If done sensitively, gentrification can breath new life into an area while preserving its distinctiveness, says Oliver Russell
FIRST it was Ladbroke Grove. Then it was Hackney. Now it’s Brixton’s turn to be gentrified. In 2009, the area experienced a renaissance when the owners of the market (London & Associated Properties, Lambeth Council and Space Makers Agency) decided to lease stalls for free for three months to encourage new businesses to move in. This brought about Brixton’s rebirth as a foodie destination. Today, Londoners of all types are drawn to the area by the prospect of eating at London’s trendiest food stalls.
A sign of this change taking place was the recent opening of a well known estate agent in the area, indicating positive expectations for the local residential housing market. It also sparked protests from people who were apparently angry that Brixton had been turned over to “yuppies” (the word that was scrawled across the estate agent’s window in spray paint).
People moving to Brixton include younger professionals moving out of the “prime” areas in pursuit of more space and a better lifestyle. There are also those who see it as investment potential. Smaller flats in Brixton and similar areas are becoming increasingly attractive to first time buyers, who are looking for a valuable entry onto the property ladder in a place that is relatively central.
In theory, gentrification should bring about greater prosperity to the local economy as it attracts residents who have more disposable income to spend in the local restaurants, shops and amenities. Gentrification can be a good way of regenerating an area, as long as the general character or identity is maintained. After all, it’s often the “vibe” of a place that draws people there in the first place. Sensitivity to change is an important consideration; if the process of gentrification results in an area becoming a mirror image of other parts of London, the city will lose the very thing that makes it the greatest place in the world and the reason it is admired the world over. The other problem is the sharp increase in rental prices that can force some residents further afield.
The scale and extent of gentrification taking place has been evident in various areas of London. For example, the area in the vicinity of Kings Cross, with its Eurostar transport link, has seen rapid regeneration. The same is true for the area in W2 close to the Paddington Cross Rail connection, which has also seen a variety of schemes and mixed use developments being constructed in Paddington Basin.
Notting Hill has been transformed by gentrification. Thirty years ago, it was overshadowed by other areas in central London. However, in recent times, the demand for larger amounts of lateral and outside space has resulted in this area becoming increasingly attractive. The properties are spacious and provide access to large, private garden squares. This is often preferred by the modern buyer to the traditional tall and narrow townhouses with small courtyard gardens typically found in other parts of central London.
London is constantly evolving and more recently there has been a move back toward the City. Over the last few years there have been several new residential developments, mixed-use schemes and conversions of buildings that were previously occupied as commercial premises. From Docklands in the east to Putney Bridge and beyond in the west, many new residential developments have been constructed along the river with many more planned.
These new buildings provide the latest technical facilities, which appeal to the living standards and aspirations of the modern, often international buyer. Riverside developments also provide fantastic panoramic views of London.
Over the next couple of years, I expect Marylebone to be an area to experience further gentrification. Its neighbour Mayfair has seen amazing price increases in the residential sector and is now, arguably, as desirable as Knightsbridge as an address. I expect the “knock-on” effect of this price growth experienced in Mayfair to be reflected in the property prices in Marylebone, with some new developments already setting the pace.
This age-old process can keep areas fresh and thriving. Whatever people think of estate agents arriving in Brixton, gentrification doesn’t have to be a dirty word.
• Oliver Russell is the head of property acquisition at Charles Russell, LLP.