quietly impart a sense of quality and class; attention to details such as walnut veneers and ceramic door and drawer handles reinforces the sense of solidity and enduring good taste.
Since delivery the regeneration of the area has taken hold and prices have risen. 1 bed suites start from around £550K, 1 bed’s from around £675K and 2 bed’s from around £875K. There’s still a raft of improvements to come including the opening of the new Nine Elms and Battersea tube stations, the completion of Lost River Park and several more retail hubs. The investors who did speculate at the very beginning have certainly reaped the rewards and, if I’m totally honest, I doubt those returns will be seen again in the near future. The area has developed, and I’ve seen a shift in the buyer demographic. Replace the speculators with owner occupiers and replace those ‘taking a punt’ with those looking for a genuinely lovely place to call home. It might not have the riverside address of its closest neighbour but nevertheless I believe Embassy Gardens represents one of the finest places in live anywhere in Nine Elms. For anyone considering the area they must pay this scheme a visit.
I’ve always viewed the Gasholders as the crown jewel of the greater King Cross regeneration project. Let’s quickly take a moment to appreciate the scale of this regeneration. Here are the numbers: 67 acres, 50 new buildings, 1900 new homes, 20 new streets, 10 new public parks & squares and 26 acres of open space. A former wasteland has been brought to life by Argent (the developer) when outline planning permission was granted in 2006 after years of painstaking consultation with the local community, government and stakeholders. The results have been outstanding.
The catalyst for this regeneration was the relocation of the Eurostar from Waterloo to Kings Cross St. Pancras. Today if you were to walk from the Station to Gasholders (which is located on the upper west side of the regeneration site) you’d see a bustling community, a wonderful mixture of people from all walks of life. From the students studying at Central Saint Martins, the corporates working in the newly created business district to the ‘Googlers’ working from any number of Google’s Kings Cross buildings. At street level you could pick up your morning coffee from any number of the new coffee houses or restaurants along the main boulevards. With coffee in hand you’d have a choice to walk along the newly restored canals or venture across Granary Square. Both are equally beautiful. Granary Square by night is particularly stunning as the 1000 strong choreographed fountains – all individually controlled – are illuminated in the dark. Surrounding the square are several excellent restaurants – all with some form of outside seating. Alternatively, you could opt for a window shop through the newly restored Coal Drops Yard – a collection of 50 stores and restaurants – with a focus on fashion, craft and culture. There’s an excellent mix of individual, independent shops together with a few signature brands.
Argent can be very proud of the urban mix they’ve created between retail, office, residential, education and very importantly open space. This is a blueprint for correct urban regeneration.
Unique is a word often overused in property but when it come to Gasholders it fits perfectly. 145 canalside apartments and penthouses built within three fully restored Grade II listed, cast iron gasholder frames. A world first – aka ‘unique’. Externally, Gasholders is striking. Internally, that theme continues as you enter the double height entrance lobby directly facing the central chamber which, while striking during the day, is even more stunning at night – colossal cast iron frames are illuminated in a pool of water tricking you into believing their almost floating. As you move around the building there are several prominent features and many of them you couldn’t find in any other development. Interestingly it’s not the spa, the business centre, cinema room, gym, roof terrace, 24/7 concierge or entertaining suite. It’s the central cores. They’re a work of art. As you stand at the bottom gazing up to their glass roofs the internal walkways blend together to form a beautiful wave irradiated in natural light. It’s a beautiful sight.
The apartments themselves are cut into the circular cores like triangles to give maximum straight-line space. Picture Trivial Pursuits wedges fitting into the main pie. This helps with the placement of furniture and increases the amount of natural light into each apartment. The sites industrial past has been the inspiration for the contemporary finishes. Interior designer Jonathan Tuckey says ‘Each apartment presents a very different set of circumstances, but all share a language and attention to detail. I distinctly see our work as mediating between what the existing building wants and what the person who lives in it needs.’
There are so many positives to speak about, yet Gasholders hasn’t been Argents fastest selling scheme. While Gasholders might be described as a ‘thing of beauty’ or ‘a work of art’ that might not be what every buyer needs. The Marmite cliché applies. Let’s face it, no architect it likely to construct a brand new residential building starting with three circular cores. They’re harder to design and they’re harder to build. They’re also harder to furnish. I don’t claim to be a great interior designer but, to my knowledge, they aren’t too many places you can go to buy a circular sofa. On top of that the additional design & construction work means its more expensive.
It leads me to this conclusion: Gasholders really is unique but how much more are people truly prepared to pay for genuine individuality?
