The champagne corks will be popping for the launch of the new Eurostar service from London’s St Pancras International station.
But they’ll also be celebrating in Nottingham as the first high-speed service glides out of North London.
The reason? Improved rail connections from the East Midlands mean that the residents of Britain’s seventh richest city can now tuck into a fried breakfast first thing and be sipping a grand crème in the Gare du Nord some four hours and 54 minutes later.
“Being Nottingham born and raised, I’m delighted when I go back home to see the material changes in the city’s infrastructure and transport system,” says Greg Nugent, Head of Marketing for Eurostar.
“When we started to talk about High Speed One, it became obvious how the service could benefit not just London, but the UK as a whole.”
Nottingham, the city best known as the home of fashion designer Sir Paul Smith and Boots, both of which still have a major presence in the city, has seen major investment in the last few years.
The city blossomed during its industrial heyday of the 1880s with the lace and cotton industries, but was looking tired and run down by the Eighties.
A slew of projects since 1989 have, however, changed the face of the city with the restoration of the Lace Market, now a conservation area to preserve the architectural character, the development of the Nottingham University campus and the inauguration of the National Watersports Centre at Holme Pierrepont.
The installation of the new Nottingham Express Transport (NET) tram system in 2004 has reduced traffic congestion and improved access around the city, now carrying 20,000 people per day.
Today, the ongoing regeneration of the city centre continues apace with major new projects including redevelopment of the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre, regeneration of the city’s eastern fringe and two new NET Tram routes two to Wilford and Beeston.
“Often commercial property kicks off regeneration but, in the case of Nottingham it was residential property that led the way: apartments were built, bars and restaurant opened and business moved in. The city centre is now home to both the UK head office of Capital One and the global HQ of Experian,” says Tony Pinks, Investment Sales Director for Nottingham-based Lace Market Properties.
“There was no city centre living in Nottingham before 1989. Less than 4,00 people lived in the city but, by 2006, that figures had increased to over 14,000.”
One of the biggest initiatives in the city currently is the Southside Regeneration, a 15-year project to regenerate the area immediately south of the Victorian train station.
As a gateway to the city, the station makes for a pretty inauspicious welcome but the scheme aims to transform run-down Victorian warehouses and factories into hotels, offices, a conferences centre and leisure facilities, as well as a slew of residential apartment buildings with a very contemporary feel, plus new tram connections.
As part of this, the first two residential apartment blocks, Summer Leys House and the PictureWorks, will be ready for possession in 2009 with prices ranging from £140,000 for a one-bedroom to £240,000 for a three-bedroom, upper level apartment.
David Postings, who works in finance and commutes regularly from London, has already bought the Summer Leys House penthouse off plan. “I spend two to three days per week working in Nottingham and I was looking for more of a base than just another hotel room,” he explains.
Postings spent £250,000 for 900m sq with a terrace, a price he considers competitive given his other home is close to London King’s Cross station.
“This development appealed to me as it right by the station, brand new and high up, so benefiting from good light. And, as it was at a sufficiently early stage, I asked Lace Market Properties to reduce it from three to two bedrooms and increase the area of the living room,” he adds.
“Nottingham felt like a good place to buy with improving infrastructure and a sense of bouncing back after years of decline.”
In the suburbs
But while the city centre appeals to young professionals, families are increasingly heading out to the suburbs with Westbridge, Burton Joyce, Bingham and, in particular, Radcliffe all popular areas to buy.
“Nottingham city is not really aimed at the family market, never has been,” says Lucie Flint, Associate Director of Savills, based in Nottingham.
“In the city it’s only The Park, the area around Nottingham Castle, where a three-bed, modern townhouse starts from £400,000, that attracts families.”
“Most people head for the suburbs, notably the borough of Rushcliffe, where there are good schools, good services in terms of shopping and transport, and plenty of nice places to eat and drink, all within a few miles of the city centre.”
While Flint says Savills are currently flooded with apartments to sell in the city centre, the market in Rushcliffe is particularly vibrant with a good range of properties for couples and families.
A three-bed, detached house in a new development starts from £300,000 while a three-bed family property in a village on the fringe of the city currently sells for around £400,000.
“With the regeneration of the city, I think the majority of city-centre properties are now almost exclusively for investors, students and young professionals,” agrees Allan Stephens, a marketing professional in the public sector, who moved his family to Nottingham in 1996.
“The majority of people over 30 are moving out into the suburbs, or the Nottinghamshire countryside. The changing nature of available housing and concerns about much-publicised crime problems in the inner city are fuelling this.”
Stephens first moved to Nottingham in 1996, buying a three-bed new development in the suburb of Netherfield for £50,000.
Now married with two young daughters, he recently bought a four-storey, four bedroom family house with a garden in the suburb of Carlton, four miles northeast of the city centre, for £195,000.
“We find a lot of families are moving to Carlton,” he says. “It offers larger properties, good public transport connections to the city and is convenient for a quick escape to the countryside with plenty of parks, zoos and family attractions within a 15-mile radius.
“We’re also now crucially in the catchment area for the well-reputed Carlton-le-Willows secondary school.”
Shadowing the renaissance of Nottingham is the increasing popularity of the spruced-up market towns around Nottingham as a base for families seeking a more rural environment. Of these, Newark, 25 minutes by train from Nottingham city centre, is proving to be one of the most popular spots to buy.
An attractive market town with a Georgian market square, a 12th century castle and a population of around 40,000, it already boasts a high-speed rail link to London’s King’s Cross station with an hourly service and a journey time of 90 minutes.
With transfer times of just a few minutes on foot from King’s Cross to St Pancras, Newark is also set to benefit from the new Eurostar service.
“Newark is booming with commuters to Nottingham and London, attracted by the character of the place, the transport connections (A1 intersection, GNER East Coast mainline), and good range of facilities with restaurants, the marina and golf courses,” says Richard Watkinson, Partner, Richard Watkinson & Partners.
“Families are particularly attracted to Newark over Grantham or Lincoln as prices still have a competitive edge and there’s a good stock of three and four-bedrooms, detached properties with gardens in residential areas, such as Beacon Hill and Fernwood.”
A three-bedroom detached house in Newark currently sells for around £180,000, an increase from an average of £100,00 five years ago, while a four-bedroom detached house now sells for around £225,000.
Newark’s Northgate train station may be located in one of the least attractive areas of town, but a house within a five-minute walk of the station comes with at a £10,000 premium.
“We looked all over the country but, in the end, we chose Newark for three reasons: it’s an attractive town with the river and the castle, it boasts a great central location with excellent transport connections and proximity to Nottingham and Lincoln, and we could get so much more for our money compared to the southeast,” says Debbie Ferguson, who recently moved from Pirbright, Surrey, to buy a four bedroom detached house with garden in the village of Farndon, two miles from Newark, for £185,000.
Back in Nottingham work is moving on apace to transform the beleaguered train station area and Greg Nugent is increasingly proud of the renaissance of his home town.
“I won’t be surprised if Nottingham sees an influx of European visitors, both for tourism and from a commercial perspective, once the new train services start,” he says.
“After all. Nottingham always did have a very commercial sense to make the most of new opportunities.”
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We drive on, skirting the lower slopes of the Great Orme Nature Reserve to the right and catching occasional glimpses of the sea to the left.
The road narrows but the local mountain goats make way, ushering us towards a large private property set back from the road. As we approach, the hefty electronic gate swings gently back and we descend a steep drive to get our first real view of the house.
Then it strikes me. Should the villain from a James Bond film ever be looking for a stately seaside escape in North Wales, this place is ideal.
I’ve come to Plas Eithin, a spacious, four-bedroom bungalow in Llandudno’s West Shore district, not for a private audience with Blofeld, but for a look around a property on the most expensive road in Wales.
Llandudno’s Llys Helyg Drive recently beat Cardiff’s Cefn Coed Road to the top spot in a survey compiled by the property website mouseprice.com.
With individual properties, large plots, sea frontage and panoramic views across to the Snowdonia National Park, the average house price is £830,200. Plas Eithin is expected to sell for around £750,000.
“The location would even surpass than the French Riviera if only the weather was better,” smiles Bryan Davies, MD of local agents Bryan Davies & Associates, as he shows me round.
“Llys Helyg Drive has one of the most outstanding coastal locations in Wales.”
The Victorian seaside resort of Llandudno is an attractive town with a fantastic natural location and a sweeping promenade fringed by elegant, period architecture.
It’s a busy resort in summer but still retains a dignified air, thanks primarily to the efforts of freeholders Mostyn Estates, who ensure the resort’s Victorian features are carefully maintained.
The American-born travel writer Bill Bryson enjoyed his visit so much, he was moved to describe Llandudno as his “favourite seaside resort”.
The town traditionally appealed to young families and retired day-trippers but has made great strides in recent years to broaden its appeal with the opening of the Venue Cymru arts centre, a major new retail park, Parc Llandudno, and a slew of smart new places to eat and stay.