It’s hard to talk about The Residence without first explaining the massive regeneration area it sits within. Nine Elms has, for a long time, divided opinion. Many feel it’s a blueprint for everything wrong with the London property market – too many flashy expensive flats, all sold to overseas buyers without any regard for the common Londoner. To be fair, I see their arguments although personally I think it’s rather short sighted.
London is an international city. It attracts attention. People from all over the world want to spend time here. Buyers from all over the world want a little piece of our great city and I for one am rather proud of that. All these ‘flashy expensive flats’ help fund so many shared ownership, key worker group and other forms of affordable housing. Developers have donated hundreds of millions to Councils in London as well as up and down the country helping fuel the current construction boom which has seen increases in house building every year since 2009 with 2012/13 being the only exception (Knight Frank UK House Building Report 2018). Surely, we can all agree this is a good thing. Afterall there’s no debate about the fact we need more homes.
So this bring me onto Nine Elms. A collection of more than 40 projects which are changing the face of this riverside district. At 227 hectares, Nine Elms is by far the largest regeneration zone in central London and sits across the London boroughs of Wandsworth and Lambeth. Transport for London has long since started their extension of the Northern Line which will provide two new tube stations at Nine Elms and Battersea. This will forge a direct link from Nine Elms to Westminster, the City and Leicester Square, all in under 15 minutes. The extension is set to be open in 2020. The urban planners have also been careful to ensure the new area becomes a green and walkable district with plenty of public space and outdoor areas. A new park – Thames River Path – will sweep through the centre of the district and host an array of riverside shops, cafes, restaurants, art spaces and public squares creating a beautiful green corridor between Battersea Power Station and Vauxhall Cross.
The Residence sits in the beating heart of all this transformation and only a couple of minutes’ walk from what will be the new Nine Elms Tube Station. As an agent I was first attracted to the building when I heard of a project in Nine Elms offering luxury flats from circa £1100-1200psf. Significantly cheaper than any of the surrounding competition. I’d soon made up my mind – the quality must be dreadful, the facilities couldn’t be fit for purpose and the ceiling heights had to be low. After my first visit to the scheme I quickly learnt nothing could be further from the truth. The specifications are on par with anything in the area, the facilities include a large gym, business suite, cinema room, large entrance lobby and 24/7 concierge. All for a service charge of just £4 per sq/ft– again significantly lower than any other development in the local. I’ll admit, the facilities in neighbouring Embassy Gardens by Ballymore are better. They’re arguably the best delivered facilities I’m aware off and hard to compete with. If you’re sole buying motivation is facilities, then you’d opt for Embassy Gardens but you’ll have to get comfortable with paying 20% more and the same again year on year in your service charge.
The area still has some way to go. It’s not the finished article. It’s far from completed but slowly but surely the area is getting livelier. Following the completion of Battersea Power Station Phase 1 a Riverside Walk has opened with a collection of new café’s, restaurants, work out studio’s and even a pub. Several of which are located within old railway arches which gives it a more artesian feel. Whenever I’m in the area I always pop into ‘District’ for one of the most delicious coffee’s in London. The American Embassy provides a focal point and has attracted yet more new people to the area since it opened last year. It’s only going to get better as time moves forward. If I had to moan about something, in an ideal world, the railway wouldn’t run behind the development and the blocks themselves could be further apart to help create more privacy and increase natural light especially for the lower floors. Finally, I’d argue that it lacks kerb appeal – while the development certainly isn’t unattractive it’s not beautiful either. No awards for stunning exterior design here. That being said I remain a firm believer that The Residence offers buyers exceptional value and everyone who’s interested in the area should have a look before making any decisions.
I was lucky enough to be involved in this project when it was first launched onto the market in the summer of 2015. Times were a bit different then. I can remember hearing buyers had arrived 24 hours early and intended to camp out for the evening to ensure they got first refusal on the best apartments. I’d only ever seen this behaviour once before – for the launch of Greenwich Peninsula – and that weekend we exchanged 150 apartments in the space of two days.
The launch went as expected and was a huge success. Often the most disappointing aspect working on launches like these are simply you can’t please everyone. Demand simply outstrips supply and even some who queued through the night were unable to secure the apartment they wanted most.
What drove this level of demand? Sensible pricing and a location that boasts arguably the most famous London view of all. For many lucky residents they’d enjoy an unobstructed view of the London Eye across a meandering River Thames and onto the Houses of Parliament. Rightly or wrongly, on a global stage this is what many see as ‘London’. This combination was the cornerstone of an unbelievable sales rate that continued long after the 2016 EU Referendum. A testament to the quality of this project is that it remains one of the few developments launched in 2015 that has held its value to the current day.