The Welsh Assembly is planning to open new offices at Llandudno Junction next year with around 300 staff relocating from Cardiff, while the extension to Oriel Mostyn Gallery, North Wales’ leading contemporary art gallery, opens later this year.
Bryan Davies identifies interest in three key types of property, reflecting the changing demographics of the town.
Three or four-bedroom family properties come with a price tag around £200,000, three-bedroom retirement bungalows are £180,000 and holiday-home apartments start from £150,00 with two bedrooms.
Llandudno offers good transport links via the A55 and M56 motorway, and regular train services connecting to London in three hours on the West Coast main line. Families are well served by two well-regarded private schools in the area, Rydal Penrhos at Colwyn Bay and St David’s College, Llandudno.
“We find people with children moving here and working in Chester or Manchester. We also have a lot of clients with connections to the area who are coming back from the Southeast, first as a holiday home but with a view to eventually retire here,” says Davies.
“We chose Llandudno for the location, the way it is managed as a unspoilt British seaside resort and for the ease of public transport connections,” says Roger Pomlett, a semi-retired company secretary, who now divides his time between a two-bedroom apartment in Llandudno and the family home in Nantwich.
“Llandudno has a good mix of generations these days as the traditional trade in pensioners and coach parties is, quite literally, dying off,” he explains, as we walk through the marble hallway at Bodlondeb Castle, leather sofas framing the elaborate staircase, which leads to his second-floor apartment.
Lancashire-based Beck Homes converted this erstwhile hotel into 15 homes, nine luxury apartments and six cottages. Pomlett was one of the first to move in, buying the apartment for £380,000. An additional charge of £2,000 per annum is levied for a comprehensive maintenance package.
“This is a million miles from your average holiday flat,” says Pomlett as we sink into twin leather chairs in the lounge, a view of the West Shore and Snowdon range from the large bay window.
“Each property has an individual feel, plus the building has secure parking, which is at a premium in Llandudno,” he adds, before showing me his favorite feature, an en-suite bathroom hidden behind a secret door in the master bedroom’s build-in wardrobe.
“Our investment decision was based on our belief that Llandudno will always be a great place to live,” he says.
Sam Nayar, the owner of Escape boutique B&B, is keen to see the resort build on work over the last few years to develop more high-end dining and accommodation options.
He moved the family from Congleton, Cheshire, five years ago, picking up a large but neglected property for £300,000. After a further £200,00 investment, he opened Escape as a nine-room guesthouse with a keen eye for design.
“Moving here was a purely lifestyle-driven choice for us. We liked the architecture and the unspoilt feel but, most of all, it felt like a great place to bring up children,” says Nayar, handling calls from a Terence Conran chair in the contemporary residents lounge.
“Unlike many seaside towns Llandudno is a year-round town with its cultural scene, its retail offer and a steady stream of business tourism with conferences at the Venue Cymru,” adds Nayar, who is now looking for another property in the area, especially as prices have fallen around five per cent since the 2007 peak.
Back at Plas Eithin, we’ve completed the viewing and I join Bryan in the garden to savior the view across to Anglesey and the fairytale turrets of Unesco-listed Conwy Castle. He looks along the headland to a neighbouring property that recently sold for over £1m.
“You can’t put a figure on what sea view adds to a property,” he smiles.
I may not have come face to face with a Bond villain on this trip, but a visit to a hidden gem in North Wales is still enough to leave me feeling both shaken and stirred.
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This article was first published in the Weekend FT in 2009.
The wind of change is blowing in off the River Mersey.
The afternoon of my visit may be darker than the trademark Scouse sense of humour, but the shifting-cityscape view from One Park West, the city’s new £60m, 17-storey residential development, testifies to Liverpool status as Britain’s renaissance city.
The northwest English city went about a major self-reinvention in the run up to its role as the 2008 European Capital of Culture.
More than 15m people attended a cultural event or attraction during the cultural jamboree and the value of tourism to Liverpool’s economy rose by 25 per cent. But can Liverpool sustain the growth?
Property developer Grosvenor, the company behind the £1bn Liverpool ONE shopping complex that adjoins One Park West, thinks so. Sales at One Park West topped £25m in the first year and Liverpool ONE now attracts 22m visitors per month.
“Confidence. That’s the difference,” says Grosvenor Projects Director Guy Butler.
“Liverpool has a can-do attitude and its people are proud of their city once more. Grosvenor has five more projects on the table over the next five years. We will be investing a further £100m in the city.”
The cityscape is certainly changing fast.
As I take a stroll along the Unesco World Heritage-listed waterfront, cranes are hovering over residential development Mann Island, due for summer completion through Countryside/Neptune, and the £72m Museum of Liverpool [pictured above], a major new cultural attraction due to open Spring 2011.
Langtree Developments are working on the regeneration of the former Liverpool Garden Festival Site, while Peel Holdings has tabled proposals for Liverpool Waters, the regeneration of 150 acres of currently redundant waterfront.
“The market was already accelerating before we won the Capital of Culture bid and we got ahead of ourselves as a city,” says Alan Bevan, Partner with estate agents City Residential.
“Today, however, the market has fallen has back from the off-plan peaks of 2007 and city-centre living is far more affordable.”
City Residential figures show the average sale price in the city centre has fallen 8.46 per cent over the last 12 months with the average city-centre and docklands prices now £134,263 and £142,525 respectively, both around nine per cent down year on year.
“While the leafy suburbs of Woolton and Allerton were popular with buyers before, the combination of increased affordability and a greatly improved infrastructure are now firmly driving sales in the city centre,” he adds.
The range of properties is broad from young-professional apartments to grand Georgian homes, albeit at far more affordable prices than London or Bath.
Popular central regions include South Ferry Quay, a dockside address where City Residential are marketing two-bed apartments with parking for £130,000, and the area around Duke Street with two-beds for £120,000.
The city’s well-preserved Georgian quarter, located between the city’s iconic twin cathedrals, boasts streets of neat, feature properties. Grade II-listed properties abound and stately five-bedroom homes attract a price tag around £500,000.
On the doorstep is the Art Deco-styled Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, home to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, while St George’s Hall, a fine example of neo-classical architecture, hosts major cultural events a short distance from train hub, Lime Street Station.
Jacquie Rogers relocated from Brighton to Liverpool in May 2006 to head up the eight-person launch team for £164m Arena and Convention Centre (ACC) on Liverpool’s waterfront.
ACC Liverpool has since contributed £200m to the visitor economy of the city, hosting major events such as the BBC Sports Personality of the Year and the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2008; it has won the contract to bring next year’s Labour Party Conference to the city.
“Capital of Culture has brought a very European feel to Liverpool with its cafe culture,” says Rogers, who sold a three-bed, 1930’s semi on the outskirts of Brighton for £280,000. She bought a three-bedroom Victorian property with a large garden and views across the Dee Estuary on Merseyside for £320,000.
“When I first moved north, Liverpool had a negative perception but I could see the huge levels of investment pouring into the city. I realised it would be a very different city within a few years.”
Since relocating, Rogers has noticed how the market moves more slowly and properties hold their price longer compared to the south. “You do get more for your money but it’s not the case you will go from a semi to a stately home,” she says. “The quality of life is far better, however,” she says.
“I like the way people in Liverpool use their leisure time and income to enjoy life, not spent it in a frenzy of trying to achieve,” she adds.
Back at One Park West, Guy Butler is showing me round some of the show apartments. Buyers have an option to buy an upgrade package on top of the sale price, whereby the property is designed, fitted and furnished by an interior designer.
We peruse space-saving ideas in a yellow-Tartan studio flat with a pull-down bed (just sold for £120,000), while a three-bedroom corner suite in turquoise and chrome, featuring floor-to ceiling windows and a white grand piano John Lennon would doubtless approve of, is being marketed for £415,000 through King Sturge. Other One Park West features include a 24-hour gym, concierge service and a private roof terrace.
Around 50 of the original 326 apartments are still for sale with prices starting from £90,000 for a studio to £165,000 for a two bed.
“Clients range from young entrepreneurs seeking a city bolthole to well-heeled parents providing student digs with a view while their offspring study at one of the city’s universities,” explains Guy.
One postgraduate enjoying the view from his non-traditional student digs is 22-year-old Henry Brown, the son of a commodities broker from Hong Kong, who is studying Physics at Liverpool University.
While other students are shivering by one-bar electric fires in bedsits, Jones moved into a £350,000, three-bedroom apartment at One Park West in June 2009.
“I spent three months looking around but this pace stood out,” he says. “It makes financial sense. I think this place will not just hold its value, it will increase over the next ten years given the investment in the city.”
“Nothing beats coming home, opening the blinds and watching the sunset over the city with a few drinks.”
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This article was first published in the Weekend FT in 2010.