Of course, the views and the price were not the only motivating factors. Joint venture partners Canary Wharf Group & Qatari Diar offered buyers variety. The ‘Casson Square’ buildings are interior designed by Johnson Naylor while ‘Belvedere Gardens’ are interior designed by Goddard Littlefair. Both designers are highly regarded and have a wealth of experience in this sector, but the product variation allowed buyers to have choice – and choice at a luxury level. Belvedere Gardens being the grander and more lavish building lent itself well to owner occupiers, while Casson Square would attract investors and owner occupiers and everyone else in-between. All residents will enjoy outstanding facilities which include a private swimming pool, sauna, steam room, treatment rooms and private gym.
It’s unlikely to come as a surprise that Southbank Place sits on the South Bank which is considered a dynamic area in the heart of London’s cultural scene. I don’t know of a single Londoner who doesn’t enjoy the tree-lined walk along the Thames from London Bridge to Westminster Bridge. Tree-lined and littered with restaurants, historic pubs, cafes, bars, markets, theatres and often staging sporadic fairs and events. Sightseers come to admire iconic landmarks like Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate Modern. There’s something for everyone. Although I personally see this setting as a plus, I can also see how some view this as a negative. It’s busy. Very busy. The volume of people makes for a great buzz with lots of energy albeit I can see this might quickly become tiresome. Living in this everyday would require routes to be avoided and plans to be set.
One piece of advice I’d offer to anyone seriously considering Southbank Place is to study the proximity of the buildings to each other. While the scheme spans over five acres the project is dense, and while there is no doubt that some of the views are arguably the best in London, others could potentially be looking into their neighbour’s kitchen! The project isn’t yet complete and these kinds of issues are hard to determine off-plan although, in truth, most potential ‘problem units’ sell very fast once complete as the ‘problems’ turn out to be nothing too problematic at all. That being said, there are often a few compromised units in every scheme so pick wisely.
Please disclose any commercial relationship to this development or developer:
I was involved with the launch of Southbank Place while working at Savills.
Queen’s Park Place (QPP) holds a special place in my heart. Not only do I personally live just around the corner, but it was the first new-build project I worked on while starting a new role with Savills in 2014.
If off-plan sales rates are a measure of a development’s desirability, success and quality, then QPP was a resounding triumph. Armed with no more than an A5 booklet containing a handful of CGI’s and a few floorplans, all apartments (excluding penthouses) sold off-plan at rates of 2-4 a week. Seeing beyond the obvious benefits of the scheme – 50m proximity to Queen’s Park tube station, two large communal gardens set within a gated community, 24/7 concierge, secure underground parking, large balconies, interior designed apartments – buyers could also seek comfort in the positive reputation boutique developer, London Newcastle, had established within the residential development arena.
Now complete, guests, owners & tenants are first greeted with an exceptional double-heighted entrance lobby. A beautiful marble concierge desk runs along one wall, and five clocks each containing a different world time are overhead – surely a nod to the cosmopolitan residents who live here. As you make your way through the first building you exit into the first of two landscaped gardens. Tranquil and calming both to be in and overlook.
The apartments themselves are modern, with open-plan kitchens all containing matt-finish cabinets and sleek Corian worktops with brushed steel splashbacks. All bathrooms come with underfloor heating and bespoke built-in vanity units. Interior Designer Tamzin Greenhill has done an excellent job.
Queen’s Park itself feels like a quaint little village. The main high street, Salusbury Road, has a great collection of cafes, restaurants, boutiques, pubs, florists and wine stores. The park itself is beautiful with something on offer for everyone – table tennis, children’s play area, tennis courts and even a par 3 golf course for a bit of afternoon fun. As a dog lover my only complaint would be that they don’t allow dogs to be taken off their leads to roam. The tube station will have passengers in Oxford Circus within 15 minutes. Queen’s Park tube is also an exchange platform, so almost every other train is empty upping your chances of a seat! While the proximity of the tube is an obvious advantage, it’s also QPP’s biggest faux pas. The development hugs the railway lines and while steps have been taken to mitigate the impact (including triple-glazed windows) it’s still not ideal. New technologies mean the foundations are constructed in such a way you don’t ever feel the railway, though, so overall impact is light.
For any investors out looking it’s worth noting QPP sits on the edge of the South Kilburn Regeneration Programme – a 15 year project currently half way through set to deliver 2,400 new homes, a new primary school, improved public spaces, a new park, new health facilities and new retail destinations. While this will continue to improve the overall desirability of Queen’s Park as an area, the real good news is that by sitting on the western edge of the construction, anyone living at QPP will not be disturbed by the ongoing works.